by Justine Hudock
Student Community Engagement, Knovva Academy
Tomoki Matsuno’s name is as well known around the Knovva digital campus as any (I think we just like to pronounce it; it’s got so much bounce!). With his bright eyes and spiky hair, Tomoki is equally recognizable for his kindness, humility, and bushy-tailed-ness.
Now, this Japan native has been accepted into 22 US colleges and universities. He’s not here to brag, but Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania couldn’t wait to bring him into their ivy-lined arms. Can you guess what he wrote about in his application essays? Hint: At least one of them could have been an advertising campaign for the magic of Knovva Academy, Model G20, and the elusive Y20, where Tomoki once shone as the only Japanese Delegate at the Tokyo Summit. Other essays still represented a young guy who’s always inventing adventurous plans for himself and those lucky enough to enjoy a share of his brain.
We sat down with Tomoki between the 13-hour time difference that made 8:30 am a bit of morning stretch over in the States and a bit sleepy in the Land of the Rising Sun.
First question: What is Tomoki expecting from his all-American, Harvardian, chest-beating, world-class education?
“Well, I’ve never stayed in the United States for a good amount of time. The most exciting thing about living there, I think, is probably the diversity of both people and ideas. Especially since I want to study politics, and policymaking is about understanding different perspectives, understanding social issues, and organizing different viewpoints into the form of policies.
“I think immersing myself into a world of a variety of ideas… it’s just something really valuable to me as a future politician.” No kidding. If only all our politicians were so dedicated to that idea that they’d fly across the world and dedicate four years of their lives to this tactic of tolerance-building.
Not that college is the only experience awaiting Tomoki at the end of the journey. What is he most excited about, besides that Harvard-stamped lambskin?
“There are so many exciting things. Obviously, American academics are amazing. We have some really great universities [in Japan], but the way American teachers instruct students, how they care, how they emphasize the interactions between students and professors. The breadth of learning opportunities in general. There are just so many diverse student organizations and internships I could go out for to practice my ideas or put my learning into action.”
In that case, how does Tomoki think he’s going to productively apply the traditional Japan learning systems while he’s hobnobbing with a bunch of US natives in the Americana-ness of Boston?
“Japanese-style education is very academic-based; as you’d expect, right? We work really hard to get a great score on exams, or get the best grade at the end of term. In the US, I still think my background there will be very useful. The learning culture there is so collaborative, but… I’m sure this mastery of independence and independent learning will help me make difficult decisions by myself. Not determined by what others say, or just following what others are doing. I am ready to create my own path, to create my own education.”
And what might that path hold for Tomoki? Once he’s walked across that stage, come four years, what would he like to have done to improve himself?
“I’d love to have learned how to effectively organize different ideas from different academic disciplines. Again, in Japan, there are major distinctions in every academic track. Each subject is like one culture. Math, science, literature, all that — they’re very divided from one another, and the students from those tracks almost never interact, especially not in higher education.
“Honestly, I think that’s really unfortunate, and that it actually has a really big and unpleasant impact on [Japanese] society. As I go through college, I’d love to have earned an education that allowed me to integrate ideas from different disciplines. An interdisciplinary education.”
And Knovva is certainly part of what he’s done so far to create that broad interdisciplinary self-education.
“For one of my application essays, I wrote about my experiences in Model G20, specifically the Y20 Tokyo Summit. I mean, Knovva, overall, was huge. I participated in the Model G20 Beijing Summit, too, and it was like, for the first time, I was with students around the same age who thought like I do about social issues, who cared about developing their negotiation skills. I think that was really one of the first moments where I found my passion for diplomacy, and I think without it, I may not have applied to college to study political science.”
“Everything with Knovva has been such an amazing experience. Getting to work with international organizations and government officials and see how the actual policy writing process works… that was huge. I can’t explain it with words, butI’m really grateful for the opportunity Knovva gave me.”
At the end of the day, it was stuff like this on Tomoki’s résumé (and backing up that fantastic personality of his) that he considers the strongest part of his eventual applications.
“It was definitely the place on my applications where I was able to showcase my passions. I mean, maybe it’s generic advice, but I would say use your extracurriculars as an outlet to be yourself. It seems like so many students are looking for the keywords they think admissions offices want, or forcing themselves into what appears to be a good student. Even application essays! I’d say you don’t have to write that cliche, narrative, ‘traumatic experience’ essay to catch someone’s eye. Don’t take the rulebook so seriously; just be yourself, and write your story.”