Way Out East

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Since 1922, the ESU has sent skilled speech and debate mentors to all corners of the globe on international debating tours to coach school students, teachers and competition organisers, as well as to give show debates. In 2016, ESU mentors visited Denmark, the USA, and Japan, as we learn here…

CALEY ROUTLEDGE, Graduate trainee at communications firm Fleishman Hillard Fishburn

Why did you sign up for the Tour?

I had never left Europe, and even travelling to Europe is an opportunity many in my family have never been afforded. So to be able to travel to Japan was something I will always be thankful to the ESU for. Travelling with the ESU meant I was able to contribute something I love – teaching debating – while also developing myself in a completely new context.

Which debate did you enjoy the most and why?

Our show debate for the supporters of ESU Japan gave me the opportunity to propose the idea that ‘London is declining as a world city’. Having fallen in love with Tokyo, and having been on the ‘wrong’ side of the EU Referendum, I was peculiarly happy to tear apart my home country and its capital for five minutes. We won, but I’m now in the position of hoping my pessimism was misplaced as I make the move to London myself.

What will you remember the most?

The people, and particularly the meals we spent with them. Each meal was an opportunity to try phenomenal food, and talk to fantastic people whom we would otherwise never have met. Japan was consistently distinct from anything I had experienced before, and it opened my eyes a little wider to what’s out there in the world.

What was the funniest moment?

My height was the source of much amusement. I am 6’ 4”, a height which many doorways in Japan do not accommodate. If you’re my height, and travelling to Japan, do watch your head.

DAISY OHAN, Student at the University of Exeter

What did you know about Japan before the tour?

Before I went out, I tried to learn as much about Japan as possible. I met with a Japanese friend to help hone my etiquette, and learnt about how to exchange business cards (hold your business card with both hands, facing the person you are presenting it to; receive their business card with both hands and read it, before placing it in a holder).

What did you learn?

I enjoyed learning about Japanese culture from a Japanese perspective, since Japanese culture is so often misrepresented in the Western media as outlandish or bizarre. I also enjoyed finding out about how my generation views their country – what aspects of its culture they want to change, and which traditions they hold close to their hearts. I discovered that it is traditional, when saying goodbye to someone, to wave them off until their car disappears, something I found very touching.

Which sights did you get to see in Japan and what was your favourite place?

My favourite places were the beautiful Kiyomizudera Temple, which stands proud above Kyoto on a wooden platform hundreds of years old and was built without a single nail, and the Harajuku district in Tokyo which was so much fun. Everywhere there were lights and bright colours, and people dressed in eccentric fashion. Every store seemed to be selling toys, sweets and crêpes, make-up or clothes. It was like a teenage girl’s fantasy!

What will you remember the most?

The food! I thought you could get decent Japanese food in London. I was wrong!

MATT NOCK, Student at the University of Surrey

What aspects of Japanese culture impressed you most?

The respectful manner in which people behaved towards one another, even in informal situations. Bowing when thanking someone remains prevalent and, to be polite, it was a habit that we all picked up while there. Since coming back, I still find myself unconsciously bowing slightly when being given things in shops. The other thing that really jumped out at me was the generosity of our hosts, all of whom took every effort to ensure we felt welcome and were looked after.

What was the most challenging moment?

Teaching debate to students who don’t speak English as a first language was probably the biggest challenge. While the standard of English was broadly very good, I had to stretch myself to try to explain fairly abstract concepts in simple terms. It was an enjoyable challenge however, and one from which I felt I learned a lot – articulating familiar concepts in new or simplified terms helps you develop your own understanding of them.

What will you remember the most?

There are far too many individual moments that stand out to pick just one. I have good memories of fun social evenings with Caley, Sophia and Daisy and of struggling to use chop sticks with dignity. Also travelling on the famous Bullet Trains and passing Mt. Fuji sticks out as something unique to Japan.

SOPHIA RODRIGUEZ, Student at the London School of Economics

Why did you sign up for the tour?

I’d heard from friends that it was a fantastic experience and that the hosts were incredibly welcoming, so I thought it would be a great way to immerse myself in Japanese culture.

What aspects of Japanese culture impressed you most?

Their food was all incredibly healthy and delicious! It has certainly inspired my cooking over the last few months. I was also very impressed with the efficiency with which everything ran – from their debate tournaments to their trains, running to time never seemed to be a problem for the Japanese.

What did you know about Japan before the tour and what did you learn?

Before the tour I was vaguely aware of the culture in Japan and the demographic problems that are being faced by the country, so it was interesting to talk to people living there. As an economics student it was fascinating to interact with so many businessmen and women and to discuss the implications of Brexit and understand just how strong their concerns were about the future of the UK. Before I arrived in Japan, I had read many statements made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but it hadn’t hit home just how great these concerns were until I had these discussions.

What will you remember most?

After the ESU Japan debate tournament, we went for dinner with some of the Japanese debaters who had been adjudicating. They had been to some of the tournaments that I’d attended over the past few years and, bizarrely, we had loads of mutual friends, so a lot of funny and embarrassing stories were told over an array of Japanese spirits.

Get involved! Tours are open to all but priority is given to mentors who have already worked for the ESU. To find out more, please visit esu.org/educationnetwork.

We are currently mentors for 2017's tour, to find out more or to apply, click here.