to explore ideas and culture. They discuss issues ranging from global warming,
to human rights to bridging the gap for international understanding.
Cholchaya Suwanpanmani explains why they care about the future and what goes on around them, and why many are inspired to turn talk into action
As part of the Pan Asian Conference on language teaching, the AYF, which convened at the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel in Bangkok on January 28, aims to bring together students from various countries in Asia and the Pacific region through the use of English as a communicative language to discuss social and global issues; to learn about each other's culture, and to prepare young adults to become the leaders of tomorrow.
The young men and women delegates are guided by an advisory panel, chaired by founder Kip Cates, who is also a professor at Tottori University in Japan. The standing theme for the AYF is developing leaders for the twenty-first century.
The AYF expects to equip its youngsters with a better understanding of the world they live in, and provide them with the tools and knowledge to become global citizens, future heads of state and community leaders.
``The primary means of this unique and exciting exchange will be the AYF website, which is run by a group of AYF delegates; and the Pan Asian Conference series, which involve conferences for English teachers in East Asia. It was at such a conference in Seoul, South Korea, in 1999, when the Asian Youth Forum was first incorporated,'' says Kip Cates.
The AYF aims to enhance the level of civic participation by young adults. Delegates gathered at the forum and designed the programme in which youths are able to develop leadership skills. And when they return home, they are encouraged to get involved in youth activities such as community development. Leadership is central to the growth of all educational institutions. In this fast changing world, leadership involves qualities beyond professional knowledge and expertise. These qualities include the ability to move an organisation in the right direction by effectively evaluating, initiating, and managing change.
Arising from suggestions by English teachers to give young adults a greater voice on topics and issues, the AYF seeks to give them cross-cultural experiences and a better understanding of languages throughout Asia; skills to evaluate social and global issues; and challenges to make them better leaders in the future.
For example, Kip says, this year the Pan Asian Conference is held in Bangkok. Asian youth delegates are encouraged to stay with Thai host families during the five-day event. There, they learn a few Thai words and use English as an intermediary language to build mutual understanding and break down stereotypes.
Former AYF president, Mrinalini Sawhney, 22, is an Indian national who is doing her graduate studies in computer science at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Korea. She believes that the forum is a platform for younger persons in Asia and the Pacific countries to say what they feel.
Mrinalini serves as the moderator for the forum. When controversies arise, she tries to address them so that everyone can come to an understanding and perhaps reach a consensus. Sometimes there can be no ``correct'' result, ``you just have to do your best. That's how you learn from each other. It's part of a learning process. And these valuable experiences teach you to become a critical thinker,'' she says.
With the insight of four consecutive years as its president, Mrinalini adds that the AYF provides invaluable experience to young persons to serve as future leaders. ``Young people will learn the keys to leadership and that power comes with responsibility, and not to let power go to their head,'' she says.
The delegates _ from such diverse countries as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Japan, The Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, Mongolia, and New Zealand were exposed to many case studies. They learned about contrasting journeys and held dialogues with teachers and advisors to gain a better understanding of regional and world problems. They were given chances to study selected national issues, recommend changes and work through projects so as to more effectively address those issues.
Through discussion sessions, studies and projects, students become more adept at other languages and develop a greater understanding of cross-cultural traditions. These are important elements in leading their respective people in the right direction.
Participants on the social and global issues panel were divided into four workgroups one for each of the following broad topics: human rights; poverty; nuclear arms; and global warming.
While social and global issues were major concerns among the younger generation, another topic addressed at the forum was cultures and international understanding. The panel was composed of four spokespersons with interests in education and media.
Many students and teachers from different backgrounds congregated and shared the same interest in using and facilitating English as a medium to bridge the communications gap as they expressed the following viewpoints.
