The Asia – Europe Meeting, aka ASEM, is an intergovernmental forum for dialogue and cooperation established in 1996 to deepen relations between Asia and Europe, which address political, economic, socio-cultural issues of common concern. Throughout the years, the forum has made great efforts in strengthening the mutual understanding among the two continents but one of the furthest steps it has taken is capturing the enthusiasm of students to engage in political simulations at a broader level because they are considered as not only “future” but also “today” leaders. Therefore, ASEM Youth Week in conjunction with Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 came to life as a chance for the youth between Asia and Europe to exchange perspectives on Asia-Europe collaborations and build long-term relations between the young people of the two continents.
From 31st March to 7th April, Vietnam had the honor of organizing the first spin-off edition of Model ASEM 2016 with the theme of “Stronger Actions to Address Zero Hunger Challenge”, which will be held later in France and Philippines during the same year. Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 with the spirit of ASEM Youth Week played as a preparation to build up the momentum for the next large scale Model ASEM Conference – the 7th Model ASEM, organized by ASEF in conjunction with the 11th ASEM Summit (ASEM 11) in 11 – 15 July 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. In other words, Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 served as a trial summit for the young participants across Asia and Europe to role play as leaders representing the 53 ASEM Partner Delegations. So as to have the event take place smoothly, the program is divided into two main components: pre-event preparations and three-day conference.
The pre-event preparation, aka the training session took me and over 100 other young participants in Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 2 days to go through the various activities initiated by British Council in the framework of the social leadership program that promotes intercultural dialogue and social development. The vision of the program is a world where people are empowered to engage peacefully and effectively with others in the sustainable development of their communities. Hence, we are motivated to take responsibilities for our social needs and given the knowledge, skills, and experience to address them.
The program took me on an unexpected journey and totally changed my conventional perspective. Initially, I came to the training session with the thought of being an individual, an isolated island due to my socially awkward habit. But then, it taught me that it is ok to be different with your own identity and culture because we all are not the same in one way or another. The only thing that matters is whether you are open to accept the uniqueness from others. For that reason, the facilitators in the program lead us through various kinds of introduction games so that we can break the ice and have intercultural dialogue. Here, we learn the undeniable fact that whenever we look at something, we always look at it through our own invisible lens. Therefore, I started to build up my respect for others’ differences more. Thanks to that, I adapt myself to the surrounding atmosphere and share mutual understanding with others. It suddenly occurred to me that I am not an isolated island, I am just an island in a group of different other islands that share the same air, the same ocean, the same sky. Hence, on the ground of mutual understanding, we are trained to combine our local issues with the global ones so that from the separate concept of just “ME”, we can reach out to “WE TOGETHER” to better our community via social active projects.
All the skills in dialogue and negotiation from Active Citizen Program seemed to do us pretty good during The three-day conference when we stepped in the role-playing part to dig deep into three main pillars of ASEM including political, economic, and socio-cultural pillars.
On the first day, we were welcomed by the opening ceremony of Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 followed by official handshake by all delegations with the chair and host of Model ASEM Hanoi. Then, speeches on current situation of poverty reduction and hunger alleviation and entrepreneurs’ role in job creation for youth were delivered by experts on each field. Next, we were divided in groups to visit one chosen embassy in Hanoi so that we can hear the staff there sharing about their work and mission in Vietnam. In my case, it is Japan Embassy.
Interestingly, one the second day, each of us acting as a delegate from the assigned country had three-minute spotlight as we delivered the delegation’s statements to the whole meeting. It is when your voice is raised and you can feel the passion from your heart to reach out to the world is heard somehow.
More importantly, the main challenge is on the third day when we embark on the working groups discussion on ASEM Issues covering pillars on politics, economics, and socio-culture. By utilizing the skills on dialogue and negotiation, we finally arrived at a compromise, drafted the Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 Chair’s Statement with amendment as well as adoption, and get it issued after hours of discussing. Despite the long hours of racking brain, I was pleased with the result when each of us are aware of what we want and believe in spreading the message out to the world.
Wrapping up the conference, the international members had a chance to discover Vietnam and have the cultural exchange in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay – one of the world’s heritages with magnificent landscape.
Their experience goes beyond mere entertainment and relaxation. It also involved volunteering activities to help the people in need at underdeveloped regions. Two of the most noticeable activities is visiting and presenting gifts to underprivileged children in ethnic minority boarding school and helping local authority repair old cultural house. Indeed, the Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 international youth members had the chance to be immerse in the local atmosphere and sympathize with underprivileged people.
All in all, the program closed with a little sadness as the once-of-a-life-time experience for over 100 hundred cross-country participants finally came to an end. We, the role-playing Model ASEM Hanoi 2016 members, really had an incredible time not only learning about negotiation, diplomacy, ad consensus-building but also widening and enhancing our networks on both national and international levels. However, in my opinion, the most meaningful lesson I have learned from this occasion is the courage to take actions for a more positive community.
By Nguyen Thu Thao, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam