Season 6: Guest Bios
Nancy Kroonenberg (ASIJ High School Assistant Principal 1996-2013)
Before wending my way to ASIJ, I lived in the United States, France, The Netherlands, and Hong Kong. ASIJ was my third international school.
Pre-Covid we were inveterate travelers with trips to Machu Picchu, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, South Africa among a few of our favorites.
I retired (sort of) from ASIJ in 2013. Within a half year I was working at the American International School of Rotterdam (AISR), first as Interim Secondary Principal, then as Admissions Director. AISR is an IB school rather than the AP Program which I knew at ASIJ so it was a steep learning curb. I retired again (sort of) in 2016.
I have since committed myself to volunteer work. I was keen to stay connected with internationals so joined a help desk where we offer info about schools, jobs, healthcare, housing and everything else to international newcomers in Amsterdam.
After four decades in schools, it was difficult not being among students. Well, that has been short-lived as well. WASC, the organization which accredits ASIJ, needs volunteers to serve on visiting teams. I have been doing that since 1989. Since being back in Europe I have been on WASC teams in Sweden, Italy, Spain, Israel, South Africa and Qatar. On two teams, my teammate was a friend from ISSH in Tokyo.
I love staying connected with people.
Hugh McGuire (ASIJ 2020)
Hugh is a recent graduate of the ASIJ class of 2020. Before graduating, he attended ASIJ for 13 years, joining the community back in Kindergarten. He was born in London, England, but moved to Japan soon thereafter at the age of 4. He is the son of a Japanese mother and an American father and is one of four brothers in the family, all of whom attended ASIJ (Kai ‘14, Ian ‘17, Lee ‘22). His two older brothers Kai and Ian both graduated from ASIJ in 2014 and 2017, respectively, and his younger brother Lee is still at ASIJ and is currently a junior in high school. Hugh is also bilingual, speaking both Japanese and English.
At ASIJ, Hugh played varsity basketball for three years and was very involved in volunteer clubs in high school. As a junior, he started a club with the goal of breaking the barrier between international schools and local Japanese schools. The club, appropriately named Tokyo Sports Outreach, hosts Japanese elementary schools and pre-schools for youth sports clinics and has successfully hosted schools such as Musashino Gakuin Elementary School and Aoyama Gakuin Elementary School.
Hugh was planning on attending Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, this past fall but decided to take a gap year due to the worsening state of COVID-19 in the United States. During his gap year, he has been interning for a professional basketball team in Tokyo, Japan, called the Earthfriends Tokyo Z in the B.League, primarily aiding in marketing and operations.
Karuna Shinsho (ASIJ 1986)
Karuna Shinsho was born and raised in Hawaii until she moved to Tokyo in her early teens with her Japanese parents. After graduating from ASIJ in 1986, she attended Sophia University in Tokyo, where she majored in Political Science. While a junior at the university, she was chosen to anchor NHK Television's first English language news program, "Today's Japan", for broadcast in Japan and overseas.
After four years at NHK, Karuna decided to deepen her knowledge of Japan and the world and attended Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in New York. During that time, she also worked as a business anchor at NHK's New York Bureau. Upon attaining her Masters in International Affairs with a focus on East Asia, Karuna became an anchor/ correspondent for Asia Business News in Singapore. Then, after a brief stint in Tokyo working for NHK again, she moved to Hong Kong to work for CNN International as an anchor/correspondent where she earned several honors at the Asian Television Awards, including Best News Presenter. During her time in Hong Kong, Karuna got married and had her first son. She decided to quit journalism to be a stay-at-home mom. But television soon came calling again and she started anchoring a show on Asian affairs for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
After moving back to the United States, Karuna had her second son and joined her then diplomatic husband on his subsequent tours, which included the Philippines and Zimbabwe. During her time in Hong Kong, she had discovered yoga. She enjoyed the health and mental benefits of the practice and decided to become a yoga teacher.
