During his two-semester internship in the Philippines through Wheaton’s Human Needs and Global Resources program, Isaya Otsuka ’20, M.A. ’21 gained invaluable skills in cultivating friendships with people from all around the globe.
Words: Jasmine S. Young ’13
“The community that you find at Wheaton is unique. It’s really taught me to seek after meaningful relationships and to look for depth in relationships. I came away with lasting friendships that I hope to always maintain.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan, Isaya Otsuka ’20, M.A. ’21 had never heard of Wheaton College.
He was determined, however, to attend a Christian liberal arts college to explore multiple disciplines before deciding on a major. “I googled ‘Christian liberal arts schools’ and the first one that popped up was Wheaton College,” Otsuka said. “It was the only college that I applied to. I didn’t have a backup plan.”
Besides only one year living in Boston as a child, Otsuka never spent significant time in the U.S., but he still decided to make the move to Illinois to pursue his studies and experience a new part of the world.
Otsuka arrived on campus as an undeclared engineering major. After realizing physics and math were not his favorite subjects, he decided to major in business and economics with a minor in anthropology, in addition to joining the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program.
“The aim of the HNGR program is for students to be immersed in different cultures around the world, typically in countries that are less developed or are developing,” Otsuka explained. “You share experiences and wrestle with questions like ‘Who is my neighbor in this globalized society?’ and ‘How are resources distributed around the world?’”
Otsuka completed a six-month internship in the Philippines for the program, working with International Care Ministries (ICM), a non-profit organization that serves the “ultra-poor,” people who, by definition, make less than 50 cents a day. The organization’s poverty alleviation program focuses on an individual’s livelihood, health, spirituality, and finances, which Otsuka had the chance to observe and contribute to during his stint.
Although Otsuka came to Wheaton for the campus community, he chose to expand his horizons even further by enrolling in HNGR after realizing he wanted to pursue a career in international development. “It’s a really unique experience because when you go out into the field, you’re on your own,” Otsuka said. “It’s not a study abroad program and no one else from the College is with you. It’s up to you to immerse yourself in the community, to engage, and to live and learn firsthand.”
In addition to his undergraduate program, Isaya pursued an accelerated M.A. in humanitarian and disaster leadership, a degree offered by the Wheaton College Graduate School that focuses on equipping its students to lead and serve communities through crisis.
Although he had planned to return to campus for his final undergraduate semester in the spring of 2020, he and his peers finished classes remotely due to the pandemic. The challenge of adjusting to online courses and socially distant classrooms ultimately prepared Otsuka for a taxing job search after completing his master’s the following year. With the pandemic’s wide-spread impact on international development work, Otsuka had his work cut out for him to find a role that would match his skill sets and passions.
He finally landed in a remote position as a project associate for Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), where he supports two projects based in Mozambique and Tanzania.
“The Tanzania project is a youth economic empowerment initiative to train up young professionals to have a greater impact on the future of the nation through workshops and connections with mentors,” Otsuka explained. “The Mozambique project is centered around overall policy creation for biodiversity conservation, health, business and trade, etc.”
Although Isaya has yet to travel to DAI partner sites due to the pandemic, Isaya has used the remote-work opportunity to visit with globally placed friends he initially met at Wheaton. No matter where his travels take him, Otsuka makes sure to prioritize those connections. “There may not be opportunities to do this at other stages of my life, so I want to take advantage of it now,” he reflected. “The community that you find at Wheaton is unique. It’s really taught me to seek after meaningful relationships and to look for depth in relationships. I came away with lasting friendships that I hope to always maintain.”