The benefits of cultural exchange experience

When we experience a different culture, we gain a deeper understanding of other people, of our differences and similarities, and this deepened knowledge helps us strengthen our relationship with others, especially with foreign nationals of our neighboring countries.

My passion for cultural exchange programs and activities is influenced by my childhood fascination with the Japanese culture, both its traditional arts and crafts and even its pop culture. Back when I was in fifth grade, one of my young heart’s dreams included meeting Japanese people and visiting Japan. My younger dreamer self back then never had the slightest idea that I will indeed be involved in several activities that will allow me to meet many Japanese tomodachi (friends) and even visit my second home country, Japan.


What are the advantages of cultural exchange activities and programs for young people?

I made a list of the benefits of cultural exchange experience, especially among the youth, including some of the reasons why promoting cultural exchange is one of my lifelong pursuits.

1. It gives young people the opportunity to be actively part of socio-civic activities, apart from school-related ones

In 2007, I had my first cultural exchange experience when I volunteered for the Toyo University-University of the Philippines Cebu Spring Workshop. Japanese students of the Regional Development Studies from Toyo University in Tokyo, came to Cebu, Philippines during the spring break to learn more about local urban communities.

The program allowed all the participants, both Japanese and Filipino students, to learn from one another and from host local communities about best practices in urban planning and management. Japanese students were paired with Filipino students during community immersions, local tours, and even in the case study and research proposal presentations.

I remember we visited Barangay Luz to learn about its best practices in recycling and to learn how to make bags and souvenir items from trash like plastics. We got the chance to look at how green practices contribute to good urban planning, and how we can help at a community level.


I have been part of the said program even after graduating from the university. It is still ongoing under the supervision of my college professor, Cherry Ballescas sensei, and of both the Toyo University and UP Cebu teams. Knowing that the program is running for a decade now and I believe a decade more, makes me feel humbly proud to be among the student pioneers.

2.It is an opportunity to build lifetime friendship

Lifetime sisterhood
Then (2008) and now (2016). Reunited with my dearest soul sister Chisato chan! ~ Hontoni shiawase! She was one of the participants from Toyo University. We promised that we will see each other again. A promise that took us eight long years to fulfill.

Participants in exchange programs like the Toyo-UP Cebu workshop get the opportunity to share cultural differences between the Japanese and Filipinos, and to build lifetime relationships. I have met in this program some of my closest Japanese tomodachi whom I consider a family.

In 2011, back when I was working as an online journalist, I also got the opportunity to be among the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism- Multimedia Journalism fellows. Other fellows were from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, China, and Vietnam.

Two of my classmates then are already mentors now and their names are making waves online – the famous Bangladeshi documentary photographer, GMB Akash, and the Multimedia Journalist and international filmmaker, Rajneesh Bhandari. Through this program, I gained not only comprehensive training on multimedia journalism practices, and deeper understanding of the Asian culture, but lifetime friends and mentors, too.


3. It gives participants the opportunity to be their own leader


In 2016, I took part in language exchange meetups organized by a good friend of mine, Hironobu Maehara san. Our group, the Cebu Language Exchange (CLE), aims to help members learn English, Korean, Japanese languages, among others, through organizing various interest-based events and causes we are passionate about, like arts and crafts, mangroves planting, music shows for a cause, and even as simple as coffee meetups and island hopping.

The members are not only learning, we are also developing our leadership and public relations skills, and at the same time, we are creating beautiful and happy memories.

4. It helps improve foreign language skills


Aside from CLE, there is also the Japanese-English Exchange (JEE), a Japanese group lesson held on Saturdays and once every two weeks of the month. I managed to attend once, however, I never got the chance to come back because I have work on Saturdays, too.

The JEE group aims to make a growing community of Learners who are willing to help friends progress in their Japanese and English language skills. One of the tricks in learning a foreign language is to practice speaking it with a native.

5. It gives new, fresh perspectives about our own cultures


I have also been invited to attend a cultural exchange morning session organized by another good friend of mine, Jiyoung Beak, whom I met during a calligraphy workshop. During the Sunday morning session, we talk about the differences between the Japanese and Filipino cultures.

All of the Japanese and Filipino attendees are encouraged to share our views on various topics. Even a simple morning get together like this, and even simple topics like “why do Filipinos love to sing?”, “why do Japanese love to go to karaoke alone?”, “why are Filipinos late?”, “why are Filipinos good at English?”, “Why do Japanese love to study English in Cebu?” – these also allow us to gain new perspectives about cultures, even that of our own.

