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
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.