Week of March 23rd Slider (17)

Asia-Pacific Report: Training a new generation of Asia-competent Canadians

A few weeks ago, during a panel discussion between Canadian and Japanese officials in Vancouver, Miklos Dietz told the gathering that Canadians, especially those in B.C., need to focus on developing “Asia competencies” at a young age to foster “a new generation of leaders”.

The director of consulting group McKinsey and Company had touched on a key talking point of recent efforts to improve Canadians’ ability to compete for business in Asia — a need to increase the level of knowledge and understanding among the Canadian public, focussing on academic exchanges.

There are many programs at academic institutions and through groups such as the B.C. Council For International Education to help students go abroad, but several countries also offer scholarships to Canadians, in the hope it pays dividends in the future.

Last year, China celebrated the 10th anniversary of a program offering roughly 10 to 15 scholarships for Canadians each year. Although the numbers are small, it represents only a fraction of the total number of Canadian students in China (estimated to be around 3,000 in 2015). Chinese officials said that, in addition to the scholarships, they regularly sponsor contests for Mandarin-language arts such as singing to encourage students’ interest and familiarity with Asia.

BCSCAN, an alumni network for Canadians who have studied in China, began as a conduit to transfer their interest and knowledge to those who want to pursue similar studies.

“We want more students to come. We don’t really care about a specific number or what programs they choose, because the experience they gain in China and Asia — compared to visiting another English-speaking country — will be much more rewarding,” said Yu Changxue of the education department at the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. “It is an immense place that’s worthy of exploration. And ultimately, that will to explore has to come from the students themselves … so we need to help students become more familiar (with China).”

Japan’s MEXT scholarship, created in 1954, also has a significant presence in B.C. A UBC information session in March attracted 35 students — again, not only those interested specifically in government scholarships, but studying in Japan generally.

“It was quite a high turnout, as we had previously been informed that it was end of term, so most students were too busy to attend because of projects and essays,” said Steve Chevalier with Japan’s Vancouver consulate. “It is a really good indication that students are interested in going to Japan to study.”

A local Japanese alumni network is also growing, with regular gatherings acting as a platform for Canadians with similar experiences to stay connected.

Those involved in such exchanges agree it is an uphill battle. Rough estimates indicate only a small fraction of Canadian post-secondary students travel abroad to study, and those who do usually choose English-speaking countries such as Australia and the U.S., as well as European nations.

Colin Doerr, the B.C. Council For International Education’s director of communications (and himself a former student in China), said alumni networks such as BCSCAN help encourage B.C. students to travel abroad.

“Students, when they first come back, it can be quite challenging because you’ve built up a network while studying (in Asia), and you lose that when you come back,” Doerr said. “This is an area we can help.”

Indeed, while cultural interest may spur students to travel to Asia, considerations about financial realities, including the ability to find employment, undoubtedly also weigh in their decisions. B.C. lawyer Gary Matson studied at Hiroshima University in Japan from 1978 to 1980, and noted that many students at the time took Japanese studies because of the country’s then-booming economy.

But he added that students need to develop a deeper connection to truly benefit from and facilitate cross-Pacific interactions. “You have to have the willingness, the eagerness to do things with people. When I was there, I went to Kabuki and Noh, I went hiking, I got to know people, and had family there. Did the scholarship directly help me get a job? No. But what I learned in Japan ended up paying dividends, because 90 to 95 per cent of my clients are Japanese.”

Richard Liu echoed Matson’s sentiments. The founder of the Canadian Alumni Network in China and a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing was influenced by his father, both during a short stay in his birthplace of Toronto and during his upbringing in B.C. As a result, Liu studied at Beijing University in China – has spent decades overseas and built a successful career in both public and private sectors.

“When I went to Beijing University, I was able to mingle with students who are now established in Chinese industry and society,” Liu said. “Having lived in China for 20 years, getting married and raising a family there, studying there is how it all started. It gave me the network that I have today … and that took 20 years to build.”

Not everyone found the experience helpful in terms of careers. Vancouver-area resident Meghan O’Connell was a MEXT recipient at Kyoto University from 2011 to 2013, and as she lacked Japanese language skills, she had to attend English programs where the level of language competency was uneven. However, O’Connell said the experience, including five months working at a national park on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, was unforgettable.

“Think about your expectations,” she said, noting the experience did not help her find a job in Vancouver. “Find out what you want to get out of studying (abroad), and then really do your research. If you want a rigorous academic experience that will help you find work in Vancouver, maybe it’s not the place. But there’s no way you can describe in words the experience of living there for two, three years.”

News source: http://vancouversun.com/news/world/asia-pacific-report-training-a-new-generation-of-asia-competent-canadians?__lsa=3501-cf78