'Thailand Bangkok Training Program' certainly awakened my curiosity, enriched my vision of the world and motivated me to keep on building my path.

MÁRQUEZ ARCE Carlos Alexei
Third-year Joint Degree Program (AU-home)

We interviewed MÁRQUEZ ARCE Carlos Alexei, a third-year Joint Degree Program AU-home student, about the 'Thailand Bangkok Training Program' in which he participated this August, how he found the program, and how he will connect this experience to his career path after he finishes his studies.

Tell us what motivates you to participate in the 'Thailand Bangkok Training Program'.

CarlosWhat motivated me to take part in this visit to Thailand was the opportunity to meet, learn, and engage in purposeful discussions and debates with United Nations ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) on officers and other foreign government officials in their professional environments. Since I intend to work in the United Nations or at the international level in the future, I thought this exposure would be an incredible opportunity to start building connections within international organizations, understand the current challenges of these organizations and their officers, meet the various types of people that work here, and learn about potential pathways for me to reach my goals in the future.

Please share your key takeaways or highlights from each program.

CarlosBriefing sessions at international organizations (ESCAP, UNHCR)

Our session with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) officer was highly engaging, perhaps one of the most impactful ones in our time there, because the briefing officer ensured we understood in depth what the UNHCR did and taught us many ways to materialize our ideas effectively. After working with the UNHCR officer to create pitches for fundraisers and her lecture, here are some of the main takeaways I have from the UNHCR briefing session:

1. How to keep any initiatives, such as donations or fundraising, relevant, useful, well-targeted, and practical. As we worked on developing practice pitches to fundraise funds to support those displaced by the Military Coup in Myanmar and those in the DRC due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, the UNHCR officer taught us that the two main things we need to focus on when creating humanitarian aid initiatives are: developing a realistic step-to-step process and placing people's needs at the center of our planning. She taught us that detailed planning, creating sustainable projects that empower and dignify people, and validating human emotions and needs can make a huge difference.

2. The refugee experience is much more complex and localized than we usually think. During the same UNHCR briefing, the lecturing officer explained more in detail what their process looks like: from having to apply to become a refugee abroad (often in a neighboring country) and being recognized as one to relocating temporarily somewhere else and, in some cases, ultimately integrating into other countries or returning to their countries (if the situation on the ground allows for it, and if the UNHCR can verify a safe situation in the ground).

3. The way we support others matters. This is one of the biggest takeaways from that session. Here, our lecturer emphasized the issues with post-colonialism and power imbalances: creating economic dependencies with those in precarious or delicate positions is not a solution but rather a way to perpetuate pervasive power dynamics. The solution, then, is to create initiatives that, instead of creating economic dependencies, empower people and allow them to regain power in their lives in the long run. An excellent example of this shift is visible in the UN Cash system, which, instead of creating a cycle of economic dependencies, is designed to give a sense of control in life for those using it and intends to empower individuals to tend to their basic needs more directly.

CarlosAmong the other sessions with other ESCAP officers, here are some of the main takeaways I had:

-International organizations are vital in delivering on-the-ground intelligence and basic information about countries' systems to create synergy and make regional systems compatible. Such intelligence is key to connecting trade, transportation systems, and human networks effectively! UNESCAP does that in the region and devotes a large number of its people and time to various sectors, including environmental policy, politics, transportation, energy, among others.

-Developing inclusive systems implies re-imagining how we do things while improving or transforming the existing structures. Part of making systems more inclusive is considering the intersectionality of people and re-designing and re-structuring systems and work environments to be more straightforward, interactive, and suited for people with various skills and capabilities, and sometimes that is just a matter of simplifying daily life processes!

To promote transformations in our systems, we need the following:
-A clear purpose.
-A gradual and consistent process to make things happen.
-Giving visibility to people's efforts when implementing changes.
-Rewarding learning.
These points are part of what we got from one of the speakers, who told us about how various United Nations Agencies are trying to lead the way in environmental policy and becoming more environmentally friendly worldwide by showing others that such a transition is possible, especially if everyone plays a role in it and if we take the time to rethink the systems we live in.

-There are many ways to engage and work with the United Nations: from the Young Professionals Program to UN Volunteers and ESCAP internships, one can contribute to the United Nations. Here, we learned that more than anything else, we need to focus on keeping professional profiles relevant and focused, building up extensive linguistic skills, honing various technical skills, and cultivating a passion for learning (as knowledge is gradually gained over time). On top of the previous, it was highly tranquilizing to learn that experts do not have all the answers all the time, but that part of the challenge and what keeps the United Nations moving is the pursuit to solve and address global issues.

-For any initiative, having a clear end goal is vital, but designing a process to get there is even more critical. This was the biggest takeaway I had from this student visit to Thailand: UN officers often talked about how aspirational the Millennium Goals were, but most of them agreed that SDGs are a breakthrough in the sense that not only are they more specific and deliver a more feasible path to attain them, but SDGS are also focused and structured to address various SDGs at the same time, allowing for solutions that can tackle multiple SDGs simultaneously.

