4 years is equivalent to an entire undergraduate uni life, and it has gone by in a blink of an eye.
Our Co-founder and COO Minoru and I spent September 25th going down memory lane; we walked by Canadian International School - the first school we visited together in November 2017 to introduce Kokusaba, and had lunch at the Italian place we went after. (Ever since then we have a ritual to get Italian food after every successful meeting)
Story time. My parents come from a Malay background, and found a home in Japan 30+ years ago. As such, I was born and raised in a fully Japanese environment. I was thinking in Japanese, answering in Japanese and doing my maths in Japanese. I was that one kid in class that actually loved everything I learned, the first hand to shoot up in class, maintaining perfect grades, attendance rates, and a happy social life.
At home though - my parents would try to speak to me in English, hoping we could be a bilingual household...but my brain did not register. Many worried looks later, my parents enrolled me into an international school, and that was when the challenges began. Soon after, we also moved to Singapore and I graduated from the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program at the Australian International School, where I really started to gain the confidence I have today. I talk more about this in my IB Official Blog article A shift in mindset: Embracing the power of not knowing - I have come a long way thanks to my family, friends, teachers and counselors who helped me out.
But most of all, my time taking the IB in Singapore was when I realized, confidence can be created with a simple mindset shift. A mindset that understands the heart of constructivist education. Back then I used to think: Knowing = smart. Not knowing = failure. But then you start to realize, the world is filled with things even the most knowledgeable experts cannot comprehend. Now: Knowing that you don’t know everything and doing something about it = smart.
So I tell our tutors and students this: Anything is possible with a mind to learn, practice and reflect. Embrace not knowing, because that opens up the world to so many new exciting things to learn and people to learn from. What matters the most is that you keep learning, you keep practicing and you keep reflecting.
Fast forward to my university years, I decided to pursue Economics at Waseda University. I really missed Japan, and I took Economics because, there were too many things I wanted to learn, so might as well learn what connects everything in modern society - money. As I had graduated from an Australian calendar (January graduation), upon arriving in Japan I had 8 months until I started university. For the love of learning, I pursued tutoring at a local tuition school.
That's when something sparked in me. I realized loved sharing what I've learned with my students, connecting with them, working through problems and learning together with them. I then got my first private tutoring student for SAT Maths. I found myself making YouTube videos to teach SAT Maths as well with the channel name Kokusaba...and I realized that I wanted to reach out to kids who were like me, to provide the mentorship, academic and emotional support I am so grateful I had throughout my schooling years. So with the name Kokusaba which stands for Kokusai Survival or International Survival that I oh-so-cleverly came up with, I went back to where it all began and approached our first partner school, K. International School Tokyo. Soon after, Minoru who I had met at university, joined to approach Canadian International School, and the rest is history.
2017-2018 was an introduction, to business, to visiting schools, the world of tutoring. 2018-2019 saw more system efficiency with lesson reports, accounting, and the website launch. By 2019-2020 tutor numbers from Waseda and surrounding universities had started to grow. By 2020 pandemic we introduced online courses.
In 2021 we survived incorporation and became Kokusaba, Inc., and found our home at Wisdom Academy Mejiro. By summer we achieved our dream of launching a summer school. I still remember Minoru and I brainstorming ideas for a summer school at Cafe Like back in 2018. We didn’t have the resources or the reach then, but now we do. What a dream come true.
4 years and we’ve gone from 3…to a 100 registered tutors, 150+ students, 4,400+ hours of lessons. Both of us business partners graduated Waseda University with the best of friends and memories ever, started working full time and we have just completed our first year in society. We’ve both learned so much and have grown so much and Kokusaba has grown with us, our tutors and our students every step of the way.
Personally, I went through a long journey of self discovery. Growing up, I was always so curious and eager to learn so many different things that, I always struggled to pinpoint a single path I wanted to pursue. I'm also always so emotionally invested in everything I do, and am capable of so much love. I think I am a natural artist. I always move as my heart moves, as my body tells me, and I tend to freeze when my gut feeling doesn't match the logic in my head. One of my favorite pastimes is to use words to decode my emotions and gut feelings - and it's an important skill to have because I'm a strong believer that a person's potential is maximized when their heart, body and mind are aligned.
So I live by the motto of: I love, therefore I do.
You will find that I will never downplay my love for what I do.
Love is the strongest force that moves me. Society dictates that love is cheesy, uncontrollable, unconscious, fragile, mysterious, a passive feeling. But I would bet on my entire future success, that love is anything but.
When you acquaint yourself with the feeling so well, and when you finally find it in yourself to be unapologetic about it, love is the most stable, familiar, rational, powerful, active source of energy.
And with every fibre of my being, Kokusaba feels right.
With every challenge we came out for air for 4 years. So the 5th year onwards has to be a leap out of water. More students, better guidance for tutors, seamless and better accounting, bigger PR, more curriculum development, more group courses… so many things to work on!
And what makes running Kokusaba the best is the amount of wonderful people we have and the love I feel for us all. We are so blessed. I want Kokusaba to continue being the support kids need for international education, the ticket to a global mind, a community we identify with. We are a community of lifelong students who empower students and connect the world through the act of learning. Running Kokusaba is an absolute joy because I feel like we're not only building a company, but also a family. I feel so much gratitude and pride every time I hear a tutor tell me how they feel like they finally found a community they identify with. I think all of us as third culture kids or students who have started questioning a lot of societal norms, have felt left out in society somehow. We're all here for you.
Massive thank you for our tutors, students, families, company partners we work with, PR and curriculum teams… I thank my family - None of these would also be possible without my parents who were both absolute role models and gave me this very blessed upbringing.
Thank you, to all those who have extended a loving arm to us throughout the years. May we all keep swimming upstream!
lim x->0 1/x love and hugs (if you get me), Isha Kokusaba, Inc. Founder & CEO