Kristen Rahn - November 1997 in Japan.

Kyushu Speakers Tour. Koji, Robert and Kristen.

 

I recently had the opportunity to go to Japan as part of an environmental speakers tour, organized by the Japan Youth Ecology League. Eight speakers from all over the world toured different areas of Japan, discussing environmental issues with youth groups and community members. I traveled throughout Kyushu, the southernmost main island of Japan. During my travels, I studied two environmentally devastating public works: a potential dam site on the Kawabe river and a land reclamation project on Isahaya Bay, an internationally crucial wetland. At the end of the tour, the speakers met in Kyoto and participated in events concurring with COP3, the Conference on Climate Change. In Kyoto, we had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of environmentalists and participate together in peaceful actions at the conference center.

Japanese Youth Ecology League outside of the COP3 conference hall, Kyoto.

This trip helped prepare me for the two years of Peace Corps service that I will start in the fall. I learned that patience, learning the language, and the ability to adapt are crucial in an overseas experience. During the tour I traveled for ten days, visiting a different area each day, with Japanese students and a speaker from the Philippines. Unfortunately, I did not know much Japanese when I arrived, so all communication was through body language, pointing, and Japanese-English. The language barrier made me feel very isolated, and also kept me on my toes. In many instances I thought that I understood the schedule for the day, but my assumptions proved wrong. One day I believed we were going to ride bikes for 50 miles and then travel to another town and give a lecture! The 50 miles turned into less than one. Our extensive traveling, meeting people, and discussing different topics every day required a level of patience and adaptation that was beyond any that I had experienced in my lifetime. Through meeting people with a wide range of knowledge and beliefs, I gained many new perspectives on environmental issues. I hope that this experience will help me, in the Peace Corps and after, work with a diverse group of people towards a common goal - improving the environment or solving some other problem. The most beneficial part about my trip was traveling and living with Japanese people whose culture is extremely different from my own. I learned the value of just sitting down with people and talking about the different ways that we look at the world. I think that it is crucial to try and understand cultural differences before you attempt to work with them.


Isahaya Bay wetlands.

 


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