Learning French

French is my third language, after Japanese and English, that I have started learning when I was in 6th grade. This was because I used to live in a French-speaking region of Switzerland and I had difficulties communicating with the locals without any knowledge of French. This language acquisition continues to this day, even in High School and the DP program, teaching me not only French but also about language, communication, and culture. After a few years of learning French, I found out that French shared some similarities with English, which I am fluent in. For example, there are words that are really close to its actual English translation such as particulierment (particularly) and information (information) but with different pronunciations. Moreover, the grammar of the sentences and the order in which words are placed are very similar. However, I found differences as well such as the feminine and masculine words of French. As this idea of feminine and masculine words are not used in either Japanese or English, it was new and hard to get used to at the beginning.

Now that I can speak, write, read and understand French to an intermediate level I begun learning about its culture as well through ways such as watching French movies, reading French stories, learning about French traditions and idioms. These taught me a lot about what France, as a country, is like as well as its culture and how similar or different to the countries of which I speak its languages fluently. It was very interesting to learn and experience French culture because it was something that I was always interested in, as I have visited the country a few times when I used to live in Switzerland.

With this knowledge, I once tried to help a French-speaking tourist find her way in Tokyo. In the beginning, she asked me in English but she seemed to be lost a little, so I told her that I can speak a little bit of French. She then told me that she was looking for a train station and since I knew where she was talking about, I tried to tell her. However, I found it very difficult to teach her exactly where she needs to go because I was not very fluent or natural with French. So, in the end, I ended up using some English words as well as gestures to convey my thoughts to her. This was a valuable experience that made me realize that even though languages are important in communication with others, there are also other ways that we can communicate such as gestures and facial expressions. From this, I learned the importance of communication tools other than languages, teaching me how I can improve my communication with others in the future.

Cambodia Service Learning Trip

 

Local Children That Will Be Attending the School We Helped Build

School Construction

A Classroom

A Tool Used to Stamp the Rocks and the Sand

The Corridor of the School

Well Construction

From February 4th to February 12th, 2018, I went on a service learning trip to Cambodia to directly help out people suffering from poverty. Even before going on the trip, I was looking forward to getting a new inspiring experience because I have never done anything like this before. Moreover, since I have already had several background knowledge about poverty in Cambodia through my internship experience at HOPE International Development Agency and my Personal Project, I was excited to actually see the reality of what I only knew through data and research. However, there were mainly two worries which were that I did not know what kind of service I was exactly going to offer to the people of Cambodia and whether I was going to be able to adapt to such a new environment from where I currently live, Japan.

During the trip, I arrived at Phnom Penh, then moved to the poor province of Pursat and then moved to Siem Reap. It was in the Pursat province that I did most of my service activity. The Pursat province is known as one of the poorest provinces in the poor country of Cambodia and there are many people living in remote areas where they have no access to basic needs such as education and water. In the Ankrong village that we stayed at, we helped build a school there that was supplied by the donations made previously by the HOPE Cambodia Service Club at my school, which I am a part of. The school that we were building had three classrooms and was for children in the middle school. Since the base of the school was already there, we began with placing rocks on the floor of these three classrooms. Then, we carried piles of sand on top of the rocks and poured water all over the sand and rocks to stamp them down to create a flat surface. Children from the local area that will be attending the school came and helped out with the construction too. Over the period of three days, we continued this work and I was able to

become friends with some of the children even with the language barrier. After helping out with the school construction, we went to another part of the Pursat province to help build a well for a family living in a remote area. The family consisted of a grandmother, a mother, a father and two children. I was shocked to hear that the mother was 16, the same age as me. They were living in a small shack made of scrap metal and wood pieces. There, we used concrete to create a floor for the well that was already implemented. After the well construction, we visited two families that are on the waiting list for getting a well next year or the year after. One family lived in a house that had no proper roof and the other family had a mother that had a neck

tumor and a father with an injured leg. The two families both had to walk around 6km to get to a nearby river every day, where they can only collect contaminated water. It was hard to listen to their reality and how poverty affects their daily lives. However, it all taught me a very important lesson that I would have never learned anywhere else. As both the school and the well construction that I helped out with is a type of sustainable service, which means that it is not a one-time service that provides basic necessities such as water and education, I feel like I was able to contribute and make a small difference in the lives of people in Cambodia.

From this experience, I was able to gain a lot of new knowledge and my perspective on poverty changed drastically. One important knowledge I gained was through the construction of both the school and the well, where I learned how fortunate I am to be in a position where I have no trouble getting education or water. I go to school every day without any second thought and I would get clean, drinkable water if I just turn the tap. However, this trip taught me that this is not ordinary. Not everybody in the world has access to these. That I should not take them for granted. This became especially clear when I visited the families who had no wells because their lives were completely different from mine and I still remember how the mother of one of the family said: “I want a roof and a bicycle if I have more money”. This comment on wanting a roof and a bicycle really shocked me and I did not know what to say. Another important knowledge that I gained was about the importance of reaching out to other people. Everyone is born the same way and it is just a matter of chance that I was born in a Japanese family that does not have to suffer from extreme poverty and a Cambodian child was born into their poor household. This means that it could have been any of us suffering from lack of clean water or food. Therefore, I understood how important helping others is and even a small donation can add up to make a huge donation that creates things such as schools and wells. This trip made me recognize and rethink the purpose of raising awareness and fundraising for people in poverty, making me more interested and motivated than ever to further continue with this activity.

