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A promising adventure as an international student

I arrived in Tokyo on a sunny spring day, April 1. Just as the famed sakura (cherry blossoms) had begun to bloom during my first few weeks here, an exciting and promising adventure as an international student have also sprung in the right season.

This is by far the longest time I have been away from home. And while graduate studies-slash-research is my primary goal in moving into this city (though I must admit I fell in love with this fun labyrinth the first time I saw it two years ago), the experience of living independently in a foreign country for the very first time has also brought me loads of surprises, both challenging and rewarding. In this essay, I wish to share my personal experience as an international student – the joy, fun, excitement, and plethora of opportunities for growth, as well as the struggles that go with independence.

First, I’d like to emphasize that learning is a beautiful and enriching experience, though not necessarily always fun and easy. The challenges that push you to and even beyond the classroom’s borders are what makes you a genuinely learnt person. These are the struggles that test one’s vigor and courage to walk over unfamiliar roads, or even do the role of a trailblazer. There is a promising adventure that awaits a student who genuinely thirsts for what I call “an unbound learning”.

Learning the chores is an often overlooked and unappreciated advantage. While learning house chores may not be relevant to a few, it can be true to a some, perhaps, to majority of students living independently in a foreign country for the first time. I don’t come from a well-off family but I must say I had a relatively comfortable and sheltered life back home. I didn’t have to do the usual house chores except the voluntary weekly own room clean-up. Until all of a sudden, I have to learn all these chores in order to “genuinely live comfortably”:cooking, laundry, paying the bills, budgeting, and buying groceries.

In the course of a little over two months, I have learned how to cook my favorite native dish adobo; to do the laundry the correct way; to budget my monthly stipend in a way that values practicality, prioritization, prudence in managing resources; to buy groceries, especially the exciting and challenging quest for the best-quality and most reasonably priced commodities; and to pay monthly rent and utility bills.

Necessity is the mother of invention, so it goes. Let me add to that: it’s the grandmother of independent living, and kin of growth and desire. For instance, it’s both the necessity to learn how to cook and the craving to eat my comfort food that have motivated me to bring out the chef in me. Thanks to youtube cooking videos, I can now satisfy my appetite, definitely with a good mix of oozing gusto, new-found cooking skills. I could have spent roughly $5-7 dollars per meal (considering the cost of living in Tokyo), but I have chosen to challenge myself and stretch that same range of amount for complete and healthy three meals for two days or so. This same set of principles that integrate prudence, practicality, and prioritization, plus the enthusiasm to learn and challenge oneself can also be beneficial when applied to other ‘life chores’ in a real world setting. Certainly, these values are better learnt when you actually experience them than when you read those guidelines in self-help books. Indeed, experience is priceless.

Cultural Exposure and Cross-cultural understanding expose you to new horizons. An international experience provides a student the opportunity to explore the host country’s culture and the people’s way of life. For one, I have discovered more of Japan now than when I first visited it in 2012. The relative length of my stay, or better yet immersion in the Japanese society, makes so much difference in the way I see a foreign society. One might say it would be a totally different experience for an Asian to study in Europe or in the States, and vice versa. I cannot attest to that yet chiefly because in the first place, I haven’t experienced living and studying in Europe yet.

However, I am sure that adaptability level must be a significant factor in one’s decision-making process. From the perspective of a first-time independent foreign student, I believe one really needs to have not just the desire to live abroad, but also a genuine willingness to delve into a different ‘world’ out there.

During my first days in Tokyo, I was both touristy and homey. This global city has lots to offer, from culinary diversity (if you have the bucks) to technology and arts to everyday interaction with both the locals and the gaijin (foreigners, literally outsiders who are ‘inside’ Japan, eh?). However, in less than two months, homesickness struck and I wanted to return to Manila immediately. If I were in Europe, where I first set foot a month after I first lived in Tokyo, I might have wanted to return home after two weeks. I love Europe for its elegance and relative cultural mix-up (sort of melting pot), but the beautiful chaos and oriental dynamism that thrive in Asian cities are something I cannot enjoy student life without. In time, and with the help of cool pals, I have somehow overcome homesickness, I guess. But that’s just me, buddy, and that’s only based on my level of adaptability. You might want to also know the experience of those who have chosen to live in an entirely different socio-cultural environment. My European pals by the way, have found living in this Asian city enjoyable and interesting albeit the initial cultural shocks of course. Simply put, one’s restlessness for adventure and challenge is out of the question; it’s a given factor. It is the adaptability level that one has to weigh deliberately and with utmost consideration. Perhaps, one has to try it for him to find out.

