BY LEO KAJIOKA NARDON (SWY18)
It was a random day in March 2006. For the 43 days, between January and March 2006, me and 12 other Brazilians had just been exposed to a unique cross-cultural experience: The 18th Ship for World Youth Program. During 43 days, we were living in an alternate universe, with little communication with the outside world, but in deep contact with different cultures, languages, and traditions. Much like we felt at the beginning of the 43-day voyage, most of us didn’t know how we would feel after such a shocking experience.
The following weeks were filled with nostalgic feelings and a general hope to go back to that alternate reality that surrounded us for about 1 and a half months. International phone calls and emails became a major part of our lives, even though some of us were forced to go back to our usual routine, commuting to the office or school. On one particular day, I found myself talking to a friend in Japan for 5 hours, through Skype, something that had not yet happened in my life. During that conversation, we were both discussing how great it would be to be a part of the SWY Program one more time, perhaps as Advisors or Administration Staff members. The main point of the conversation was something like:
JPY - “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we were able to be on board the Nippon Maru again, as staff members for the Program?
ME – “Yeah, it would be awesome to be able to be a part of SWY once more. Do you think that it is possible?”
JPY - “Yeah, I think it is possible. But you have to speak perfect Japanese, because I think all the Administration Staff work is conducted in Japanese. So, you have to keep studying Japanese and you have to come to Japan.”
ME – “Oh, yeah. Like that is going to happen!”
A few months later, motivated by some of my Japanese language teachers, I found myself applying for the Japanese Government’s Researcher scholarship, which I eventually ended up getting. When I realized, I was quitting my job and packing my stuff to go to Japan, for a period of 2 years.
Even though I knew that I was coming to Japan to study, and possibly enter a master’s degree program, I still saw it as a great opportunity to get back to the SWY life. I knew that I would have some friends living in the same region as me, and I would have some holidays, which would give me a chance to see some of the other Japanese friends who lived in other regions of Japan. All of a sudden, I saw myself joining official IYEO activities, such as the Tokyo Conference for Ex-PYs, and training sessions for the following batches of the SWY Program.
After a lot of hard work studying the language and learning more about Japanese society, I was given the chance to apply for the position of Course Discussion Facilitator on the SWY21 and SWY22 Administration staff. I knew that I would have to work a lot, and that it probably wouldn’t be the same experience I had as a participant, but I was thrilled to have the chance to contribute and give something back to the program that I had come to love and respect.
Through the entire program, I realized that being part of the Administration Staff is completely different than being a PY. Being the one that has to control to wills of 200 young people full of energy, requires a lot of peace of mind, because sometimes you will be seen as a dictator, controlling everything and denying them their freedom. However, once we get past the initial barriers and establish a connection with the PYs, and they realize that what we do is something that must be done to ensure everyone’s safety and to ensure a smooth operation of the program, things get more relaxed and performing our duties as ADM staff becomes much easier. Ultimately, being a PY in SWY is a once in a lifetime experience, but having the opportunity to go back and experience the SWY life one more time gives you the chance to live and see the concrete results of the program, that are not only having fun and meeting new people, but also expanding the horizons of 300 people, forcing those people to coexist in a limited space environment and see how they interact with each other.
When asked about why I decided to dedicate some of my time and work to the SWY Program, I always have a tough time thinking about a smart answer, but in the end I always go to the cliché answer. “I came back to SWY because I want to help other young people experience the same emotions that I have experienced in the past. I want to see them feel uneasy at first, when they first meet their batchmates. I want to see their friendship grow, through the various activities. I want to see how they solve their conflicts and I want to see how they display the results of what they have learnt during the Program, and I want to see all of them crying when they realize that the Program is over and that from that day on, they will be separated by the thousands of kilometers that separate their countries. Ultimately, I want them to feel just as I felt in the past.