Back in Washington D.C. and going through a divorce, Karuna felt the urgent need to re-discover herself. She found that singing jazz helped her to heal and find joy again. Starting from jazz vocal workshops a few years ago to recently gigging locally and overseas, Karuna released her debut single "Smile" in November 2020. Her album, "To Love Again", will be out in 2021.
Karuna understands that during challenging times, it can be difficult to be hopeful. But she believes that those moments are when one must be open to opportunities. One such opportunity presented itself when she was asked to join the Board as an Independent Non-Executive Director of Hong Kong-based investment holding company, Melco International Development Limited. She is also grateful to be able to pursue her passion of singing and to share it with willing listeners.
Ben Carr (ASIJ 2007)
Owner - Innovative Fitness North Vancouver
Ben Carr graduated ASIJ in 2007. Originally form the US, was raised on the international school circuit. Born in Northampton MA, lived in Tanzania, North Carolina, Brazil, and Costa Rica before moving to Tokyo in 2003 when his dad, Tim Carr became the Headmaster, a position he held until moving to Jakarta in 2010 to take over the headship at Jakarta Intercultural School.
Ben went on to study Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. While at university he worked for Red Bull, led the UBC Surf Club and worked as a student athletic trainer for the UBC Rugby Team and met his to-be wife Laura.
After graduation he moved to Atlanta and worked at the Atlanta International School before moving back to Vancouver and starting work with Innovative Fitness as a professional training coach. In the 6 years at IF he moved up the ranks from coach to events manager, to sales manager to corporate sales to studio manager before opening his own franchise in Jan 2018. He now has 12 staff and about 120 clients. Ben is passionate about leadership, empowerment, equality and positively impacting the lives of his community.
Natasha Kostek (ASIJ 2004) @ New York, NY
Doctoral School Psychology Candidate
Natasha joined the ASIJ community in 2000 and spent all four of her formative high school years there. Growing up as a first generation Brazilian-American in a homogeneous Connecticut suburb, Natasha had often felt stymied. When she moved to Japan, she found home; she learned how to become a scholar and a world citizen. Reflecting back on her education at ASIJ, she feels privileged to have learned from such passionate teachers. Teachers who impacted her greatly are Javier Fernandez and Chaiken of Bio, with whom she is still in contact.
Natasha’s experience as a third culture kid has guided many of her personal, professional, and academic decisions. It guided her to move to New York, one of the most heterogeneous metropolises in the United States; to jump at the opportunity live in Brazil as a finance headhunter covering the Latin American region; and to apply to her current doctoral program’s bilingual track to receive training in nondiscriminatory assessment and therapeutic practices.
Natasha is presently a fourth-year doctoral School Psychology student at St. John’s University in Queens, NY, USA. Within this doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) program, her responsibilities have been multifaceted: coursework, teaching, clinical work, research, and leadership. The marriage of her doctoral training and multicultural background has reinforced her commitment to advocacy work and cultural sensitivity in the therapeutic context.
Natasha is passionate about mentoring high school and college-aged students and welcomes contact about pursuing training in the field of mental health. For targeted resources, see the Doctoral Application Resources folder located on her website: www.natashakostek.com/documents
Wookie Kim (Former ASIJ)
Wookie attended ASIJ from the fifth to the eighth grade (1997-2001) before completing high school at St. Paul's School, a boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire.
Wookie then attended Yale University, receiving a B.A. in Ethics, Politics and Economics in 2009. After two years teaching high school English and journalism in DC Public Schools through Teach For America, Wookie matriculated at Harvard Law School, from which he earned his J.D. in 2014.
Wookie is currently the Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Hawaiʻi, where he works to defend people’s civil rights and civil liberties through litigation, lobbying, public education, and other forms of advocacy. Among the issues Wookie works on are the criminalization of poverty, bail reform, policing, reproductive freedom, gender equity, and freedom of expression.
