“I was able to meet some of the most best and brightest minds… Not only were they able to give advice that was salient and relevant to our shared identity… but their stories inspired me to better myself.”
Kengo Shigeta is a current student at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from Bangkok’s NIST International School with an International Baccalaureate diploma, he went on to found UniGlo, and has recently held a student conference that Expat Life featured in May. In light of the event’s success, we caught up with Kengo to know more about his experiences, motives, and vision for UniGlo in the coming years.
Tell us a bit about yourself
They say that we’re often the product of the environment we surround ourselves – and I think that this has been exceptionally true in my case. From Tokyo, Japan to Herndon, Virginia, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the different types of education that are offered around the world. When I moved to Bangkok in 2009 and started my education at NIST International School, I was introduced to an amazingly forward-thinking system at one of the best international schools in Thailand: and it’s here where I begun my exploration of education.
It just happened to be that NIST was a hub for education innovation in Asia, and eight years of studying at the regional hotspot for educational events, coupled with my past role as a student ambassador, had distinctly positioned me to observe the development of pedagogy (education philosophy) in practice. At NIST, I had attended professional education-related conferences including the IBO-AP Workshops and the Alliance for International Education conference, and being a part of these events has developed my pedagogical philosophy: to push towards curricula that furthers student empowerment through teaching critical thinking over factual knowledge.
From advocating for this idea in a TEDxTalk to creating a student initiative on student teaching, the environment I was in had driven me towards taking action on my passion for education, and has guided my continued efforts to push these ideas towards fruition through UniGlo.
What is UniGlo?
UniGlo is a recently founded organisation that hosts events to help current students in Bangkok through the rigorous and sometimes confusing application process for highly selective US and UK universities. As an entirely student-run initiative, we’re the first organisation that exclusively harnesses the power of capable students and youth in our mission to help Bangkok applicants. UniGlo hopes to help Bangkok applicants become more informed, to dispel stereotypes and misinformation, and to reduce the pressures of the anxiety-inducing application process – and with the help of generous organisations and companies that sponsor our events, we are able to offer free conferences, seminars, and workshops for students looking to study abroad at some of the best institutions in the world.
Our most recent event was the annual student conference and recent admits forum, where a panel of recent admits to top US/UK schools share insights into the process from a qualitative rather than quantitative standpoint. With a diverse range of speakers representing a myriad of universities, high schools, majors, passions, and more, this year’s event drew a large crowd of almost 250 attendees, and was hugely successful! By showcasing the stories of the to-be college freshman that have just gone through the application process, the UniGlo Student Conference hopes to not only celebrate the accomplishments of each generation of graduating students from schools around Bangkok, but also aims to connect current high school students with those who can help advise and guide them through the process from a student perspective.
How did you conceptualise this?
Applying to universities overseas was definitely not an easy process for me. I found myself scouring through dozens of websites and articles in trying to understand the academic and social nuances of each college, only to find vague or even conflicting information about the campus culture or opportunities at each university. I know that my experience isn’t a novel one. The application process is something that many of Bangkok’s students find to be convoluted and extremely challenging.
One approach that I found to be exceptionally helpful in finding out more about universities was to talk to older students that are currently going to college. To understand the point of view of individuals that have just gone through the application process, or hear from the alumni who currently attend your dream university, can provide extremely relevant and valuable insights from what I believe to be the most important perspective – the student experience. I realised that current students are the often overlooked experts of college life, and harnessing the power of our peers was the best way to gain access to a wealth of knowledge!
Having gone to a large international school, I was fortunate enough to be able to reach out to the NIST alumni network to gain some knowledge from past graduates: but I knew that for smaller schools, this wasn’t a common privilege. I wanted to make this learning opportunity available to all students in Bangkok, while also streamlining the process by having one central event that brings together Bangkok’s future applicants and alumni alike – access to finding out about the realities and nuances of college, applications, and more was amazing in making my college choices, and my hope is that I can harness this “for students, by students” approach to help as many of Bangkok’s highly motivated students as possible.
We see a lot of education and university-related organisations in Thailand. What makes UniGlo different?
While many organisations conduct other informational events such as conferences and workshops, most events will use case studies of nearperfect students with great grades, stellar extracurriculars, and a keen interest in a particular field of study. I feel as though this approach fails to consider the more human side of each applicant, including their flaws and the challenges they face.
As an entirely student-run initiative, UniGlo offers unique student perspectives from young and passionate people who are keen to guide and encourage future generations of students. We believe there are a lot of grey areas in students’ minds when it comes to understanding the application process, and UniGlo events are a way for us to address them in an open, informal, and friendly atmosphere.To actually be able to hear about individual experiences, challenges, and tips from a diverse range of amazingbut-imperfect speakers, and then be able to converse with them through an open panel Q&A or in-person, is something truly unique.
Allowing students and parents to interact with presenters and gain real, firsthand insights through this platform can help keep them grounded in reality amidst the chaos of the application and admissions process.
This event has occurred for two years now, what’s the feedback been like?
We have had huge successes with the event the past two years, and I’m extremely happy to say that the concept that we’ve initiated has steadily gained traction! The first conference we put together was a purely US based, highly selective university-oriented event. With an audience of 250+ students, parents, and teachers, we received positive feedback about the specific and well-articulated insights given by the speakers, and the structured, yet casual, flow of the event that allowed for a comfortable environment between recent admits and current highschool students especially.
In what I find to be the most amazing and fulfilling part of what UniGlo accomplishes, I’ve even had past attendees reach out to me to express how UniGlo has helped them personally, and share their amazing stories of how they’ve gotten into their dream universities. For example, my good friend Justin Potisit, who attended our first event in 2017 as a rising senior at the International School of the Eastern Seaboard, sent me a message on how UniGlo helped guide him towards an offer from Georgetown University – he said, “Entering the American college application process, I felt a lot like Alice when she was first dropped in wonderland. Dazed and confused, it felt easy to be sucked into the blur of rankings and unsolicited advice from relatives and friends.
Attending last year’s UniGlo, I was able to meet some of the most best and brightest minds that Bangkok had to offer. Not only were they able to give advice that was salient and relevant to our shared identity as cosmopolitan teenagers seeking to study in the USA, but their stories inspired me to better myself. UniGlo truly is a unique event available nowhere else; I’m so thankful that I was able to attend.” While we managed to capture a large audience last year, we realised the importance of expanding our approach and focus to be able to discuss the university application and admission process on a larger scale.
Thus, this year, we came back with a whole new panel of speakers attending varied, highly-selective liberal arts colleges and universities across the US and the UK. We also increased our collaborative efforts with sponsors that included Crimson Education, NEXT Step Connections, Whapow, Ampersand, The White Room, Saturday School and Cultural Collective Studio. With an improved diversity of speakers and support from our incredible sponsors, we received highly positive feedback regarding the smooth execution of the event and the unique tips given by each of the speakers.
Plans for the future?
We have been very fortunate to have received such positive feedback over the two years of running this event, but are hoping to grow UniGlo even more as an event and organisation by harnessing the power of students to continue supporting Bangkok’s future applicants. Although we’ve only ran the annual student conference in the past, I see UniGlo expanding it’s events toward becoming a much more comprehensive service organisation.
We’re still in the planning stages, but several ideas we’ve considered to pursue in the future include application planning and timeline-setting workshops in earlyAugust, as well as post-acceptance support such as cultural adjustment and visa processes for international students during the following summer.
From the feedback we’ve received over the year as the group of committed students working on the progress of this organisation, we see great potential to continue expanding and connecting students each year so stay tuned via our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/uniglo18/