• Posted on: 10 January 2024

Two UPPI students join ASEAN Students Conference in Japan

UPPI students Kathleen Faye Lagasca and Jann Blair Salinas

Two MADEM students from the Population Institute, Jann Blair Salinas and Kathleen Faye Lagasca, participated in a transformative 9-day cultural exchange programme facilitated by the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE). This enriching initiative, known as JENESYS (Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths) 2023, took place from the 10th to the 19th of December 2023, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and generously funded by the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF).

Blair and Kaye, along with four delegates each from Central Luzon State University and Colegio de San Juan de Letran Calamba, were chosen to represent the Philippines in a group of a hundred participants from ASEAN member states, Japan, and Timor-Leste. Amidst a diverse array of activities during this period, a notable highlight was their active participation in the "ASEAN-Japan Students Conference" held in Tokyo. The conference served as a platform to delve into critical regional issues such as climate change and disaster prevention, tourism development, population concerns, startups, and advancements on the Internet and AI.

We asked Blair and Kaye about their experiences, insights, and perspectives gained during this immersive journey and here’s what they have to say:

Q: What were your initial thoughts or feelings when you were selected for the program?

Blair: Being selected as one of the delegates to the 2023 JENESYS ASEAN-Japan Students Conference sparked a mix of excitement and responsibility. To represent the Philippines in an international setting was a privilege, and the prospect of cultural exchange fueled a sense of anticipation for the journey ahead. The responsibility became a little heavier when I was selected by the JICE Philippines to be the country leader for the Philippines’ delegates.

Kaye: Being selected as a delegate to represent the Philippines at the 2023 JENESYS ASEAN-Japan Students Conference filled me with a sense of honor and excitement. I have heard about this prestigious program since I was an undergraduate student; hence, being selected for this, and knowing this was a part of the celebration for the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation made me more exhilarated. Moreover, it has always been one of my lifelong goals to visit Japan so this is really a dream come true for me.

Q: What were some of your expectations before leaving for the exchange program?

B: Before embarking on the exchange program, I envisioned a journey of cultural immersion, forging regional connections among students in the ASEAN, Timor Leste, and Japan, and gaining insights into the challenges that these countries are facing. My expectations were met and exceeded as the program unfolded, offering a multifaceted exploration of Japan’s rich culture and population issues, as well as gaining insights from my counterparts in the ASEAN and Timor Leste.

K: Before leaving for the program, I expected that this would be nothing short of a mentally- and culturally-enriching experience. Firstly, knowing that my co-delegates from the Philippines were chosen for different topics such as climate change, internet and AI, tourism and management, and startups gave me a hint that there are several pressing issues that the region is facing together. Secondly, I also anticipated that there would be an amazing exchange of ideas, information, and experiences as I will work with other delegates from ASEAN countries, Timor Leste, and Japan to come up with an action plan tackling population issues.

Q: How did you prepare for your overseas exchange in terms of cultural and language considerations?

B: The preparation for the overseas exchange involved cultural sensitivity as a priority. This includes an in-depth study of Japanese customs, traditions, and social norms. The online meetings and pre-departure orientation spearheaded by JICE have helped a lot. The study materials on Japanese language that were provided in learning their language also helped me in preparing for the trip.

K: As I have taken up Hapon 10-11 when I was an undergraduate student, I reviewed some common phrases being used in the Japanese language. Also, as we would be having a home stay (that is, staying with and living in a Japanese household), I also researched some Japanese customs and traditional norms. Japanese people are known to be very polite; hence, I wanted to return that same energy to them.

Moreover, I also tried to practice my English speaking skills as the exchange would be primarily delivered through this language. I practiced my pronunciation and my speed so that I could be understood more clearly. Lastly, I always reminded myself to have an open mind and open heart because I will also be working with people from other countries who may have different ways of doing and looking at things.

Q: Can you share some unique experiences you had in the host country? What stood out the most to you?

JENESYS delegates pose for a photo after making kami-suki washi-paper.

B: Our unique experiences in Japan included not only the planned activities but also spontaneous interactions especially with other students. This helps build friendship and connections which transcends cultural and territorial boundaries. The homestay in Yomitan village provided an authentic perspective of Japan’s daily life. Our visits to historical sites and cultural landmarks helped us understand the unique history which shaped Japan to where it is now. I was in awe witnessing Japan’s artistic prowess and cultural pride in their performances of shamisen and shishi-mai and by making our own washi paper during the kami-suki making.

K: While we were in Tokyo, the kami-suki washi-paper making stood out to me. Aside from being the first hands-on cultural experience during the whole exchange, the explanation of the sensei astounded me. They talked about its origins, and I can see that the materials they used and the process they employed heavily referenced their environment and their climate. It also amazed me that despite washi paper being mass-produced in factories, they still know how to make it by hand.