I believe that in a generation like ours that aims to be globally competitive, interacting with other foreign nationals allows us to learn cultures from a native’s perspective, helps us develop cross-cultural skills that will prove helpful in our pursuit to be involved in global relations, and molds cultural ambassadors among young people, who will help private and government organizations in forging better understanding between our neighboring home countries.

We may not notice it but the impact of these cultural exchange experiences on individuals is actually contributing to the progress of our global economies, for instance. Our little interactions are actually part of a bigger picture unbeknownst to us yet.

I do encourage young people out there who have stumbled upon this blog and have read until this part to grab every opportunity you get and participate in cultural exchange programs, whether as international students or as volunteers.

I believe that a pursuit like this helps us, young people, gain a better understanding of the world we are living in, of the people we are surrounding ourselves with and working with, and of living life in general.


Sojourn: Places you can visit when in Cebu

In my home country, the Philippines, you will never run out of places to explore – from stunning beaches, to lofty mountains, from affordable backyard hotels to luxurious 5-star resorts, and more. It’s a place for tourists, travelers, wanderers, and soul searchers. My home country is a home for everyone.

You should have known by now that there are 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago, and the major island groups are Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Here’s an amazing news about our archipelago! Just recently, three Philippine islands – Boracay, Cebu and Palawan – were ranked as the top three best islands in the world, according to Conde Naste Traveler’s Readers Choice Awards 2017.

Woah! Sugoi hakuryoku! I live in one of the best islands in the world and I couldn’t agree more! I’m born and raised in Leyte but I’m living in Cebu City for more than a decade now.

I’m sure you’ve already found on Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook, and YouTube many information about everything you might want to know about Cebu. Here below, meanwhile, I’m going to tell you a few things and show you a few snaps of the places I’d recommend you to visit should your next travels bring you to Cebu.

1. Sirao Flower Farm


Unleash the inner-pixie in you and visit fairyland located in Barangay Sirao. I really find this place magical and it’s one of my happy places close to our neighborhood. The Sirao Flower Farm is also known among local tourists as the Amsterdam of Cebu.


How to get there?

Option #1. You can take a cab (Taxi), Grab or Uber from JY Square Mall in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City directly to Sirao Flower Farm. Expect the fare to be high.

Option #2. You can hire a habal-habal (motorcycle-for-hire) from JY directly to Sirao Flower Farm. The habal-habal drivers usually offer Php 400 round trip rate for two, and ask for an additional fee if the waiting time takes long. You can use your haggling skills or your charm at this point.

Option #3. You can run or hike going there if you have plenty of time and don’t have other plans. If you need a running companion, please feel free to message me. I would be very glad to run with you.

The travel time is between 30-45 minutes. Take note of your landmark, too, which is the Ayala Heights. When you reach there, take a turn right and the fairyland is just around the corner.

2. Temple of Leah

IMG_2452.JPGThey say you are never lost when you see a temple, and when you visit the Temple of Leah, you’ll figure just that. I fell in love with this place because of the beautiful and happy memories I’ve made with loved ones whom I brought here.

It is known as the Taj Mahal of Cebu because of the story behind its foundation. It’s a grand tribute of love from a husband, the owner, to its late wife. The temple houses the treasures and everything Leah Adarna had been passionate about when she was alive.


The temple is located in Barangay Busay, a few kilometers before reaching the Sirao Flower Farm.

How to get there?

Option #1. You can take a cab (Taxi), Grab or Uber from JY Square Mall in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City directly to the Temple of Leah.

Option #2. You can hire a habal-habal (motorcycle-for-hire) from JY directly to the temple. Again, make use of your haggling skills or your charm.

Option #3. You can run or hike going there, too. When I went to the temple the first time, I ran it from JY Square with my siblings.

It’s best to go there either mid-morning so you can enjoy your photo session without getting sunburns or late afternoon so you can enjoy your mountain sunset view.

3. Moalboal


It’s my inner-mermaid’s happy place and it’s also a haven for divers. Moalboal is located in the south western part of Cebu, and it’s two and a half hours trip by bus from Cebu City. If you aren’t expert at diving yet, worry not because you can still enjoy the underwater wonders of Moalboal with your snorkeling gears like I did! You also can’t miss the awesome sardine run experience!

How to get there?

Option #1. If you are staying in a city hotel or island resort in the city, you can arrange a car transfer from your hotel going to your place to stay in Moalboal.

Option #2. You can also hire a taxi but expect the fare to be high.

Option #3. If you want adventure, you can take a bus from the South Bus Terminal. You can take either the Ceres or the Librando bus, which leaves every full hour.

