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Students from around Asia team up at GPAC

by Kazuaki Nagata

Students from across Asia gathered last week to promote friendship and discuss some of the world’s pressing issues at the Global Partnership of Asian Colleges 2009 event.

More than 100 college students from Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and Taiwan took part in the event at Chiba University of Commerce, teaming up to give presentations on seven topics, including international finance, macroeconomic policies, environmental economics and tourism.

“(GPAC) is like creating a new Asia,” said Haruo Shimada, president of Chiba University of Commerce and one of the founders of the event.

The annual event began shortly after the end of the Cold War, with the first meeting held in Seoul in 1991. Shimada and Min Sang Kee, currently a professor at Seoul National University, thought at the time they should take some action to deepen exchanges between Japan and South Korea, which they felt were “mentally and politically divided” during the Cold War despite being so geographically close.

“Why not do something taking advantage of the fall of the Berlin Wall? The blue sky seems to be expanding,” Shimada said at this year’s opening ceremony Thursday, recalling how the event got started. “Professor Min and I fully agreed — why not encourage young students to stand up together to grab the opportunity to assert peace in the world.”

The original idea was for Japanese and South Korean students to hold regular academic meetings.

GPAC has since attracted students from all around Asia, and this year drew participants from Chiba University of Commerce, Keio University and Meio University in Japan, Seoul National University in South Korea, Peking University in China, National Chengchi University in Taiwan and Vietnam National University.

The presentations took place Thursday and Friday at the university in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. All seven teams were made up of students from different nationalities.

“There are many international conferences, but there aren’t many where participants from different countries work together on the same topic,” said Shimada.

Most of the students showed up in suits, except those from Meio University, who decided they would come dressed in “kariyushi,” a traditional Okinawa garment. Each team got up on the stage and gave PowerPoint presentations in English.

A team working on environmental economics provided information on the current situation and possible solutions to problems, such as effective government policies to foster environmentally friendly development and promote public awareness. They cited Sweden’s policies as an example, including its environmental tax and promotion of renewable energy.

After each presentation, students faced queries from professors, many of whom had sharp questions. Along with the students, professors from the seven universities also participated in the event.

“Professors from different countries giving advice at the same time — this doesn’t happen very often,” Shimada said.

The event also featured a variety of activities aimed at promoting friendship among the participants, including sports games and tours of Tokyo.

Students stressed that GPAC provides a unique chance to interact with students from other parts of Asia.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to work with students from other countries and we can view things from other perspectives,” said Chu Yi-jie, 20, of National Chengchi University.

Park Jong Ho, 24, of Seoul National University, also said GPAC is a special event.

“Everybody, students and local Ichikawa city people (who were host families to the overseas students) are nice, and all the professors are really good,” he said.

Kazuma Wakaki, 21, of Chiba University of Commerce, who managed the event as a member of the host school, said he thought it was important to coordinate activities in ways that would enable the students from overseas to truly feel that they had come to Japan.

Wakaki also said it was great to take in the different perspectives of his counterparts. He cited the presentation by students from Taiwan in the management team that focused on the island’s bicycle industry, a sector where sales are increasing despite the recent economic difficulties, and how its management can be made even better.

“In Japan, we usually focus on the automobile industry and such an idea would probably not come to our mind,” he said, adding he’s relieved the event went off without any major hitches.

“I am glad that we’ve finished the GPAC safely at Chiba University of Commerce and handed the torch to Vietnam.”

Next year, GPAC will be held at Vietnam National University in Hanoi.