The final quarter of 2015 has been such a heart beater for me since there was so much going on that brought me both tears and laughter. However, my year 2015 almost comes to a close with an incredible trip to Thailand with a 5 – day workshop of YSEALI Gen Edu.
YSEALI, which stands for Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative, is created by the U.S President Barack Obama to strengthen leadership development and engagement of young people in South East Asia (SEA) through a plenty of programs and activities. The one I attended was “YSEALI Generation: ASEAN Education for the 21st century workshop”, which aims at bringing youth across ASEAN countries together to a framework to share and learn from each other’s experiences and ideas with experts in the field of education in order to improve their countries’ education. You can check the program out via this link for more details http://www.ysealieducation2015.org/page/
The workshop info popped up on my computer screen while I was surfing the Internet. Being fascinated by the aim of the workshop, I applied right away despite my neat schedule at that time. Luckily and amazingly, out of thousands of applications, I was selected as one of 9 Vietnamese representatives and 80 delegates from 10 ASEAN countries to attend the workshop from the 12th to 16th December.
During the workshop, we were honored to meet, listen and also have fascinating discussions with experts from different countries, from the U.S Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davis, Former Secretary General of ASEAN – Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, who is my most favorite, to other young and successful speakers, about ASEAN’s further development, especially in education and our roles in making that change.
Additionally, we had chance to discover more about our strengths through Strength Finder session by Jason Ho from Singapore. My strengths include Achiever, Focus, Strategic, Relator and Significance based on a pre – event survey that we were asked to do. Also I had nice discussions with other delegates about our advantages, the way we have used and how successfully we have done with them in our daily lives. It is essential to know about what we are good at, I reckon, since by discovering our strengths we can maximize them to develop ourselves further and better. And we are different, ain’t we? Our strengths are not the same. What we lack might be what other people possess. Therefore, those differences would be helpful supplements to each other when we work in a team. After this session, I actually felt more confident about myself and also got to understand the others better.
After 2 days in Bangkok, we all left for Hua Hin to visit the Wangklaikangwon School, which is well – known for the Distance Learning Project launched by His Majesty the King in 1995. Since the shortage of teachers in remote areas in terms of numbers and specialization and limited opportunities for rural kids to access schools are critical problems in Thailand, the King came up with a plan to transmit lectures via satellite to faraway areas in the whole country in order to make knowledge available to wider audiences. In addition, this one is also the one and only private school providing free education in Thailand since free education is only available in Thai public schools. The visit was totally worthwhile since I had been genuinely curious and eager to see the school and the project. It was mind-blowing to see a professional recoding system and cameramen in every classroom to film lessons which are directly transmitted to other areas, even other countries. The videos are also uploaded on the school’s website as referential documents and used when teachers are absent. What is a brilliant idea to take advantage of technology so that people, especially the disadvantaged, can have access to quality and affordable education. This system has been applied in a wide range of countries including Vietnam but the one in Vietnam is not as popular as one in Thailand (To be honest, I hadn’t heard about its existence in Vietnam before visiting the school). However, hopefully, this system will be known more widely and develop more fruitfully in Vietnam to bring more educational opportunities to those who are not able to go to school.
One of the most significant activities in the workshop was My Master Project to address top common educational issues in ASEAN. I teamed up with delegates from the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam to work on a topic about low English literacy rate in SEA countries. To deal with this problem, we came up with a plan (also our project) of organizing an English Camp called L.E.A.D where people can come and join activities to learn and improve their English. Then we also had to present our plan in front of judges and other groups in order to win a sum of seed funding to implement the project in our countries. And guess what??? We won the 2nd prize, together with another group working on the same topic. That was such a big OMG for us since we never thought of the prize. That’s beyond our expectation! Unbelievable, Amazing (Yes), but Ironic at the same time (I’d say LOL). However, the prize is not as important as the solidarity and team spirit we presented during the workshop, at least for me. Despite different backgrounds, perspectives as well as conflicts and misunderstanding happening while we worked together, we didn’t separate, but always stayed together to consolidate our ideas, cheered each other up and worked to the best of our ability. I felt so lucky to work with those wonderful teammates that I couldn’t ask for anyone better than. Even if we hadn’t won the prize, we would have won the prize of friendship.
We got back to Bangkok in the last day after the program ended. Since we didn’t have chance to go out previous days, some delegates and I decided to have a late night out together. It actually turned out to be very late as we got lost and reached the hotel around 1.30 am after 1.5 hours walking non – stop. Tired but fun! Some even stayed up till sunrise to play a card game. Since I had a meet-up with one of my Japan coursemates the day after, I left the group earlier to take a short sleep before seeing her (sadly it was also the last hours I saw them before leaving).
My last few hours in Bangkok were spent with my Japan fellow at Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po that I didn’t go to when I was in Bangkok last time. I was glad to see her again and we had a really good time together. Just a bit disappointing that I couldn’t see other fellows since they were at work but we will see each other again very soon, I hope.
This is the most intense exchange program I have participated so far, but I have learnt so much from all people I met in the workshop, from professionals to ASEAN peers. The workshop has given me insights into issues that ASEAN has been encountering and, more important, roles and responsibilities of youth in driving the region forwards. It has also brought out the best in us and made us realise there is always more that we can do. As youth, we just can keep staying curious with burning desires, like Dr. Surin Pitsuwan’s words “wanting to know more, wanting to learn more” , but also should be active and inspiring agents of change with practical activities to make a better future, not only for our personal lives but also for the others’.
Last but not least, after the workshop, my network of friends has been widened and tightened (which is always a fantastic result of exchange programs). 5 days is short but the memories we had together are fabulous and uncountable, and I believe this bond will fruitfully develop as we are ASEAN and we are One.