Tomoyoshi Sato

Conrad Dahm, Staff Writer

If there is one thing to be said about Tomoyoshi “Tom” Sato `23 it is that he is determined. This Grinnell fourth-year has had many experiences at Grinnell and beyond, but one quality that encapsulates his determination is his experiences in working with others, especially helping found the Salsa and Bachata Club and volunteering for a refugee organization in Sweden. 

Sato is from Japan and is about to graduate from Grinnell College with a degree in sociology. In his time here, he has helped build clubs, do research, travel and most of all, experienced what it means to be a Grinnell student. One club that Sato joined early on and loved was the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club at Grinnell.  

“I started Judo when I was eight,” Sato said. “Judo was a really big part of my identity.” 

The club was small when Sato joined his first year, so he worked with the professors who run the club to help it grow. Now, judo practices regularly with over 20 attendees, which is something that Sato takes pride in. Another experience that he enjoyed was getting to represent Grinnell at competitions, including national tournaments. 

“My second semester at Grinnell, I competed at collegiate nationals in New York and got third in the 73-kilo division. My coach was really proud of me.” 

Sato said that recently he has taken a step back from judo, but he is still involved in the club. Yet recently, he helped form another club at Grinnell, the Salsa and Bachata club, which he co-founded with Nina Ranalli `26. The club was not an instant success, though. 

“I organized a workshop once last semester, and nobody showed up. It was such an unfortunate turnout.” Sato did not give up though. He said further, “This semester when I organized a workshop with my partner and advertised it, there were 20-30 people there. It was so different from last semester, so I was proud.”  

Sato did not always dance salsa, however. He said that he first learned while he was in college, studying abroad in Stockholm, Sweden. He mentioned that while he was there, learning salsa and bachata was “really intense. I danced almost every day.” 

While in Stockholm, Sato had an experience that changed the way he viewed the world and inspired him to make social change. 

“When I was there was the time when the Ukrainian war started. Over spring break, I flew to Warsaw, Poland and volunteered there for 10 days.” Sato went on to explain that over his spring break, he worked from 6 a.m. until noon every day helping serve food and drinks to Ukrainian refugees who were arriving in Poland. After his spring break ended, he said the experience made him feel like he needed to help, so he started volunteering with the organization Refugees Welcome Stockholm.  

For this organization, Sato worked at a distribution center where he helped coordinate the distribution of donated items to Ukrainian refugees. While he was there, he filmed a documentary which he presented on Friday, May 5 about Ukrainian refugees. The focus of the film, he said, is longevity. “Being a refugee is not a one-time thing, it is a long-term thing. I want to talk about the long-term experiences of being a refugee.”  

Being a refugee is not a one-time thing, it is a long-term thing. I want to talk about the long-term experiences of being a refugee.

— Tomoyoshi Sato

Sato also said that his experiences in volunteering also shaped his future career plans and area of studies in sociology. Sato explained that Sweden has a right-wing party that is nationalist and gaining power in the Swedish government. His focus in sociology is studying right-wing anti-immigrant movements and why people support them.

 He said that after spending time in Sweden, “it kind of struck me, like, why are people becoming more anti-immigrant in Europe?” 

At Grinnell, he said that one of the most impactful classes he took was a class about immigration and why people oppose it. Using his experiences at Grinnell and beyond, Sato hopes to study further and pursue a career in public policy.  

Sato gave two major pieces of advice — “Just be yourself. You don’t have to try really hard to be liked by everyone else.” He also said further that “Grinnell is not a place that just gives you opportunities. Grinnell is a place that supports students who create their own opportunities. You must speak up.” Sato applied this in his own life. He explained that during his first and second years, he tried to be liked by everyone, but during a gap year during the COVID-19 Pandemic, he realized that he should just be himself. He also explained that you must create opportunities for yourself and want to achieve your goals.