Before joining the ACLU of Hawaiʻi, Wookie was an associate at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP in Washington, D.C., where he litigated high-stakes business disputes involving things like advanced high strength steel, table saw safety technology, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While there, Wookie also maintained an active pro bono practice, including representing undocumented Latino immigrants in challenging a landlord’s discriminatory rental practices under the Fair Housing Act. Wookie also served as a law clerk to the Honorable Catherine C. Blake of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
Wookie and his wife currently live in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. In his free time, Wookie trains for and competes in 100-mile trail races, surfs in Waikiki, and otherwise takes advantage of the many opportunities for outdoor exploration in Hawaiʻi.
Dr. Gwen Thornton (ASIJ 2009)
Gwen is an Emergency veterinarian working in Melbourne, Australia.
Gwen grew up in Kobe and Tokyo and after graduating from ASIJ in 2009, completed her Bachelors and Masters of Science in Zoology from University College London in 2013.
She spent one of these years studying abroad in Perth, Western Australia. After finishing her Masters, Gwen moved to Melbourne and undertook a Doctors of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Melbourne which she completed in 2017.
Since then she has done a rotating internship at a surgical referral center, worked in general practice and has settled in emergency for the moment.
Gwen continued her running and volleyball career from high school and has competed at both the collegiate, State and National levels in both Track and Field and Volleyball in the UK and Australia
Marika Dandoy (ASIJ 2008)
Musical Theatre Actress
Marika is half Japanese and half American, born in New York and raised in Tokyo. After her education at Nishimachi International School and the American School in Japan, she finished her degree at the School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University. During her time at Waseda, she also went to Butai Geijutsu Gakuin and took their night courses where she studied musical theatre.
She is currently a musical theatre actress at Toho Geino Entertainment Agency and has starred in Broadway productions in Japan, such as "PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT", "LEGALLY BLONDE", "MEMPHIS", "LITTLE WOMEN" and many more. Her work with director Amon Miyamoto and actor Haruma Miura has been strongly influential in her theatre career. Her latest musical theatre appearance was in "WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND" directed by Akira Shirai, with Haruma Miura playing the lead role. Although he is no longer with us, Marika is truly grateful for being able to work with her friend in his last show.
Marika has also made her way in the music and TV industries. She was the main host/singer (uta no oneesan) for the children's show "MY DISNEY JUNIOR" on the Disney Channel, for 4 years. She is a member of the singer duo SHOWSTOPPERS and released a Christmas Album by Billboard Records. Her solo song, "I'M OKAY" was chosen as the ending theme song for the Matsumoto Seicho Drama "SOSHITSU NO GIREI" (TV TOKYO), and she has appeared on music shows such as FNS KAYOSAI and MUSIC FAIR both on Fuji Network.
Her professional career has led her to sing at Japan's finest concert hall, Budokan, where she sang as a part of the Priscilla Cast in the ACT AGAINST AIDS event. She also produces her own live shows in the Tokyo area.
The tour scheduled for "WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND", and "SCHOOL OF ROCK" which was planned for this summer got cancelled due to COVID-19. She is currently rehearsing for the musical “IF/THEN” which is scheduled to open in Hibiya at Theatre Creation in January 2021. She also continuously auditions for roles and strives to become a musical theatre actress who can change lives.
Yu Hayami 早見優 (Former ASIJ)
Singer and TV Actress
Hayami is a J-pop singer and TV actress in Japan. In 2011, the Japanese music television program Music Station listed her as the 50th all-time best-selling idol in Japan, with 2,850,000 records sold.
Yu Hayami was born in Atami, Shizuoka, and was raised in Guam and Hawaii from the age of 3 to 14 years old. She was scouted by an agent at the age of 14 and soon moved back to Japan to start her career as a singer. She attended ASIJ from 1981 to 1982. She entered Sophia University and graduated, receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Comparative Culture.