The AYF president for 2007, 21-year-old Tieza Mica Santos, is a graduate student in global politics at Ateneo de Manila University in Manila, The Philippines. ``The forum is where we learn, adjust ourselves and explore what others think. Today, kids have a lot to say, and the forum itself acts as one voice. When I return home, I will take back ideas to sound them out among my fellow young adults,'' Santos explains.
Hoirull Amri Tahiran is a 25-year-old vice president for 2007. He is a junior in Malay Language and Literature at the National Institute of Education, Singapore. ``The AYF gives me another exposure to what youths are thinking today,'' he says.
In a way, the forum raises awareness of cultures and understandings among young adults. It's useful for me since I wish to be a teacher in the near future. I hope that one day Asian youngsters will comprise the intelligentsia of their nations and help to improve their country's development.
My vision is that the younger generation of Asians will develop an epistemic culture where we seek to master every important form of knowledge. And AYF is one of the realms where youths are able to make their vision and mission come true, Tahiran explains.
Finally, it is hoped that youths in Asia are able to reconstruct and reunite Asia's civilisations so as to make Asia a better place to live in the future. The future of Asia depends on the steering abilities of our young leaders.
The AYF's other vice president for 2007, Kim Shin Il, 23, is a junior in international business and law at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea. ``We have built a strong connection and network in Asia. The world's very competitive these days. Asian kids have to be well-prepared to compete with other kids from the West. We use English to communicate among the various nationalities, and the forum is a chance for me to see what awaits me,'' he says.
Pen Timol is a 19-year-old economics major at Pannasastra University of Cambodia. He says that, ``AYF is the chance for me to gain experience overseas for the first time. At AYF I can strengthen relationships and learn leadership skills. In the twenty-first century, there are three main challenges that I think Asian youths face. The first challenge involves opportunities given to the young to take part in overseas conferences. Young people in developing countries have fewer opportunities than those in developed countries because access to information is limited. Many can't afford the travel cost,'' he says.
The second challenge is education. Young people in developed countries have a better chance to receive education. The third is youth activities. For example, in Cambodia, chances for young people to be volunteers in non-profit organisations, or to participate in youth activities is poor. But many youths are enthusiastic to get involved in community development projects.
An English major at the National University of Laos, 21-year-old Souvanaly Thammavong says, ``The forum is a gateway to broaden my worldview. And this is an opportunity for us to exchange cultures and to unlearn stereotypes. Being aware of differences and stereotyping helps minimise problems between countries. It is one tool to counter terrorism, which is a major concern for many.''
Maiko Jimbo, 20, is a sophomore in regional education at Tottori University. ``Taking part in the forum grants me an opportunity to express and exchange thoughts. It's amazing how the young from non-English native language countries can speak English fluently. I aspire to study and develop my verbal skills in English. We have discussions on the various Englishes of the world, such as the influences of Australia, the UK or the US on English. Many countries such as Singapore speak English nowadays. Often we Asian kids try to perfect our accent to speak like a native, which is a difficult job, but it's not necessary,'' explains Jimbo.
A psychologist and teacher at Miyazaki International College in Japan, Amy Szarkowski, PhD, says: ``The forum makes a significant impact on the students who participate. They meet real people from other cultures and they learn to break through the stereotypes and work with others to build a common understanding. I believe there is potential for a larger impact, when the students return to their home countries and put the ideas they talked about into action.''
The degree of impact depends on the extent to which each student is willing to work towards a goal. I know of a student in Japan who attended the conference four years ago. She still talks to others about what she learned there and how meeting other active youth influenced her career choice and her personal decisions to date, says Dr Szarkowski.
It is worthwhile for students, and a way for me, to make an impact. The next AYF will be held in Tokyo, I will have the opportunity to be more involved in the planning stage and to provide more assistance if it is needed, she says.
The Asian Youth Forum programme can be found on the AYF website: www.asianyouth forum.org . Application forms can be downloaded from http:// http://www.geocities.com/ayfthailand/Std_App_Form_Final.pdf
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Last modified: February 16, 2006