Transcending Borders Online and In-person: This is RSGF 2022 

by: Aine Latoja || Photo Credit: Aine Latoja

As the pandemic slowly loses its reins on travel restrictions, the events held online over the past two years have gradually transitioned back to face-to-face. One of these is the Rits Super Global Forum (RSGF), which invites students worldwide to discuss solutions in line with the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Having attended the RSGF twice—online and in-person—my experiences from these two modes were completely different. Why don’t I take you on this journey with me? 

When I was first messaged by Ma’am Nikki last year, the invitation stated that the event would be held online once again. It was an opportunity not meant to be wasted, but I somewhat felt downhearted that I wouldn’t be able to attend the event face-to-face—like the previous years before the pandemic. However, I looked at the bright side: I have been considered to represent the school, and the Philippines, at this event. 

For five days, I and six other students, namely Kyle Balasanos, Katharine Manalo, Sebastian Mercado, Justin Misagal, Calina Pamplona, and Justin Emmanuel Tabao, set out to attend the event online. With last year’s theme, “Designing a Sustainable Future — Creating a Virtual Country as a Model for Possible Future Action,” we were tasked to take on different roles in setting up a virtual country. I particularly liked this setup as it allowed me to be completely immersed and to look at different perspectives in the parts I was given. Moreover, we took pride in the posters we had created as we were able to showcase our knowledge on the topics provided. 

As the closing ceremony began, I realized how much of the event I had taken for granted due to my lack of motivation. Although I made new friends, I didn’t feel as though I had fulfilled something. I vowed to put myself out more in events like these if I were to be chosen again in the future. 

“Have you attended any Rits events in Japan before? Not online.” The message from Ma’am Nikki blared at me through my phone’s lock screen before I decided to reply. 

At first, I was hesitant to attend the event once again in fear of repeating my mistakes from last year, but my excitement got the best of me. I decided to give it a go once more. To my luck, the school decided to attend the event in person! Together with Claire Carles, Sebastian Mercado, Kaliah Murillo, and Juliana Trocino, we represented PSHS-EVC at the Ritsumeikan High School in Kyoto, Japan, taking part in this year’s event with the theme, “Sustainable Food for Our All – How Can We Overcome the Food Problems Related to the Environmental Issues?” 

The first day was all excitement and nervousness, like first-day jitters when you first entered daycare. Everyone was buzzing with excitement but also equally nervous about interacting and making the first move. Thankfully, the ice-breaking activities made us warm up to each other. Many overseas students also found it surprising that we Filipino students spoke English very well. They complimented our lack of accents and perfect diction despite it being our second language.

On the second day, the itinerary included the first two mini-plenary discussions. My group members and I had to put our heads together and brainstorm solutions for our given topic. With the help of our teacher assistants, we were able to come up with cohesive ideas while incorporating a few of everyone’s thoughts. In the afternoon, they gave us a tour of the school and got us to experience a little bit of Japanese culture. In my case, I was able to witness the martial art Kendo, see popular Japanese toys such as kendama, fold origami, and try calligraphy writing. 

The third day was my personal favorite. Right after our respective mini-plenary sessions, groups were separated into teams to go to our assigned locations for fieldwork. My team and I visited the Kyoto Food Cultural Museum and learned about the history of Japanese cuisine. They got us to taste dashi, a variety of Japanese soup stock made predominantly of nori, tuna, mackerel, and more. After which, we took a bus to get to the city proper, where we went to this Japanese delicacy shop I can’t seem to remember the name of. They showed us where they made yatsuhashi,  a Japanese confection made of cinnamon, rice flour, and sugar. At night, we also visited a night market where we roamed the streets of Kyoto and explored various arrays of specialty shops. Needless to say, it was definitely one of the best field works I had ever experienced.

Day 4 had us in complete disarray. We were set to deliver our presentations in front of a panel. Fortunately, our group was voted as one of the six groups to present in the plenary session the next day. Later on, it was time for the cultural presentations of each school. We initially didn’t have any presentation prepared, but we did practice a simple song to perform. As we sang “With a Smile” by Eraserheads on the theater-like stage, the audience clapped along to the song and started a wave of flashlights—enjoying the simple ballad. I also loved witnessing the performances of other schools as it allowed us to earn a glimpse of their culture. Even if I couldn’t understand what the lyrics meant or what they were saying in their native language, I still felt the pride and confidence they had for the place they called home. 

Inevitably, the last day came. Our presentation was met with positive remarks by the panel of teachers, and we enjoyed a bittersweet farewell lunch party together. Courtesy of the Student Planning Committee, we had a surprise dance party and got to exchange gifts with each other as keepsakes. During the closing ceremony, I was tasked to deliver a short speech right after accepting the certificates from the principal. I didn’t have a speech prepared, so I just decided to say what was on my mind: “The first step to solving world problems is by working together, and I believe that is what RSGF has achieved. Thank you for having us. It is an honor to be here.” 

Throughout the course of RSGF 2022, we were met with a great deal of boundaries. But from face masks, to language barriers, and to cultural differences, we were still able to find common ground and work together. Attending in person was a totally different experience from attending online, but what both forums had in common was that the time spent interacting with our newfound friends turned out to not be enough. Teary-eyed or not, everyone left with a heavy heart that day, not knowing when we’ll all be able to meet each other again.

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