CarlosBriefing session at governmental organizations in Thailand:

After visiting the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, I came back with a much clearer perspective on ASEAN regional issues and Thailand. That exposure to Thai diplomats and people working in the ASEAN Training Center also made me realize the need for regional frameworks for coordinated responses to human development challenges. What I found to be extremely curious was the Thai government's approach towards implementing ASEAN agendas in tandem with SDGs while also focusing on attending to and prioritizing regional needs. Here are some additional takeaways from our meeting with some of those experienced diplomats:

-Consensus in ASEAN is achievable when centered around basic needs and joint development more than when it revolves around governance and politics. ASEAN's goals, unlike those of the European Union or other regional organizations, are quite distinct and lean more towards economic and development cooperation. Moreover, an essential aspect of ASEAN lies in its informal and more direct diplomacy to solve controversies. Thai diplomats highlighted that to address regional emerging challenges and situations, as well as political tensions and disagreements, ASEAN would deploy specialized work teams in various fields when needed.

-Innovative ways of implementing SDGs are essential and can lead to better data collection and enhance decision-making. From our talks with Dr. Perada, a specialist on Gender Issues, some of the game changers for the Thai government have been using apps for monitoring the safety of women (ESS Help me), creating videos specially targeted for youth or children, and many other technological initiatives that allow the Thai government to collect data while supporting the general population.

Interacting session with students from Chulalongkorn University

-To fully implement SDGs and improve human development, we must create an SDGs mindset and raise generations that think in terms of SDGS and sustainable development. As we worked with our peers from Chulalongkorn University, we realized their involvement in their community and how many think of their initiatives and projects with SDGs as an implied and solid foundation and mindset. As we invited them to work on a small activity where the target was to create small projects for sustainable development together, we could see that our peers were SDG-mindful because most of their ideas went around SDGs or integrated SDGs into new innovative initiatives.

-There is a need to localize and regionalize the procedures to adopt SDGS, and they are also a responsibility we must take daily. During our time at Chulalongkorn University, our peers and we worked on a social media campaign targeted at promoting gender equality in Thailand called #Freeyourself, which focused on utilizing key agents in society, like actors or YouTubers (who gather enough public attention) to portray women in STEM fields and other positions of power, as a way to change perceptions of women in Thai society. Working on this initiative made us realize the need to localize solutions, design easily replicable projects, and factor sustainability when planning initiatives to solve societal problems and trigger societal change.

Please tell us if there are any moments/events which are not listed above.

CarlosI think that there was a great moment that came from our interactions with the Chulalongkorn University students, and that was after our visit when some of us (Ritsumeikan and Chulalongkorn University) students decided to get together to go to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center and other places around. As we met, we found an exhibit that tried to garner attention around Thailand's aging population situation and the future challenges that aging societies face. Such exposure and the interaction with the Chulalongkorn University students made our visit richer, helped us understand more about the local panorama, and gave us a unique chance to interact with Thai students. Such an experience was the cherry on top of the cake. It made our visit even more enjoyable and allowed us to become friends with Thai students, with whom we are still in contact today!

How was your impression of participating in this program with other students and instructors?

CarlosIn general, traveling with other students was quite enjoyable as we exchanged various views on the issues we discussed with the experts, and our different backgrounds and understandings of life often enriched our conversations. Also, Professor Sachiko Ishikawa made highly significant contributions and questions that further increased our engagement with all the speakers.

Also, traveling with other students made the whole experience more comfortable, as we all shared our aspirations, and we could rely on each other whenever we did not get something or had questions about the process before and during the trip. I should add that having such a network of students is extremely useful as we all, with different approaches to our studies, gave each other the chance to learn from each other's perspectives.

In addition, traveling with the rest of the students allowed for a more robust discussion with officials as we analyzed and took the information in many different ways. I consider that even the slightest questions of some of my peers significantly increased the knowledge of the entire group, as such questions often opened or led to broader discussions with our speakers.

Also, Shirasaki-san often supported us with all the technical questions we had about the program during and after the entire process, and his efforts helped us avoid many issues during the whole process.

Tell us how you recommend this program to other students.

CarlosThe two things I would extremely recommend for future occasions would be the following:

-Extending the potential interactions between Chulalongkorn and Ritsumeikan University students. I cannot stress enough how inspiring it was to interact with them, especially during the activity I proposed, where we developed joint initiatives related to SDGS. Such interaction allowed us to get closer to them and to learn more about their perspectives on life and SDGS, and it also allowed us to apply what we learned in class while having fun and learning how to utilize SDGs in real life!

-Preparing more targeted content for each session. I think that what made the difference for me and the type of questions that I made was that before each session, I took 5-10 minutes to do some quick research on the topics we would be covering and often asked about a mix of what I read and what the experts talked about. Such small preparations could help others enrich their experience and the discussions even more!