In 1982, Hayami gained her J-pop singer's debut with the single "Isoide Hatsukoi" (ASAP, my first love!) after being scouted by a talent agent in a shopping mall’s elevator in Hawaii in 1980 when she was only 14 years old. Named “Bilingual girl back from Hawaii” due to her ability to speak very fluent English because of her background, Hayami was instantly recognized and touted as one of the best newcomers to watch out for. She proceeded to win most of the major newcomers’ awards by end of 1982. In 1983, her fifth single, "Natsu Iro no Nancy" (Summer Coloured Nancy), was selected as a campaign song for a Coca-Cola commercial, and she became a cover girl of that. The single became Hayami’s first Big Hit, making it to the top 10 of the Oricon Chart, winning countless awards. As a result of the success of the song, Hayami made her 1st appearance at the 34th edition of the year end NHK Kouhaku Red and White Song Festival. Hayami participated consecutively 3 years in the prestigious show. (1983 - 1985)
Hayami shifted her focus to become an actress and TV & Radio presenter in the 1990s. Being able to speak fluent English, Hayami’s host programmes were all catered to English speaking education materials and were all very popular. Hayami continued her successful presenter’s work till current, and can still be regularly seen on entertainment varieties programme singing her signature songs from the early stage of her idol career.
Shinji Yamasaki (ASIJ 2003)
CEO for RE:ERTH
Born and raised in Tokyo, he attended ASIJ from Nursery Kindergarten, and graduated in 2003. He completed his Undergraduate Degree in Boston, then received his Masters in London. After working in top capital cities like New York, London, and Tokyo in finance (Lehman Brothers) and medical devices (Boston Scientific), he joined his family business, which owns several distributorships for international health and beauty brands.
In 2017, he started RE:ERTH, a nature-derived, efficacious, and minimalistic skincare brand for healthy, mochi-skin. Using ingredients backed by studies from reputable universities like Kindai University and Oxford University, RE:ERTH combines the Japanese way of life with cutting-edge technology, and features proprietary ingredients including Japanese White Turmeric, which grows only on the brand’s farms in the Kyushu region of Japan.
Outside of work, his interests lie in fitness, horticulture (particularly succulents and cacti), and won't miss an opportunity to have a coffee and cigar!
Natuski Uemura (Former Aoba International School)
Before I entered Aoba Japan International School as an ESL student, I spoke no English and my only experience abroad was a vacation trip to Guam (my parents didn't and don't speak English and have never lived abroad). After immersing myself in American style education for 3 years, I graduated as Valedictorian of the class in 1999.
After AJIS, I attended a Quaker high school in Pennsylvania then went to Washington University in St. Louis. After graduation, I went into a PhD. program in Political Science at Stanford University but left the program after 1 year with a Master's degree as I wanted to "explore" the world more before committing myself to a life in academia. There was a slight possibility that I would go back to the program after working for few years but I never went back...
After Stanford, I worked for an Asian VC in Silicon Valley then moved back to Japan where I started a career in M&A advisory. I worked for various firms including Credit Suisse and Deloitte before going freelance, doing translation and analyst work for financial institutions, consulting firms, and funds. My now-husband (boyfriend at the time) got seconded to his firm's Mumbai office, so I went along. While continuing to work as a freelancer, I also started a jewelry business, designing jewelry, manufacturing it in Jaipur then selling it in Japan.
That's when I started to explore my creative side in business.
After returning to Japan from India, I met yoga while on a vacation in Sri Lanka. Yoga changed my lifestyle completely first from the diet (total meat lover to vegan) to consumption and mindset on more sustainable and nature-based living. I started a YouTube channel in June 2018, initially to share vegan cooking recipes then expanded topics to include yoga, mindfulness, sustainable living, etc. We built a house in the mountains of Nagano last year to be closer to nature and it has become my new mission to show the beauty that exists in nature through videos to my viewers and encourage people to experience/feel nature whenever they can.