I am also grateful to have been provided a room in an international lodge (you got it right, foreign non-Japanese students are housed here) for at least one year. I guess the most interesting aspect of living with a multi-ethnic environment (particularly, on staying with a bunch of very diverse people of almost 20 nationalities on the same floor) is the cross cultural experience. Probably because of my affinity to culinary arts, I find the usual cooking experience very interesting and enriching as I and my dorm-mates share our respective native dishes during meal time. The casual chat while cooking and enjoying meals also provide a good venue for cross-cultural understanding. Besides these perks, our university’s international students’ office and our neighborhood community occasionally sends invitations to cultural events and friendship activities. Lastly, the diversity of students in some classes adds flavor to the intellectual community as students share their non-sense thoughts and even interesting take on some issues, reflecting their cultural upbringing and ideas.

Change can be beautiful, provided it’s a good one. As I have stated above, learning is not always fun and easy. But it is certainly rewarding, primarily due to the apparent change that goes it with. In a little over two months of living in Tokyo, I have been learning much, and I must say there has been some significant positive change in me: in my way of thinking, in the way I interact with people, and even in the way I see life now.

An overseas student experience can be compared to a fisherman who rows his boat away from the familiar shores into the greater seas with the aim of harvesting more fish. In the same way, a student who longs to learn more must also have the courage to let go of the familiar and row his way to greater heights (more reasonable and achievable goals, not necessarily high achievements, which by the way is very traditional), to broader horizons for research and intellectual growth, and based on a personal experience, to get into a deeper understanding of WHO you live for, and eventually shredding off the thought of merely existing for trivial matters.

During one’s period of struggle, he learns more and becomes more mature.

Challenges are what makes learning beautiful. There is promise in it too.

Aaron G. Laylo is a research student at the University of Tokyo, focusing on international affairs and youth involvement in socio-economic development.

