Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 4 and 5 in Tokyo - YESing Away

A rainy Hosei University

First of all, I'm really sorry I didn't write anything yesterday, but I was so caught up in late night conversations, that it just slipped my mind. I was a little more self-conscious today, and made myself leave a juicy discussion on religion just to make sure I report on what's going on!

So, yesterday was the first day of the YES program, complete with a whole day of lectures and activities. It started at 7 am when I got up, showered and had breakfast at 7:30 am in the cafeteria. Breakfast was just normal sandwiches on white bread (egg, salmon, potato, cheese, veggies, cream and strawberries and couple other sandwiches from which were some I couldn't eat). We then had our first lecture at 9 am and all lectures throughout the day were introductory and consisted mostly of exercises to help introduce the course matter, introduce ourselves to each other, and get to know a little bit about our cultures, countries, and backgrounds (educational, career-wise, etc). There are really a lot of interesting people... let me try to list down their countries: Japan (obviously), Switzerland, Egypt, Germany, Sweden, France, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Tunisia, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Nepal, South Africa, Kenya, Colombia, and Brazil. So we're 36 participants from 19 countries (plus facilitators from Australia and the US) and spanning over 30 different disciplines.

Map with pins showing where the participants are from

After we were done with our lectures for the day, which were uneventful (since they were mainly introductory) we went out for a campus tour. It was still raining (had been raining non-stop since we came) so we went through it as fast as we could (which was like 45 mins). It looks like an awesome campus, very beautiful... I'm looking forward to seeing it in the sun and warmer weather... especially when the sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom even more. On thing that was particularly noteworthy was that the campus was empty except for us. Turned out that the students were on Spring break, which in turn turned out to be almost 3 months long! So along side with their ~2-month summer vacation, that means the Japanese university students have almost 5 months off each year! I remember very well at school at Egypt they used to teach us that Japanese are very hard workers and study hard and never take vacations. I wonder if they used to just tell us that so we can have some reason to believe that the Japanese deserve to be more advanced than us just because they don't have fun, unlike us. But seriously... 5 months is just too long of a time!

After that, we came back to our building, and had a "name game" where we sat in a circle and the facilitator whom planted herself to my left, would start by saying her name. The person to her left was then supposed to say the facilitator's name, then her own name. The person then to her left should say the facilitator's name, then the first girl's, then her name, and so on. You guessed it. I was the last person. I had to go through all the 36+ names... but alhamdulillah I got it :)

We then just hung around engaging in discussions and chatting until I finally gave up to sleep and hit the sack at around 12:30 am.

Today was another tiring and long day. We had breakfast at 7:30 am and then had a lecture on Earth and Climate Systems by a professor from MIT. It brought up some interesting things to think about such as how natural systems have to be closed loops and how it is very difficult to lay boundaries on self-retained systems when it comes to systems such as environmental, social, and economic systems. We also talked about how we should approach the issue of climate change in larger systems such as political systems, which was a mistake that led to the failure of the COP15 conference last January. We also talked about how the public needs to be educated about Sustainable Development, and I brought up religion as being a viable solution. Had some interesting discussions on that following that comment, and one site that came up was, which I should check out when I have the chance.

We then had a lecture on Systems Theory, which was mostly about how we subconsciously have many habits that can be changed. That was followed by a lecture on Economic Systems which was really just an introduction for now. It got really confusing when we started to talk about the money cycle and I had to open my big mouth to point out that one of the "advantages" of money is to print out more "wealth" when needed, even though it may not really represent the actually worth of the resources at hand. I certainly didn't see the ramifications of that seemingly ignorant remark. We had a full blown discussion the implications of money and the current economic system and how economy doesn't necessarily mean money. We then started to talk about how the environment should also be accounted for in the economy. It is meaningless to talk about continuous financial progress and more and more money, when the resources we have are in fact limited. That made a lot of sense. Of course we'll be talking a lot more about this throughout the course of these 2 weeks.

We then had, in my opinion, the most interesting lecture (to me at least) so far. It was a video conference with this professor in Switzerland on Biodiversity. He talked about how humans affect biodiversity, the importance of biodiversity, and what we can do about it. He gave a lot of interesting examples of how biodiversity can in fact help agriculture. I found this very interesting... having miles and miles of one crop actually is bad for the crop and for the environment. He had studies on how having biodiversity in crops (meaning more than one type of crop growing side-by-side) can actually help increase the crop yield and help retain nitrates in the soil. Having diverse insects can help in symbiotic relationships and pollination. Just the fact of growing trees along the borders of crop fields helps them be healthier and grow better, as if any plant "likes" to have company. I remember this very distinctly from my visit in Tonga last year where they grow vanilla and coffee, among other fruits and vegetables in the middle of the jungle.
Vanilla being grown in the middle of the jungle in Tonga

We finished lectures at around 8 pm (phew!) and had dinner then I had some nice discussions with some people, particularly a girl from Germany on religion and social responsibilities. They then went out to get some sake and alcohol, so I decided to finally write my blog!

It's midnight now, so off to bed I go!
Sakura blossoms starting to show


sarah said...

mmmm very interesting stuff, what does YES stand for anyways? wa ba3deen about the name game. you guys were all probably wearing name tags so that just proves that eye sight has indeed improved :P

Ehab said...

YES = Youth Encounter on Sustainability

And no, they were not wearing name tags (most of them at least). Some really interesting names indeed...