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Q&A with Jacob Searing

Jacob Searing

After the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation scare in Japan, scores of volunteers have descended on the northeastern region of the country to help survivors deal with the massive devastation and debris removal. One of those volunteers is alumnus Jacob Searing. He lives in Tokyo, Japan and traveled several hours by bus to the affected area, where he spent eight days scooping mud out of homes and parking lots. He wrote about his experience on his Facebook page, which led an alumni coordinator to contact him and recommend that he log his hours on the university's Volunteer50 website, which he did. In this interview, Jacob talks about his volunteering experience and how he ended up living in Japan.

What type of volunteer work have you done in Japan since the tragic earthquake and tsunami?

Searing: I felt this strong desire, almost a need, to get to the impacted region to volunteer right away. I went with a group called "Peace Boat" to a town called Ishinomaki to volunteer for a total of eight days. Peace Boat was one of the first organizations with boots on the ground that was actively recruiting volunteers. I lived in a tent and had no running water or electricity for the entire time. We brought on our backs everything we needed for the duration so as not to burden the scant resources of the local people. The work for my team was heavy manual labor—scooping toxic mud out of shops, houses, parking lots, etc. We worked from early morning until evening every day. Despite the organization being completely volunteer-driven, they are extremely efficient and definitely put us to work! I also did some other volunteering in Tokyo working with the Dutch chamber of commerce to set up projects in the region and to help with fundraising. The Tohoku people are extremely strong and forward-looking, and are grateful for all the volunteers' help.

How did you end up living in Japan?

Searing: A long time ago, I wanted more than anything to study at UC San Diego or, more specifically, the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS). I applied and was rejected because I had no international experience, didn't speak any foreign languages, and my GRE scores were lousy. So I spun the globe and went to Japan for a year to teach English, thinking this would be sufficient. I was wrong and was rejected again. At that point, I decided to get serious and enroll myself full-time studying Japanese in Japan while volunteering at the UN-Habitat office in Fukuoka. I then studied like mad, improved my GRE scores and was finally accepted. I got my master's degree in Pacific International Affairs from IR/PS in 2005.

What do you do in Japan now?

Searing: For the past six years, I have worked for a Dutch bank in Risk Management. I have now decided to move on so I can devote myself full time to my business introducing Japanese students and working professionals to UC San Diego.

How did you get the idea for your business?

Searing: I was at a crossroads at the bank a couple years ago whereas I could have decided to develop my career more or do something entirely different. Around that time, I had just finished participating in a year-long competition known as Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) to write the best business plan for actual businesses looking to expand in Japan. Armed with these new skills and an entrepreneurial spirit, I suggested to Darla Wilson, director of the Global Leadership Institute (GLI) at IR/PS, that the school could benefit from hiring JMEC to develop a plan to promote their non-degree programs to the Japanese community. She liked the idea and suggested that I was the man for the job because of my knowledge of UCSD and San Diego, and also the network I have developed in Japan. So I decided to put being a respectable banker on hold by negotiating a part-time arrangement to devote time to my new side business. Our promotion efforts have been successful enough now to allow this side business to become my only business.Â

Each spring and summer, I round up Japanese undergraduate students and bring them with me to the Future Global Leaders program at UC San Diego where they have actual graduate school lectures from IR/PS professors. I also live with them 24 hours a day as a "concierge" and escort them on education tours (like the San Diego courthouse) and fun tours (like Disneyland). It gives me a great excuse to visit campus twice a year. I also find working professionals in Japan to study at GLI on campus for an extended period.

In addition to bringing people from Japan to UC San Diego, you've also united UC San Diego alumni in Tokyo?

Searing: Yes, I started as the IR/PS Japan chapter leader three years ago and was able to scrounge up an additional 150 people or so on the mailing list of active alums here in Tokyo, in addition to the existing 150 at the time. Because of this, I always figured there must be hundreds of UC San Diego alums here in Tokyo, in general, and was pretty shocked to find there was no organization for the school at all yet. So I started communicating with alumni relations about this and volunteered to get the UC San Diego Japan chapter started. The Japan chapter is still relatively new and I really need to spend more time growing the organization, which I plan to do.

Why is volunteering important to you?

Searing: I volunteer when I feel I have a personal connection to the cause itself. I am the alumni leader for both UC San Diego and IR/PS here in Tokyo, for example, because San Diego is my home and UC San Diego gave me so much that I want to give back. And what keeps me going is my relationship with the other volunteers and the people that I am helping. The bonds I forged with my Peace Boat group are some of the strongest friendships I have forged in a lifetime, and this is only from a one week experience. That type of bond is addictive; I plan to volunteer again next month not only for the cause, but also because I enjoy the feeling of being around others in a shared charitable mission. This country has given me so much in the nine years I have lived here and now it is time to give something back.

What does it mean to you that your alma mater places importance on service?

Searing: It means a lot. People who have never volunteered do not know what they are missing. Volunteering can really open a person's mind, and that is exactly what education is all about.

 Fun Faves  

Favorite place at UC San Diego: Gliderport

Favorite place on Earth: I'll tell you when I get there.

Favorite UCSD memory: Party after finals

Favorite hobby: Boxing

Favorite accomplishment: Setting up a Japanese corporation

Favorite way to spend $10: Tonkotsu Ramen

Favorite words to live by: "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss


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