Prior to the ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop (AKYNW), I was excited, yet I did not know what to expect. I anticipated meeting like-minded youth, and hoped to be inspired and exposed to other cultures as well as the issue at hand: Marine Conservation. Living in city-island Singapore, I knew what I was yet to experience was bound to be far different from our man-made landscape. True enough, what I gained out of AKYNW was an eye opening experience; it delivered what I had
anticipated and more.
A lot can happen in 4 days. Our schedule was packed, with days starting as early as 6am. The itinerary arranged brought us all around Korea, namely Busan, Geoje, Suncheon, Seoul and Incheon – an impressive spread of locations in a short period of time. We were taken to Research Sites I am sure we otherwise would not have had access to, namely KOEM Marine Environment Research and Training Institute and KIOST South Sea Research Institute. It was at KIOST that we were invigorated by a lecture on Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics by Dr. Hong Sanghee. That lecture really hit home, as conversations about the Great Pacific garbage patch soon led to participants asking me about Pulau Semakau, Singapore’s ‘rubbish island’. It then hit me, how limited my knowledge was about my own country’s waste management measures. Additionally, Dr Hong spoke of KIOST’s Marine Debris Research Program that made many of us perk up; it was great to be introduced to an exciting, tangible opportunity to follow up with what we learnt. A separate lecture by KIOST on Ballast Water Management Systems had me furiously scribbling notes, and everyone wanted a copy of the slides. It was a prime, and awakening demonstration for how global these issues are; we are all affected and we must all respond. Apart from research sites, the visit to Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve was breathtaking, and the city explorations of Busan and Seoul were immersive.
The Talent Show and UCC Activity was yet another set of heartwarming events that brought us all closer as participants. As a Filmmaking undergraduate, it was a refreshing to collaborate with participants from different cultures and educational backgrounds to create the UCC. It was even more edifying when my team swept both awards for Most Creative and Most Informative UCC (such that we had to choose which title to keep!) Beyond the accolade however, the real success was in the bonding and fun we achieved through working together to produce something we were proud of; and it’s great to have a video as a memento to relive these good times.
All in all, it was amazing in itself to witness and be a part of this diverse gathering of nations. This year, AKYNW expanded her borders to include youth from China and Japan as well. Though English was the standard language for conversing, it was unfortunate that language stood as a barrier in some Q&A sessions. The Korean and International youth were also often segregated during site visits, due to language, which seemed to undermine program’s purpose. This however was trumped by the patience of everyone. I believe the body of ASEAN-Korean youth is one with mass potential, and it was added pity that limited time was dedicated to engaging in post-lecture discussions. Because of time constraints, it sometimes felt like ‘Marine Conservation’ was not delved deep into. It is important we do not just cordially recognise ‘Marine Conservation’ as a meaningful topic at large to pursue, without considering seriously that we may be able to solve it. Thus, while UCCs were often playful and site visits filled with laughter, it is important that our largest takeaway is not measured by the vast number of selfies taken, but by the weight of the issue at hand.
To a certain extent, AKYNW merely skimmed the surface of a global issue that is large and complex to tackle. But it is precisely this swift encounter that has left us hungry to know more and do more. It is up to us what we will do with the knowledge that has been fed to us. It is now our responsibility. Personally, this encounter in Korea has inspired me to silently swear to myself to return to Singapore and take up the initiative to find out more about her recycling models in place; to wipe away my ignorance.
The friendships forged through this common experience, went far beyond ‘Marine Conservation’. AKYNW facilitated the inspiring exchange of life stories, across cultures, across Oceans. It concluded with bittersweet ‘Goodbyes’ that we opted out for ‘See you again!’, as we promised we would visit each other’s homeland. The program is young, but the reapings of it will only be seen in years to come. I feel privileged to say that I have been a part of this generous initiative, and I hope to see the program continue to develop, grow, and bring together more promising youth. And as we step forth from this program, I hope we will maintain these connections, united by pending world issues as the impetus for us to keep them alive.
Phoebe Zoe Ho, Singapore, 2016 ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop Participant