Option #4. Hmmm, if you are an ultrarunner who wants to enjoy the south roads and relax and recover at the beach after, you can run from Cebu City to Moalboal, and please tag me along. It will be an awesome training for me, too.

4. Camotes Islands


I have been to this place several times in the past and every time I come back, I can’t help but fall in love again and again and again. A surely captivating paradise that makes you keep coming back.

How to get there?

Option #1: You can take a cab or a bus from Cebu City (North Bus Terminal) to Danao Port in Danao City, where there is a Ro-Ro vessel going to Consuelo Port in Camotes. There is a 5:30 am, 8:30 am, and 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 5:30pm boat trip going there and a 5:30 am, 9:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 5:00 pm going back.

Option #2: You can also take the fast craft from Mactan Cebu Yacht Club wharf going to Camotes. The trip is twice every Monday to Thursday at 7:00 am and 11:00 am and three times every Friday to Sunday at 7:00 am, 11:00 am, and 3:00 pm.

Option #3. Unfortunately, we neither can run going there nor swim, however, I would definitely recommend exploring the island on foot when you have plenty of time. There is definitely more to it than its beautiful resorts, and more wonders waiting for you to discover.

5. Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu

It’s a Mediterranean-inspired 5-star hotel and resort located in Punta Engano, Mactan in Lapu Lapu City. It’s known for its Swiss hospitality heritage and its Ibiza Cebu’s lifestyle dining and unrivalled entertainment.



I live here eight hours a day and sometimes more and making moments with colleagues and guests is blissful thus far.

We are always looking forward to welcoming you here on your next visit. You can enjoy the private beach, the Happy Hour, the Chocolate Hour, the must-try Mövenpick Ice Cream straight from Switzerland, the Balearic-inspired signature 15-course grill, the themed shows, the themed dinners, and more. It’s a paradise!

How to get there?

Option #1: You can get a cab, Grab or Uber from Cebu City straight to Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu.

Option #2: You can take a MyBus from SM Cebu Terminal and drop off at Marina Mall in Lapu Lapu City, and take either a cab or a jeepney with an Engano signage going to Movenpick.

Option #3: Yes, you can run from the city going to Mövenpick if you are training for a half marathon since it is more or less 21KM from the city center. Again, if you need a running buddy, you can tag me along.

I hope this list helps you plan your next Cebu sojourn. I came up with this because I want to share this with my Japanese friends who haven’t explored some of these places yet, and maybe they can also share this to their Japanese friends who are planning to visit Cebu.

Live to explore. It’s okay to be a tourist of the mundane because wherever we are in the world, there is always something and some place worth exploring.


Most of the time, in these random places we go, we can experience a spontaneous magic that sparks the inner-gypsy! Enjoy your sojourn, sweetlings!

Taiwan | A winter of soul searching

Was there a point in your life when you know everything is well, and you are doing just great, but you still feel you’re missing something important? You can’t figure out what, so you long to search for that something. It’s not identity or quarter-life crises, I guess. It’s a different kind of thing, bound with questions, and it feels like you know you’re not just in the right place at the right moment for the answers. I knew Taiwan won’t give me all the answers I need but I have a feeling that the weekend trip will somehow help me figure things out a little. Even just a little.

Apart from my political knowledge about Taiwan, I knew nothing about the places usually visited by tourists. My companion, the Deer, volunteered to prepare the itinerary for the trip.

Information Corner | Taoyuan International Airport

Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport  is an international airport also known as the Chiang Kai-shek International Airport. It is Taiwan’s largest airport, serving the capital city of Taipei, and the northern parts of the island.

Day 1 | Getting lost and liking it
When we travel, especially out of the country, we have to be ready to embrace and conquer some challenges, one of which is the language barrier. Not everyone speaks English, and the Deer and I don’t speak Mandarin either. We only know Xie Xie, Ni Hao and Wo Ai Ni.  I had a hard time talking to the staff whom I bought our first bus tickets from. We both failed to get our messages across, so on our first day in Taiwan, the Deer and I got lost and I was the only one who appeared to be happy about it. We took the wrong bus from the Taoyuan International Airport, so we ended up at the Taoyuan High Speed Train Station instead of the Taoyuan Train Station. No WiFi, no Google Map, just two lost tourists of the mundane on a bus ride to somewhere we never knew where exactly.  Remembering it now still makes me giggle.

In going places, we will always meet people, many of whom will most likely ignore us but a few will most likely come to our aid when they feel we needed one. A gentleman whom we asked if it was the railway station told us what to do and what bus to take to get to Bade District, where our hotel was located. Bus trips follow a schedule, so we had to wait for a little. Our first few hours in Taiwan was actually spent at bus stations, where we experienced being shouted at by attendants and where we had to run gracefully.

Information Corner | Taoyuan High Speed Train Station
THSR Taoyuan Station (高鐵桃園站) is an underground station of the Taiwan High Speed Rail located in Zhongli District, Taoyuan City, Taiwan. It is also known as Qingpu Station (青埔車站).

Did I mention that it took us forever to get to Bade District? The bus tour was exhausting, so when we took off, our first priority was to find a place to refuel our tummies and brains before we start the search for Xong Li. When they said Taiwan is the best place for foodies, they weren’t joking at all. It’s a haven for foodies, indeed.

The search for Xong Li was surprisingly smoother than our bus chase. We just had to walk a few kilometers and we easily found our a little bit hidden home for the next few days.  The neighborhood reminded me of a parallel universe, where alleys have time warps portal that would take me to anywhere in time and space. It was a silent neighborhood of tall residential buildings, surrounded by several clothing stores and kawaii cafes. We also found a park nearby, where I did my morning run the next day. We passed by a very clean river canal, which I wish I could also see back in the Philippines.


Sometimes, we need to allow ourselves to get lost because there is also an opportunity and wisdom in it. Sometimes we need to take the wrong bus to know and remember what’s the right one.  Sometimes, we need long walks to slow down a bit and appreciate what we have been missing in life.

It was only our first day but it already felt like I’ve known the place for so long.

Day 2 | Chasing buses and trains

I woke up early to run, explore more and live the dream I dreamed almost seven years ago – to run in all places I’m visiting. I braved the 11 degrees temperature and did a 5KM. Running on a winter day is similar to chasing dreams. We have to endure the cold to feel the warmth of success. However small, live your dream.

There are many Filipino OFWs in Taiwan, and we met one on our second day.  We were back chasing buses and trains when a Filipina who heard us speaking our local language came to our rescue. She helped us buy our Yoyo card, taught us how to get to the railway station, and to Taipei. It was a long and scenic train ride to Taipei.  I also figured that I am natural GPS.

I don’t know if the Deer noticed but I cried when I found myself inside Taipei 101. It was the same feeling when I went to the Tokyo Tower for the first time last year. I was there on the 89th floor, embraced by an overwhelming feeling, and overjoyed. It felt surreal but I knew I was at the right place, at the right moment.

A few months back, going to Taiwan was only a random thought, and it was something I never even planned. I prepared for it but not the way I used to whenever I travel in the past.

Sometimes, we need to loosen up, break free and welcome spontaneity, because there is a hidden wisdom in it, too. For someone like me who wanted everything planned, backed with plan B-Z, spontaneous trip means getting totally out of my comfort zone. Outside our comfort zone, as daunting as it is, are beautiful places and opportunities we just can’t miss, too.
Information Corner | Taipei 101

Taipei 101 was officially the world’s tallest in 2004, until it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa in 2009. This 101-story building is said to be a symbol of evolution of technology and Asian tradition.

Our Taipei sojourn won’t be complete without trying the YouBike for rent. You can use your Yoyo card if you have or coins in renting out these bikes. The Deer and I were able to use our 🚲 🚲 bikes for free though.  We passed by a former military camp that now houses cafes, arts and crafts shops, and even toddlers centers.

When you are enjoying, time stops and you can do a lot of things.

Our way back to Bade wasn’t as smooth as it was on our way to Taipei, but we made it back to our cozy bedroom safe and sound. It was a relief!

Information Corner | YouBike or the Taipei Bike Sharing System

You can use your Yoyo card if you have or coins in renting out these bikes. The YouBike is a public bicycle sharing service offered by Taipei City Department of Transportation.

Day 3 | Going back home
We took a cab going to the airport because we wouldn’t want another bus and train chase and miss our flight. I can’t believe we only stayed for a while in Taiwan when it really felt like a week already. Not everyone we met was hospitable but I still hope to meet the kind people of Taiwan on my next visit. The streets and sidewalks aren’t safe for runners, but I still hope to run more miles on my next visit.
Wandering allows us to see the world’s endless possibilities. It is one way of opening ourselves up to new opportunities, learnings, ideas, cultures. It helps us look at situations, mundane in nature, differently.
I didn’t find the answers in my winter soul searching in Taiwan, but the spontaneous trip helped me find myself again, who knows that all the answers are really found somewhere else but within.