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Meet Joachim Ekstrom

Joachim Ekstrom
Director of College Counseling
Seoul Foreign School (Korea)

What drew you to the world of college counseling? 
I had been teaching for a couple years, and I felt I had more to give students than the role of teacher allowed me. I completed a master's degree in counseling psychology and worked as K-12 counselor for one year before I became a high school counselor. Back then, college counseling was all new to me. I began visiting universities around the world, and I was fascinated by the multitude of paths and opportunities available to students. Guiding students through the college admission jungle is somewhat of a personal call for me as I struggled to find my own path as a young adult. I dropped out of high school twice and didn’t graduate from college until I was 32 years old. 

What is your favorite part of the job?
I have become really good at helping students find good-fit colleges, and it gives me much pleasure guiding them through their last two years of high school. The most rewarding part of my job is when I get to see students become engaged in their college search and ultimately fall in love with colleges that are a good match. I have visited more than 200 colleges around the world over the last 10 years, and it has made me realize what an enormous task our international students are up against as they start their university research process. I feel privileged to be able to guide and support them in their journey.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
NACAC has provided me with a ton of opportunities to connect with colleagues around the world, on both sides of the desk. The professional development I have had through collaboration with colleagues has been invaluable. I have also often turned to the NACAC Code of Ethics and Professional Practices as a guide while navigating tricky situations at the international schools I have worked at. It has always been a great comfort to be able to rely on a professional organization whose guiding principles encapsulate best practices. I look forward to representing International ACAC in Kentucky this year as a delegate to the NACAC Assembly.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
I have worked at international schools in Asia for 13 years now. Most of my students are under tremendous pressure to perform at the highest level, not only academically but also in terms of extracurricular involvement. Parents and extended family often expect that students will get accepted into the most selective universities in the world. I wish that some of the pressure was somehow removed from students’ plates so they could enjoy their youth a bit more.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
In my free time, I spend a lot of time with my 4-year old son. We build castles out of blankets, pillows and curtains; we read and tell stories, and we watch cartoons. I have also been very involved in service projects. I used to run a bike tour in Bangkok where the proceeds went toward supporting children living with HIV. I used to bring my students on visits to the orphanage regularly, and we organized Christmas parties, fun days, and field trips for the children. Since moving to Korea, I haven’t had much time to be involved in community service as we have been building a new college counseling program, but I hope to bring it back into my life again soon.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
It would be Alex in Madagascar because he has such a big heart and a great sense of humor. He makes mistakes all the time (just like me), but he tries his best to make up for it as he genuinely cares about others. 

Describe yourself in five words.
Passionate, compassionate, creative, energetic, and determined.  

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