While we were in Okinawa, particularly the Yomitan village, the tour around the Zakimi-jo castle ruins was a unique experience. Visiting such a historically important site and knowing its cultural relevance not just in the past but also in the current times awed me. Moreover, I loved the discussion the tour guide gave us concerning the history of Okinawa in connection with mainland Japan and with the United States. Additionally, during the homestay, being able to play the sanshin was such a delightful experience. While we were in Tokyo, we watched an amazing shamisen performance so playing an instrument closely related to it was thrilling.

Q: In what ways do you feel you grew academically and personally during your time abroad?

B: What’s good about the program is that it intertwined both academic and personal growth during the exchange. The professorial lecture on population issues by Professor Hisakazu Kato from Meiji University provided a deeper understanding on the declining birth rate and aging population issues that Japan is currently facing and other countries in the world will face by 2050. Additional lectures in Edogawa City Ward Office gave us a glimpse of their initiatives to tackle such issues - providing moral and financial support to couples who want to have babies rather than forcing them to have babies, building stronger elderly communities by spearheading activities to support zest for life, and creating an inclusive community for Japanese and foreign nationals. Additionally, Professor Serinah Tan of the Ryukyu University ignited our critical thinking by encouraging us to think of sustainable solutions to population issues anchored on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

K: In terms of academics, the lectures we attended deepened our understanding of the population issues of Japan. Although some of them are still not applicable to the Philippines, Prof. Serinah Tan (Ryukyu University) pointed out that Japan is the first country to experience population ageing to such an extent and that every other country is looking at them on how they will resolve the issue. Hence, being able to hear the lectures from these experts first-hand is something I am very much thankful for.

To illustrate, Edogawa City Ward’s initiative of encouraging both marriage and childbirth in their city, in my opinion, was very progressive– implementing marriage passports and providing financial support to parents to lessen the burden of raising a child is praiseworthy. They also have started implementing measures to be as open and welcoming to migrants as possible, and they actively engage their elderly when it comes to community-building activities. The lecture given by Yomitan-son, on the other hand, focused on reducing migration from their residents and on increasing migration from other people who have ties to Okinawa. They did this by ensuring that their village and Okinawa as a whole is a place they imagine themselves staying at for the rest of their lives. The school exchange with Ryukyu University also gave rich insights on how population issues are deeply connected with the different SDGs the UN is trying to achieve.

On a personal level, I felt that I made progress with respect to making, building, and maintaining (international) relationships. There were times that I experienced language barriers, so I had to use facial expressions and hand gestures to get my points across. I also had to think of ways to rephrase our questions because I might not be able to get my points across. What amazed me is that when people really wanted to understand each other, they tried to communicate what they wanted to say the best they could, and understand other people’s meaning with openness and consideration.

Q: How do you plan to integrate the experiences from Japan into your life back home?

B: Bringing the experiences from Japan back home involves not only sharing stories but also integrating the newfound perspective into daily life, that is, fostering cross-cultural understanding and encouraging dialogue and collaboration on international issues. As a participant of 2023 JENESYS, I’m bound to implement my project for the elderly community in my hometown as part of my action plan.

K: Firstly, I will be actively sharing my JENESYS experiences through social media and through online and physical talks. Right now, I am considering getting in touch with our city’s elderly association to share this experience with them. I am also thinking of getting in touch with some professors who are currently teaching DEMO 1 if I can give a talk about this. Moreover, our subgroup’s action plan consists of a social media campaign raising awareness about dementia and unpaid care work, so I will also be implementing that this coming February to March 2024.

Q: In what ways do you see the exchange program influencing your future career paths and personal development?

B: The exchange program’s influence on my future career paths is significant. Being exposed to global challenges and the collaborative efforts in formulating policy recommendations sparked an interest in contributing to solutions on a larger scale. This experience has kindled my passion for international relations and diplomacy. This also built my network of friends from all over ASEAN and Japan.

K: As a researcher and an aspiring demographer, I hope that someday I can collaborate with some of the lecturers here in this program. Moreover, as we also talked with government officials, my desire to work in a government setting or at least in an office where we can contribute to policy recommendations has been ignited. Lastly, I hope that I can collaborate with the bright young people I have met through this conference, as I believe that they will become leaders in their respective countries in the future.

Q: Finally, what are the key takeaways from your overseas exchange experience that you would like to share with others?

B: My key takeaways encompass the richness found in diversity, the power of collaborative problem-solving, and the importance of maintaining an open mind. The meeting of young and brilliant minds from the ASEAN countries, Timor Leste and Japan is vital in crafting sustainable solutions to issues. Embracing a global mindset and appreciating the interconnectedness of the world are my lasting lessons that will continue to shape my perspectives and future actions.

K: One of the key takeaways from this conference is the collaboration that transcends geo-political borders. This conference made me realize that all countries face population issues and there are some similarities among them; hence, working together to solve this problem would be more beneficial to everyone. Another key takeaway is that population issues relate very much to sustainability issues; hence, there is a need to raise awareness among the general public, to craft more policies among government offices, and to create more research work among the academe and the professionals.


More details about the JENESYS Programme here: https://jaif.asean.org/jaif-component/jenesys-programme/