  • A Lost Generation In spite of ideological and technological developments, which commenced during the most recent phase of globalization, the overlapping generations tagged as "baby boomers" (over 50 years old), Gen-X (30 to 50), and Gen-Y (under 30) have ironically found themselves entrapped by global problems – so complex and enormous – that scholars have perceived an imminent clash of generations. This clash is provoked by disparity in claims, values, and objectives between generations that apparently affect how they respond to global challenges; one of the most pressing of these global endeavors is the rising rates of unemployment across the globe, brought about by a domino effect of the most recent economic recessions. From Asia to the America, Europe to Africa, the scourge of global unemployment continues to afflict today‟s global society. It is estimated that some 74.5 million young people were unemployed in 2013.i Apparently, the weight falls most heavily on Gen-Y. With a burden incredibly heavy and a global environment bleak, scholars now call Gen-Y – specifically the highly educated but jobless cohort – “a lost generation.” Amid this gloomy and thorny nexus between generational clash and unemployment dilemma, the most urgent concern now is to provide the youth with proper prospects for the future. Finding and Liberating a Lost Generation: Explore Entrepreneurship Global youth unemployment is not completely chaotic. Weiji (危机), the pinyin Chinese word for crisis is actually a combination of two words: danger and opportunity. I choose to see the imminent generational clash compounded by a global unemployment problem as such – “critical circumstance” – one in which risks can be turned into opportunities, when prospects for generations to learn from each other abound, and when creative measures to combat unemployment spring forth. Older generation‟s approaches to twentieth century problems may be excellent, but they have to recognize the reality that these measures may not be compatible anymore to today‟s complex challenges. Approaches need not be changed completely. What these overlapping generations need are pragmatic, innovative and optimistic measures that have to be undertaken in a coordinated and holistic manner. Then it must be entrepreneurship! It‟s pragmatic, innovative, and optimistic. It is fresh. An entrepreneur, from the French word “entreprende”, is a person who “undertakes, starts or begins on something” – so fitting for the typical jobless but potentially productive youth. Instead of wandering around, why not “begin on something worthwhile” and make a beneficial difference? The youth just have tremendous untapped abilities that need to be explored and utilized for them to genuinely and significantly contribute to social progress and economic development. They‟re dynamic, innovative, socially aware, and most globalized due to information explosion and scientific advances. In this light, how can the older generations – the present influential and powerful leaders of institutions – make sense of entrepreneurship? How can the young explore it as a prospective and novel solution to unemployment? How can it be a feasible tool for generations to mitigate the scourge of global unemployment which, after all, directly affects their common today. These generations will have to act now to provide the succeeding generations a brighter tomorrow. How can a lost generation be found and liberated? I present a three-dimensional, entrepreneurship-oriented solution: Educate – Enhance – Empower.   1. Educate. There is prudence in sowing seeds of education to a potentially productive youth. It is imperative to educate the society about the relevance of entrepreneurship. To ignite and sustain social interest in entrepreneurship, the society must simultaneously find ways to diminish a risk-averse culture, “identified as one of the primary reasons why Europe (is) not generating as many new, fast growing, and (resilient) companies as the US.ii An affirmative propaganda is a key prerequisite to catch youth attention. While joblessness is discouraging; entrepreneurship is exciting! Yes, it‟s not all rosy; it is in fact very risky. However, it can provide risk-takers with opportunities to become more creative and to learn, earn, and connect with people all at the same time. Because today‟s youth are generally adventurous, they‟d love to explore these possibilities. International organizations have boldly advocated this, such as ILO‟s 2012 resolution “Youth Employment Crisis: A Call for Action” and The G20 Young Entrepreneurs‟ Alliance Summit‟s five imperatives for action, which focused on youth entrepreneurship, in order to avoid a lost generation. The Swiss federal government led an example of how it can be done at the national level; its Federal Office of Professional Education and Technology formed the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to promote entrepreneurship (through training, mentoring and financing), among others. GoNegosyo, a Philippine-based civil society initiative, commits to transforming the country into an entrepreneurial nation, drawing out Filipino ingenuity among the youth. Budding entrepreneurial programs in small communities in the Middle East and Africa have also helped young people to progressively walk out of severe poverty. However, „entrepreneurship education‟ should also be institutionalized, formalized, and constantly assessed to monitor its effectiveness. Entrepreneurial education (EPE) and technical, vocational education, and training (TVET), in which classroom training and actual workplace experience are integrated, are two of the most novel approaches to education today. Interestingly, a merger of the two is found to have yielded tremendous outcomes. With the TVET approach, five countries in Europe have seen youth unemployment rates strikingly below European and global averages. While most European countries had rates in the 20-30% range, Austria‟s rate in the 3rd quarter of 2011 was 7.3%; Germany‟s was 8.6%; the Netherlands 7.6%; Norway 8.8%; and Switzerland 7.2% (Business Europe 2012). A UNESCO 2010 report also emphasized how EPE enhances youth and graduates‟ employment in the private sector and provides young generation with knowledge and skills on how to manage and open small and medium enterprises (SMEs).iii In China, over 10% percent of secondary vocational school graduates opted for self-employment or to establish their own small business in 2010. The considerable percentage of TVET graduates who choose to work independently supports the conclusion that EPE is relevant to TVET. This integration suggests that a combination of entrepreneurial skills and technical/ vocational skills can be a major mechanism in mitigating unemployment, and opening opportunities to develop SMEs. iv As institutions strengthen the integration of entrepreneurial skills to vocational training, they also have to emphasize and reinforce leadership skills in these new entrepreneurs.v This contributes to wiping out a risk-averse culture and at the same time, equips the youth to become prospective leaders who will serve and guide future young start-uppers. Bright and humble generations of leaders have proven that there‟s power to change the course of history when leadership is combined with sincere service.   