The ten ASEAN member states have envisioned the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015. It is a heavily complex undertaking to give birth to such concrete political, economic and socio-cultural path. It calls for a strong regional cooperation where people identify themselves as citizens of ASEAN, as if ASEAN is a single country. Yet what exactly is this ASEAN identity?
At the heart of the ASEAN identity is unity in diversity. Primarily, the diversity of ASEAN countries is a contributing factor to the long-sought regional integration. Language barrier must be overcome by empowering all people for English communication, and avenues must be provided for cross-cultural exchanges. Equally important, education must be strengthened on the subject of ASEAN, with the media playing a crucial role on public awareness.
The youth comprises 60 percent of the ASEAN population. For this reason, the ASEAN Foundation aims to instill the Southeast Asian Identity to the youth sector; targeting the future leaders of the nations for active involvement in workshops and conferences, and providing opportunities for them to build genuine friendships.
Committed to this cause, the ASEAN-Korea Centre (AKC) holds the annual ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshop. The AKC invites students from South East Asia and Korea to participate in discussions, educational trips and team building activities on pressing environmental issues. Furthermore, outbound workshops have become an integral part of the program whereby delegates visit the ASEAN countries to personally experience its cultures.
In 2014, a total of 80 Korean and ASEAN students residing in Korea engaged in dialogues on “Sustainable Water Resource Management – Sharing Korea’s Experience”. Learning from Korea’s example, the students were encouraged to explore possible solutions to present day challenges through group missions.
The outbound workshop held in Da Nang, Vietnam aimed for the international delegates to build network with Vietnamese students, experience their lifestyle and culture, and be cognizant of the local water resource management system.
Similarly, the forestry sector has shown an alarming global trend yet it receives little attention from younger generations. Coming from various academic disciplines, 100 students from Korea and ASEAN member states were invited to exchange ideas on forest conservation and to cultivate relationships toward a shared future.
This year’s workshop under the theme “Youth in the Forefront of Forest Conservation in ASEAN & Korea” is a joint effort of the AKC and the ASEAN-ROK Forest Cooperation (AFoCO). The inbound workshop was held in Seoul and Gangwon Province, and the outbound workshop in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
I have seen the ASEAN identity in its tangible form when I took part in these ASEAN-Korea Youth Network Workshops. Knowing the people of ASEAN at an intimate level has resulted in a network that stretches far and wide. We remain connected even as we go back to our respective countries and perform our specific roles in the society.
It is my hope that more young people would be exposed to these experiences, know that their contributions matter, and with much pride, identify themselves as citizens of ASEAN. Forging a strong ASEAN Identity, we are taking steps closer to a future of cooperation and co-prosperity.
By Marian Alcantara, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines