USJC Development Intern Haruka Kokaze Reflects on Life-Changing Opportunity with Council Leader Bill Imada (JALD ’11)

Haruka Kokaze is a U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) intern from Tokyo, Japan. She is enrolled in an accelerated program with a BS in Applied Psychology and MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness at New York University. She has been serving as USJC’s Development Intern since December 2020; she is also involved in USJC’s New York Region and the Mental Wellness Affinity Group.

I was born in Hyogo, Japan, and grew up in Tokyo, New York, Houston, and London because of my father’s international job. I have had the privilege of attending international schools and meeting friends from across the globe including Ethiopia, North Korea, and Kosovo. I believed that I am globally-minded, that I stand out among others because of my diverse experiences. However, my trip to San Francisco with the National Millennial + Gen Z Community challenged my beliefs.

Thanks to Suzanne’s recommendation, I had the honor of representing Japan at the National Millennial + Gen Z Community, which was founded by the Council Leader and Chief Connectivity Officer of IW Group, Inc. Bill Imada (JALD’11). The community strives to foster a safe environment for millennial and Gen Z thinkers to exchange ideas and challenge each other.

Over the four days, Mr. Imada planned many activities that allowed me to learn how to lead a team in crisis situations, communicate with professionals, and trust the process. My biggest takeaway from this experience was understanding that living in diverse cities and having friends from many countries does not make someone globally-minded.

This trip allowed me to meet friends from Alaska, Mississippi, and Alabama for the first time. Some of those new friends were born in jail; some flew on a plane for the first time for this program. Some of them fell in love with someone but lost that person to a drug overdose. 

The countless conversations with my peers across the United States allowed me to realize that as the daughter of a Japanese expatriate, I have been in an urban bubble and rarely tackled problems on a domestic level. Some of the most important and genuine conversations can occur on a smaller scale in intimate communities. 

It was truly amazing to meet and learn from a Council Leader who is equally as passionate about investing into the next generation as USJC. This experience with Mr. Imada and my peers has allowed me to expand on my goals. I now strive to become an empathetic and globally-minded bilingual transnational psychologist who demonstrates understanding of the world both inside and outside of the urban bubble. I hope to become a mental health professional who is able to examine mental health issues and demands at the micro level. As a Development intern at USJC, I have learned that there is a rise in demand for bilingual and multicultural mental health professionals in Texas who can communicate and understand the challenges of adapting to Southern culture due to the fact that Texas is becoming a popular location for Japanese corporations’ headquarters in the United States. With this in mind, I now endeavor to utilize my unique identity and background to help Japanese expats and contribute to the U.S.-Japan Council’s mission of strengthening the bilateral relationship.