Global Changemaker Series: Van Milton

I went to school for automotive design but ended up changing majors to botany because science seemed more interesting. I decided to keep the fine arts minor, though, and continue to be intrigued by the intersection of science and art. In college the language requirement and a long interest in Japan led me to take a couple of semesters of Japanese. After graduating, I kept in touch with my Japanese professor, who encouraged me to apply to the JET Program – an English teaching program run by the Japanese government. I was accepted and spent five years teaching in a small city called Okayama in Western Japan and exploring and learning about the culture in my free time. Since returning I’ve worked at the Denver Botanic Gardens and am now invovled in many local Japanese language and meetup groups. I enjoy outdoor sports, especially hiking and mountain biking. I’ve been a bicycle commuter for 17 years, and environmental issues are extremely important to me.

Interview with Van Milton, editor-in-chief, Life After Study Abroad magazine

How did your international experience change or alter your career or life direction?

It gave me a set of experiences and skills to draw on that most of the general population doesn’t have. At the same time it’s also a connection to others that have shared or similar experiences and gives me camaraderie with like-minded international people. I have no doubt that it will continue to factor into job and friends that I’ll make in the future.

What advice would you give to an aspiring global changemaker?

Get out there. Do it. Go somewhere new and experience new things. It’s the best advice I can imagine.

Was there an “aha” moment in your time in a different country that helped you gain clarity in your life or altered your life?

I had been living in Japan about two years when it occurred to me that I had made some really good, important friends. I started to realize that most people have such a strong sense of belonging to one place or another, but how many people are you actually close to? 100? 200? It made me realize that those friendships are what bind you to a place, and all you need to do to become a citizen of the world is to get out there, make new friends and watch as your horizons expand.

What is your favorite go-to quote?

We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.

Looking forward, what do you see as important in shaping a globalized world?

Respecting the environment for what it is – our home and home to countless other species. Stepping back from violence and greed as acceptable human attributes and growing our sense of compassion.

What skills or attitudes have you found most useful operating in an international context?

Patience and being able to listen and consider things from another point of view are essential skills. If you expect to be heard you must be willing to listen and if you desire to change someone with your opinions you must also be willing to be changed by theirs.