As mentioned earlier, there was also a significant change in the way I viewed poverty before and after the trip. Before going on the trip, I knew that poverty is an issue that needs to be dealt with and that there were many people suffering from it. I also knew how people did not have access to clean water or food, or even education or jobs. I even knew that people lived in shacks with diseases but without proper education. But, I realize now that these knowledge were just knowledge. It was not understanding. As I went on the trip and met actual people suffering to survive each day, the reality was added to each of this knowledge and they turned into understandings. I no longer viewed poverty as just a global issue but an ongoing, real-life issue that actual real people suffer from. An issue that I feel motivated to be involved in. Therefore, this trip opened my eyes to a brand new perspective and a new-found strong interest in combatting the issue of poverty.

This trip will not be the end because I rather feel like it was a new beginning for me in working for poverty. The experience that I gained from this trip will definitely transfer in many areas of my future life and will surely affect who I am. If I could go on the trip one more time, I would definitely choose to go but even if I cannot, I will keep supporting in the best way I can through indirect services like fundraising and raising awareness.

IASAS MUN Conference

From November 8th to 12th, I went Bangkok, Thailand to participate in the IASAS MUN Conference along with 9 other students from YIS. Before going there, I was very nervous because I have heard many stories from students who previously went to an IASAS Conference and how it was very high level. Since it was only my second year of MUN, I was not sure if I will be able to participate in the conference as much as I would like to. For the conference, I was allocated Saudi Arabia in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) and the topics of the debate were:

  • The question of mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS on economic development.
  • The question of ensuring compliance with non-discrimination and non-coercion standards in labor markets.
  • The question of the use of unilateral economic measures as a means of political and economic coercion against developing countries.

Before going there, I researched about Saudi Arabia’s stance on these three issues and wrote a position paper as well as some resolution clauses. Here is the link to my potion paper and my resolution clauses. At the actual day, I was a little scared but also excited. The conference started with each of the countries giving a 1.5 min speech on their stance and when it was my turn I was able to get up and say my speech. This gave me confidence and after that, I did a for speech, POI (Point of Information) and participated in a moderated caucus. After the second day, we broke off from our committees and had a General Assembly where we discussed some topics from different committees as well as had an emergency crisis. The emergency crisis was a cyber attack from either China, Russia, or United States where the Internet shut down and was having a big impact on the economy. It was actually fun and interesting to debate about this and write a resolution on it. Overall, it was a great experience where I got to understand the world in more detail, developed my debating skill and got more confidence talking in front of an audience.

From this experience, I was able to gain a better understanding of the differences and similarities between the countries in terms of economic, social, political and other points of view. The main takeaway for me has been my learning on the power/privilege of women and men in Saudi Arabia that is closely related to the religion of Islam. Firstly for the power/privilege of women and men in Saudi Arabia, I learned that the rights that are granted to each gender are very different. For example, in Saudi Arabia, there is a legal ‘guardianship’ system where men become the ‘guardians’ of women and have the right to control almost all parts of the women’s rights. This means that a woman cannot go to school, travel, shop or even get certain medical treatments without the permission of her male guardian. I thought this difference in power and privilege given to the separate genders were unfair for the women because they are unable to do what they want to do and their social advancement is very limited. Compared to where I am from, which is Japan, I realized that Saudi Arabia’s case is very different from that of Japan. Even though Japan is not the most gender-equal country in the world, it is still more equal than Saudi Arabia but at the same time, it is also working towards a more equal society for all by encouraging more women to work and have a leadership role in them. This made me notice that the different steps each country must take to achieve gender equality if very different because the situations and the cause of it depend on each country.

I also learned about the influence of religion on this difference in power and privilege, which is my second main takeaway. According to the research that I have done, I found out that the reason Saudi Arabia regards women as inferior compared to men is because they claim that the Qur’an and the Shariah law states so. It is true that there are some verses in the Qur’an or the Shariah law that suggest this but, I still believe that it is too severe in Saudi Arabia’s case. However, the issues related to religion is a very sensitive topic and I recognize that it is not an easy issue to solve. For this reason, it was difficult for me to debate and convince the other side about the role of women in society during the meeting. While other Arab nations and some Islamic countries agreed to my points, the European countries and American countries totally opposed to Saudi Arabia’s stance, so in the end, we were not able to pass a resolution during our council. However, all that I have learned about the influence of religion on the country have changed my perspective about gender equality and made me understand that some issues are harder to solve than others because they are related to what people believe, which is something others cannot control.

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