Could you explain how the experience you gained from this program would connect to your future?

CarlosIn the future, I aspire to join the foreign service of my country, join UN agencies like UNHCR, the World Health Organization, UNDP, OHCHR, or OCHA, or any NGOs like Amnesty International to help rethink part of the systems we live in and to help narrow the gap between people in different living situations. This experience was highly empowering because it showed me many ways to reach my goals and go beyond what I originally envisioned. After speaking with all these professionals in the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, UNESCAP, and UNHCR, I think I gained a lot of perspective on the type of skills and the type of focus I should have in the following years as I build my professional career. Talking to all these experts helped me debunk various misconceptions I had about the UN, increased my faith in human cooperation, and increased my interest in multiple fields of International Relations that I initially did not consider as much before the research trip to Thailand, but that now I want to explore much more. Talking to all these professionals enriched my vision of various issues and has motivated me to keep studying and seeking ways to utilize my academic knowledge in real life, just like UN officials do with the reports they emit and their initiatives to support people worldwide. Attending all these discussions and the program made me treasure the learning experience even more, not only because knowledge gives you more power but also because learning means enriching your life and those of others. This experience certainly awakened my curiosity, augmented my vision of the world, and motivated me to keep on building my path.

I would argue that the interactions we had with these experts are not easily replicable for two reasons: the first being that the direct and more personal contact we had with these professionals certainly allowed them to provide us with greater knowledge, more individualized advice and much better guidance on the issues we talked about. And second, such interactions in a much smaller group allowed for much more authenticity from our speakers and allowed us to ask many more questions as opposed to online forums, for instance.

Tell us about your activities at Ritsumeikan University other than this program.

CarlosI am currently working as Management Staff at the BBP (Beyond Borders Plaza), working as part of the BBP's volunteer Project Team in their Language Exchange Group, and as research assistant for Professor Kim Viktoriya.

As Management Staff at the BBP, my functions involve:

-Inviting students to various cultural exchange events.

-Helping advertise the many ways in which International and Japanese students can connect.

-Introducing students to the BBP's foreign language learning support options, like our language communication rooms, Language Exchange Programs, and other initiatives.

Additionally, I help create a warm, vibrant, and welcoming space for all students, which also often involves helping them connect, in many cases, with nationalities they've never met before! Such exposure to a wide variety of individuals worldwide has been truly humbling and has allowed me to get to know other cultures and become very mindful of the diverse and unique ways in which people learn to grow and thrive. It has inspired me to keep learning many more languages and learn about many people's life experiences!

My experience at the BBP has motivated me to think about the localized contexts of people, and it has also led me to value the power of collaboration across people with multiple backgrounds. Also, such exposure has allowed me to improve my Japanese and engage more profoundly with Japanese culture. That has been possible as I have made friends from various prefectures, and each day, I learn something new in Japanese, slang, Japanese culture, and a bit more of Kansai-ben, Fukuoka, or Hiroshima-ben. Working at the BBP has also helped me maintain my fluency in all the languages I speak (English, Spanish, French, and now Japanese!) while I make many friends and make many new memories.

Also, as part of the language exchange team, I plan events that help international students and Japanese people overcome the language barrier that often thwarts interactions. Part of our volunteer duty involves making events that create friendly interactions between students and allow them to learn from each other.

Having worked in the past in the BBP's exchange team, I also gained a lot of experience in event planning in Japanese, and I got many chances to create events where international students and Japanese could exchange thoughts on student life, languages, sports, and traditional Japanese culture, as my team organized various sports and Japanese culture experiences.

Lastly, as a research assistant for Professor Kim Viktoriya, I have also gained access to many COVID, migration, and integration resources linked to some of the research she is currently working on. This exposure to her research and some of the niche resources and knowledge she works with has motivated me to go above and beyond what I learn in class and continue learning more!

Outside of school:

On top of the previous, outside of school, I have worked in two places:

The Mexican Embassy in Tokyo (in a hybrid capacity) from November 2022 to May 2023. As an intern, I helped document various connection points between our countries, especially those in Kyoto, and updated part of the embassy records about them. Additionally, I supported the social media (SNS) posting of the embassy, and I also created a series of interviews with Japanese students who studied in Mexico for them to recount their experience in short interviews as a way to motivate other Japanese students to take that leap and do their first study abroad experience in my country!

The Utoro Peace Memorial Museum. While I worked as an outreach and community engagement intern last year, I assumed the leadership of their intern program this year. Under my leadership, a group of 9 students and I are currently helping the Museum increase its international outreach efforts, translating museum exhibitions, improving accessibility for foreign and local visitors to the Museum, developing events and visits to Zainichi Korean-related spaces in Kyoto and Osaka to raise awareness and learn more about the history of Koreans in Japan.

December 2023