Mikako Tai, '04, '05, '11, was a Japanese representative camper at CRS/Europe (Stendis, Denmark) in 2004 & 2005, and returned to CRS as a visiting counselor at Clinton in 2011. Initially, she was only supposed to be there for 2 weeks, but ended up returning and staying for a total of 5+ weeks because she simply could not get enough of CRS. She graduated from Wesleyan University with honors in the College of Social Studies (CSS) and spent six months living in Kenya to conduct fieldwork in the rural parts of the Swahili coast.
Currently, Mikako is the Executive Assistant and Corporate Affairs Officer at the Africa-America Institute in New York City. She is the go-to person for all AAI stakeholders, including the Board of Trustees, sponsors, partners, program beneficiaries, and staff in both Africa and the U.S. and provides direct programming and administrative support to the President and CEO.
We asked Ms. Tai about her involvement with Camp as well as her current career endeavors.
1) What do you think is the biggest lesson or takeaway you learned from Rising Sun?
As a camper, I learned to think and act outside the box; not only tolerate but also appreciate differences among peoples and cultures; and just how much you could gain by being outside of your comfort zone. i.e. taking pride in being "Crazy". Getting to know campers and counselors from different backgrounds helped me discover first-hand, that what I believed to be true or normal did not necessarily mean it was for others. In fact, there are always multiple perspectives to a story. I learned to be cognizant about that, and be open-minded---in the true sense of the word---whenever I approached new ideas. Personally, discovering that something my community considered to be a misfortune was actually "super cool" and "unique" in my fellow campers' eyes, was very empowering. I remember vividly how this realization took a huge weight off my shoulders, and I felt like seeing the world through a completely new set of lenses. In the process, I also learned to reflect on and appreciate my own background and identity, as I was given the opportunity to compare and contrast my "Japanese-ness" with others.
I also learned that one can be an effective leader in whatever they do, whether or not they are formally placed in a so-called leadership or managerial position. And I believe that is at the core of the "sachem" spirit.
2) Can you tell us more about the work you do with your organization?
The Africa-America Institute (AAI) is an international organization dedicated to increasing the capacity of African individuals and institutions through higher education, skills training, professional development, convening activities, and program management. AAI's mission is to empower the African youth to become globally competitive, as well as to promote dialogue and engagement between Africa and the U.S. At AAI, I manage the programmatic and administrative operations as well as priorities set forth by the Executive Office. I work closely with the Board of Trustees and key stakeholders, all of whom are major players in African & U.S. businesses and governments. Our major program today is the Future Leaders Legacy Fund, which is a scholarship fund that provides opportunities for smart yet under-resourced Africans to study at high-performing African universities and obtain a formal degree. It has been very eye-opening and exciting to work with multi-sector leaders on an important cause.
3) If you had one piece of advice to offer young men and women who are still in high school, college, or the early stages of their career, what would it be?
When in doubt, say YES to opportunities that come your way. I have always believed that it is better to regret by doing than not doing. Whatever it is that you decide to take part in, it can open doors for other exciting opportunities, if you commit to making the most of your experience. Discovering what doesn't excite you is as important as knowing what you love and thrive in. So get out there and do it!!