By Farah Hassan, Communications & Social Media Coordinator, Faculty of Environment
While many students will spend their Reading Week sleeping in or watching Netflix, six fourth-year planning students will be half way around the world, immersed in another culture. Suran Ketheeswaran, Yasmin Afshar, Sam Bajc, Christina Glass, Matt Rodrigues and AJ Wray are participating in the 9-day Japan Friendship ties program, ‘Kakehashi’.
Kakehashi is a program run by the Japanese government to strengthen ties with its North American counterparts. Students from across North America apply and if selected, have the opportunity to take part in a trip to Japan where they are immersed in Japanese culture and encouraged to understand Japan’s economics, society, culture, politics and diplomatic relations
The students first heard about the program during their last co-op term. Some of the students immediately recognized the significance of the opportunity, having traveled to Barcelona after their first year. “You don’t see [planning theory] applied until you get out of where you’re comfortable being; where you’ve grown up,” said Suran. “I think that’s why Barcelona was so important for me.”
For others, it was an opportunity to step outside their comfort zones and travel overseas. “I’ve never left North America,” Christina admitted. “So going as far as Japan, it’s going to be a really different experience for me and that’s one of the reasons why I was so excited to apply.” Sam said she's both excited and nervous. “Mainly because the longest flight I’ve been on was 5 hours and this one’s 14 hours. I think the time change and the culture shock will be really, really out of my element, but I’m glad that I’ll have all my friends there too.”
The group has a jam-packed itinerary, visiting the Earthquake Disaster Reconstruction site, the University of Tokyo and the Imperial Palace - just to name a few! But the part of the trip everyone is most excited for is the home stay. Each student will spend one night with a Japanese host family, where they will learn about Japanese customs on a more personal level. Yasmin confessed that she was initially reluctant. “I actually didn’t want to do the home stay, because I was so scared. It’ll be a big culture shock, but also just a shock in general, living with a family you probably can’t communicate with and trying to orient to that.” But her interest in social planning finally swayed her. “It’s one thing to see someone’s home from the outside,” she said. “But it’s going to be amazing to actually go into someone’s home and see the way people live in those regions, not just the way you think they do.”
Suran was excited about the home stay from the beginning, viewing it as an opportunity to learn and grow. “You don’t learn anything unless you’re challenged or put in a different environment where you’re forced to adapt,” he explained. “I’m super excited to assimilate into the culture.” And AJ is looking forward to bringing home some new skills “I really hope I get placed with an older couple. I really want to learn how to cook and how to make tea properly”.
The trip also has an important academic component, allowing the students to see how what they’ve learned in their Planning classes is applied in such a densely populated place. “Tokyo has the population of all of Canada in one city,” noted Matt. “So they have to be innovative in how they move people, how people live, how people get what they need.” AJ on the other hand, is interested in infrastructure investment and group decision making. “I’m personally fascinated to learn about their governance system and the difference from the North American system of politics, especially around infrastructure investment, he said. “Learning about how they make decisions as a group to address climate change and all these other factors we’re facing, overpopulation, is really fascinating.” Christina agrees. “Just seeing an example of where these really innovative technologies and infrastructure and policies have worked, I think is really going to benefit our education.”
The students believe the value of this international experience will pay dividends in the future. As AJ put it “I think it just adds so much more to the degree and really speaks to what the Waterloo spirit is. International experiences and building a degree that is not only for the North American market, but the world market.”
AJ, Matt, Christina, Sam, Suran and Yasmin will be taking over the faculty’s Snapchat account during their trip. Be sure to follow @envwaterloo to share their journey. You can also follow them on their personal Twitter accounts below and by following #UWPlanJapan