2. Enhance the economy, invest in the youth. Education fuels the economy. In reciprocity, the economy should support education. In order to sustain the efforts exerted by professional and vocational training institutions in integrating entrepreneurship in the learning process, economic support will also have to be available. Despite a gloomy global economic climate, the respective national governments of this „start-up generation‟ can still assist the latter through investing in pro-growth macro- economic policies that provide generous attention to EPE and TVET programs. These policies must be geared toward the development of youth entrepreneurship – recognizing the young‟s sheer creativity, tech-savvy feature, and innovation-oriented culture. According to WEF 2011 report, “entrepreneurship thrives in ecosystems in which multiple stakeholders play key roles”.vi This also called for targeted regulatory and investment decisions that provide resources for start-up business formations. Tax credits, loan guarantees, incubation facilities, and related support for small business startups represent a modest but significant fiscal investment.vii Nevertheless, prudent investment strategy should always be considered: encourage everyone to explore entrepreneurial opportunities, enhance the better some, and incentivize the best few. It is a rule of thumb to identify “the best-fit people to start and grow business. It is the job creation of those enterprises that is really going to make an impact on unemployment.”viii With the assumption that gasping economies cannot easily assist budding entrepreneurs, international lending institutions will then have to play the crucial role of infusing funds in order to refuel the developing, or even recession-hit economies. Recipient governments now have the responsibility to sustain and multiply the benefits gained from international/ regional bank loans. This must serve as a stimulus for unstable economies, so that exceptionally competent and highly competitive young entrepreneurs will not be adversely affected. For a fact, some of the today‟s biggest global companies, inspiring business ventures, and social network start-ups were conceptualized by young budding entrepreneurs. Countries cannot afford to lose such possibilities by succumbing to financial indebtedness and economic stagnation.   3. Empower. “The challenge for those in positions of authority in existing institutions is to find ways to engage the young generation.”ix How can governments concretely show its support for youth entrepreneurship? Whether government of a developed or developing country, it needs to promote entrepreneurs as valuable job-makers. One huge difference between older and younger entrepreneurs is that the new generation expects stronger backing from governments.x This implies that it is imperative for governments to support initiatives across areas such as funding, sustenance services, and education. Young entrepreneurs would also love to see a responsible government that guarantees a simpler and SME-friendly business environment. All these measures, when efficiently done, may not only address the lack of decent jobs, but may also encourage more young people to engage in entrepreneurship, and in the process contribute to development. It is important to sustain these efforts and empower the youth to be active stakeholders themselves. All along, the problems of youth apathy, idleness, and distrust of authorities and institutions are deeply rooted in the negative impression toward government. To change that image and regain the trust and confidence of the youth, governments must prioritize them in its policy agenda. In 2013, only 99 (50%) countries have a youth policy; while a further 56 (28%) were revising their existing or, in a few cases, are developing their first national youth policy.xi But with the continuing surge of unemployment, these policies should be found truly responsive to the said complex problem; particularly by including provisions that promote entrepreneurship among the youth.   Conclusion I just presented a three-dimensional, entrepreneurship-oriented solution to the global problem of unemployment: Educate – Enhance – Empower. Probably, these approaches cannot completely respond to the multi-faceted unemployment challenges in certain countries or regions. After all, there‟s no one-size-fits-all solution to the global unemployment problem. Even entrepreneurship is risky; but it‟s worth exploring as a prospect for the youth amid the gloom of unemployment. Nevertheless, I am convinced that these measures can contribute to the unlocking of opportunities for generations to work, learn, and mature together, and to weather present and future crises. With cooperation, what can go wrong? The youth grows old but it remains relevant in all ages. Around AD 62-65, an aging Paul – wrote to young Timothy, “Don‟t let anyone look down on you because you are young...”xii In the nineteenth century, intellectual Jose Rizal affirmed that “the youth is the hope of the nation.” These phrases were both written during periods of severe circumstances, with the aim of emphasizing the innate capabilities present in young people, and affirming their power to overcome these diverse challenges. That remains true in the youth of the present age. Once upon a time, older generations were also “a lost generation” but never the lost generation; hence they must be able to relate with today‟s youth. They surely understand that finding and liberating a lost generation is no easy task. But it‟s definitely worth every rigorous effort. The ultimate role of the elder generations is to guide and encourage the young. This is an enduring legacy among generations.   References Badawi, Aboubakr. 2013. TVET and entrepreneurial skills. UNESCO-UNEVOC Revising Global trends in TVET. Dencker, J.C., Gruber, M., and Shah, S. 2009. “Individual and Opportunity Factors Influencing Job Creation in New Firms,” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 52, No. 6, 1125-1147. The Economist, “Les Miserables” July 28, 2012 (http://www.economist.com/node/21559618) G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit Russia. 2013. Avoiding a Lost Generation. Young Entrepreneurs identify five imperatives for action. International Labor Organization. 2014. Global Employment Trends: Risks of Jobless Recovery. Geneva. January Manpower Group. 2012. How Policymakers Can Boost Youth Employment. Masri, Munther, Mohamed Jemni, Ahmed M. Al-Ghassani, and Aboubakr A. Badawi, 2010. Entrepreneurship Education in the Arab States: Case Studies on the Arab States. Regional Synthesis Report. A Joint Project between UNESCO and StratREAL Foundation, U.K. World Economic Forum. 2009. “Educating the Next Wave of Entrepreneurs World Economic Forum. 2014. Global Risks. Ninth Edition. Insight Report. Geneva: World Economic Forum. January youthpolicy.org   Endnotes i Global Employment Trends 2014 ii The Economist, “Les Miserables” July 28, 2012 (http://www.economist.com/node/21559618) iii See Munther Masri, Jordan et al., 2010 iv See Badawi, 2013 v See Dencker et al. vi World Economic Forum (2009), “Educating the Next Wave of Entrepreneurs vii Manpower (2012), 13. viii G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit Russia. 2013. Avoiding a Lost Generation. Young Entrepreneurs identify five imperatives for action. ix World Economic Forum. 2014. Global Risks. Ninth Edition. Insight Report. Geneva: World Economic Forum. January x G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit Russia. 2013. Avoiding a Lost Generation. Young Entrepreneurs identify five imperatives for action. xi youthpolicy.org xii Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12, The Bible New International Version    


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