Why did you decide to volunteer with World Campus International in Japan?
Sean: Back in 2007, I had some major unresolved personal issues at home, had just been suspended from my lifeguarding job for absenteeism, and was completing my CÉGEP (a post-secondary 2-year program prior to university). I did not like who I was becoming and was looking to get some perspective. Somehow, I stumbled upon the WCI program. At first, it seemed outrageous; I was completely clueless about the Japanese culture. Progressively though, the idea of meeting and sharing with a bunch of gutsy young people from all over the world seduced me.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Sean: One of the great things of the WCI program was that every day felt different. First, I wasn’t 100% a volunteer, but a participant. Due to the shear complexity and importance of Japanese culture in daily living, a lot of the program was devoted to explore and understand its various aspects. Considering that 98.5% of the population is ethnic Japanese, one part of our job was to act as ambassadors for our respective countries and more generally for all foreigners. This reality permeated throughout the rest of the program and allowed us to have a special access lots of things.
In the first weeks, it was all about Japanese classes, mindset preparation (team building activities, presentation of the various psychological events that would occur while abroad, mechanisms to deal with it, etc.) and the preparation of a thank you event that would be produced in each city we would travel to. Then, we discovered the Japanese school system (from kindergarden to university), the various issues kids, parents, and professors are facing, and were put in charge of classes for a few days. We scratched the surface of the Japanese corporate world through corporate visits of established institutions such as Asahi Breweries, Mazda and Toyota and newer companies such as Miracle 3 Corp. and others. During these visits, the normal facilities tour was always improved upon with direct management interaction and founding family / founder interaction. Another part of it was interacting with survivors. From atomic bomb survivors to Minamata disease survivors, while passing by natural handicap survivors and Storks Cradle, we met them and exchanged with them. We exchanged with various religious and traditional institutions, politicians, and the people during festivities and through host-family living.
What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?
Sean: First and foremost, the people. The group of fellow travellers that I met in Japan contributed greatly in making this experience unique and priceless. We developed our own customs and language which united us and allowed us to overcome the various obstacles that were sent our way. Each of us has a story to tell, but various factors make it impossible to truly discover this story unless given a common challenge and time. Within the WCI group were fragments of the world and having the chance to hear what each had to say was truly life changing. Then there was the generous host-families who we got to adopt in our own ways, the insider access, and the overall reach of the program.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Sean: What did I find in WCI? [Personally] Well, I met my spouse Kim, a Belgian. She is currently a permanent Canadian resident and has been living with me for 2 years, though we went back and forth for 3 years prior to that to make our long-distance relationship work. In fact, we will be travelling to Belgium to attend her sister’s wedding in June, and are planning to go visit a great Italian friend (again from WCI) who will be living in Paris. If that wasn’t enough, I managed to find the perspective I was longing for; an invaluable asset which still guides me today. Other than that, I was able to travel to Europe for very little due to my families away from home.
[Professionally] Once back from Japan, I put Robert Kibaya (WCI alumni) in contact with local friend of mine. With the help of countless volunteers, they have since created from scratch an organization called ABaCoDe, which aims to provide invaluable life skills children and young adults through sports. Kim and I both have been implicated in the organization.