BY JULIA WADE
An essay about the value of sharing cultural ideals delivered a Year 12 Rodney College student an early Christmas present, winning him the chance to experience a different lifestyle in the land of the rising sun.
Mangawhai local, 17-year-old Carlos Gillon was selected as one of the winners of a recent essay competition organised by Tokyo’s Board of Education, joining 16 other young Kiwis as well as students from Canada, Australia, Indonesia and Finland, for a two week stay in Japan from December 8 to 21, 2018.
The overall theme for the international competition asked students to write about their reasons for why they would like to visit the country.
Thinking a cultural exchange would be a valuable influence to his ideas and views of the world, Carlos responded with an essay about the ‘importance of sharing cultural ideals, why that was important to me, and why that is important for Japan’
“It was important for me because I see increasingly in our world that there is a major drift between people especially in politics, where the left and right are pushing each other away,” he says. “I believe to become a better person we have to understand other people’s viewpoints and way of life.”
Staying with families in Tokyo, students toured the city as well as travelling further afield to others including Osaka and Narita, and also attended school with their host siblings.
“We didn’t all go to the same schools, there were only a few of us in each which I thought was good because it let us interact with students there rather than among ourselves.”
This is the second time the young adventurer has immersed himself in another land and culture. After discovering he descended from Native American Indians on his paternal grandmother’s side in 2016, the then 15-year-old travelled to Minnesota, USA, where he boarded with a Native American Indian family and attended the local high school for 10 months. Accompanied by the family, Carlos joined the Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American Indian tribes in North Dakota for four days, in their fight to halt the construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
His visit to Japan has also been life changing and inspiring, Carlos says, especially with Japan’s ‘huge’ work ethic which was ‘one thing I want to take into 2019’, as he plans to study law and psychology once graduating from Rodney College at the end of the year.
Another major difference that impacted on the-now Year 13 student was the high level of respect the Japanese demonstrated towards each other.
“That shocked me… the respect shown not only to their parents but also teachers and strangers who serve them at restaurants or stores,” he says. “It really made me think of myself and especially how kids in New Zealand treat their teachers and parents compared to Japanese kids. I can definitely say that Japan has a point against us there.”
However the main impression Carlos is left with, is that despite the difference in cultures, traditions, customs and lifestyles, people are essentially all the same.
“Japan taught me that they are no different from us. Sure they have different customs and language but they laugh at the same things we do and like to do the same things we do,” he says. “I feel as a country that is an important thing we need to realise as well and not just go off stereotypes.”
Outside Tokyo Central station with his host brother, Atsushi Sakamoto. Carlos Gillon (right) travelled an hour each way from Atsushi’s home in Ontacho, to attend the school in Tokyo.
“I see increasingly in our world that there is a major drift between people… we have to understand other people’s viewpoints and way of life.”