On jellybeans and crossing cultures

‘Not only was I able to acquire knowledge about another country, but I also found myself gaining a deeper understanding of my own culture’

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THE PARTICIPANTS at downtown Sendai LAWRENCE M. JOLITO

Who would have thought that a trip to Japan could teach you so much, not just about its culture, but about strengthening your own, too?

This was my realization after the Kizuna (Bond) Program. It was my first time to immerse myself in another culture, and I can say that I have learned so much in such a short time.

During the 10-day trip, I became familiar with some Nihongo, got used to chopsticks when eating and learned some origami and ikebana.

I heard stories of how they acted collectively, when the great east Japan earthquake struck the country, and I have seen some of their plans and efforts for reconstruction. I have also experienced how similar Japanese and Filipino people are in terms of their being family-oriented.

What’s even more interesting is that not only was I able to acquire knowledge about another country, but I also found myself gaining a deeper understanding of my own culture and learning from my colleagues. For the first batch of student ambassadors, 46  students from different regions of the Philippines were chosen.

In one bag

There were delegates from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. Each came from different schools be it private, government, sectarian or nonsectarian. Exciting, isn’t it? We were like a pack of jellybeans. You get to have a variety of colors and flavors in one bag.

The program was jam-packed with activities, but we were always given some free time to go shopping for pasalubong and bonding with the delegates. I was exposed to a variety of people. Some were quiet, while others were outspoken. Some shared the same faith, while others were just being tolerant with each other.

In fact, it was my first time to really get to know a Muslim. We eventually became friends after the program. Seeing each of us interact was like watching “Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition,” minus the drama.

It was also something new to hear people speaking in their native tongue. I grew up in Quezon City; although my parents are from Isabela, I never became proficient in our dialect. I had colleagues who spoke Bisaya or Ilonggo. And every time they talked inside the bus, we would tease them saying, “Guys, ’di namin maintindihan. Subtitles please,” and every one would just laugh it off. It was difficult to understand what they were talking about, but it never became a hindrance for us to get to know each other.

Regarding an individual’s culture being superior or inferior, this belief does not work well in this social environment. In a setting like this—and probably applicable in our everyday lives, too—we should be relative about things.

We may not realize it, but we are living in an archipelagic country, which offers us a wide range of subcultures. I have learned how important it is to set aside biases and prejudices, in order to understand and perceive other people from their own context. After all, respect and understanding are key in building relationships.

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