I had been meaning to write this post for the last few years, especially as I have been asked a lot about my time in Hawai’i with the G12 cohort of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program of East West Center. I finally got around to completing this post this weekend, sharing some of the experiences that made my time at the East West Center special and hope that it encourages some of you, who are interested in emerging priorities in the Asia Pacific region and are currently at a turning point in their careers to consider applying for the APLP or any of the other exciting programs offered by EWC.
The East West Center, an independent, public, non-profit organization was established in 1960, by the U.S. Congress, to facilitate cooperative study, research and dialogue between the United States and Asia and the Pacific.
(1) Sharing of diverse experiences
The 29 participants of G12 came from diverse backgrounds and experiences and it was exciting to hear about work they were engaged in, in their respective corners of the world.
One of the presentations by Yuan, a fellow cohort member, who is an anthropologist and development professional and who was doing her post doctoral studies on minority ethnic groups in China, made a huge impression on me. Yuan and I decided to explore the possibility of a collaborative study, after the completion of our fellowship by spending some time with the Mosuo community she had spoken of.
A lot of the conversations we had between cohort members was out of the classroom and mostly at Hale Manoa, a lovely residence hall, which was cleverly designed to nudge residents to converse with each other at their huge open plan kitchen and dining spaces throughout the building. Cooking, sharing food and conversations over meals, that took up most of the evenings, was a way of resident living there.
(2) Inspiring classroom sessions
The classroom session focus topics had been determined by the collective responses of priorities of the cohort and each week focused on a particular theme, bringing in experts in that particular field for talks and discussions. I guess I found the week on environment, facilitated by UNEP staff Colleen Corrigan, an APLP alumna the most fascinating because it opened up my mind to marine conservation and the world beneath the oceans.
In parallel to the themes for the week, we had several sessions focusing on leadership development. I enjoyed most the personal action plan development activities, which ran across the whole term on a weekly basis. The activities were designed to be reflective and self-exploratory and intended to question our assumptions about ourselves. It ended with us creating a personal action plan portfolio for the next ten years.
Some of the leadership sessions used sailing and navigation as a metaphor. For one of the field visits, we were taken to the Polynesian Voyaging Society office, where Nainoa Thompson, the President of the society spoke to us about navigation, leadership and the story of Hokule’a. We visited the Hokule’a, while it was being prepared for its next round the world voyage.
It was also a privilege to go on a sailing trip with Nainoa Thompson who had been one of the crew in the second voyage of Hokule’a in 1978, when Eddie Aikau, Hawai’ian surfing legend, was lost at sea.
(3) Solitude and reflection in the Japanese garden
The Japanese garden at the East West Centre was designed by landscape artist, Kenzo Ogata, and was the contribution of twenty two business firms in Japan. In 1964, Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko blessed the garden during a visit, and returned 30 years later to see the garden they had blessed.
The garden is one of the special places at East West Centre and is adjacent to the Imin Centre – Jefferson hall.
In addition to time spent on reflections, we usually ended up taking classroom group activities into the garden, if we were at the Imin centre.
(4) Learning Labs
One of the interesting experiments of the program was to bring together smaller groups of the cohort under themes interesting to the group members and work on a small project. My learning lab group theme was social enterprise and we worked with a small organization which supported migrant farmers integrate within the Hawai’ian society and have a sustainable livelihood. It was a very interesting exercise as the group members were from different academic and country backgrounds and we had different perspectives on the project. After some hurdles, we managed to work together by sub-dividing the group into smaller specific themes such as community empowerment, marketing etc. which allowed the different expertise in the group to come out. Our assessment report and recommendations were subsequently used by the organization, so it was a good outcome of the small joint project.
It was fun to present the findings at the event organized at Doris Duke’s Shangri La, where we were also given a guided private tour of the beautiful place.
(5) Interesting group trips and events:
The first group trip was during the labour weekend, where the program staff arranged for us to go to Kailua beach and try out canoeing before enjoying a picnic lunch, courtesy of one of the staff.
One of the last events of the program was held at the gallery on the ground floor of the John A. Burns hall, which is not only a venue for art exhibitions and performances, it houses a collection of objects from around the Asia Pacific region and is open for group tours to schools and community groups.
We had the last group ceremony for the programme, at this lovely East West Centre gallery.
(6) Peer support:
We were asked to form voluntary peer support groups and naturally, the groups were formed around people we were most comfortable with. Initially, the group was more for ensuring that all the group members finished assignments on time, especially during the spring semester when we worked independently in our respective home countries or was traveling on an independent study trip. However, my group and I continued our periodic skype updates and chats and though infrequent now, we have kept in touch and visited each other in our respective countries.
My time in Hawai’i was an especially healing one, something that I needed at that point in my life. The double rainbows, that was quite a frequent occurrence in Honolulu, helped me remember that despite the clouds, the sun does manage to shine through and there is a special rainbow in sight.
Looking back, my time in Hawai’i with the APLP cohort was a very special and meaningful one and I would recommend the experience to anyone willing to invest nine months of their life to step back and reflect on the path they have taken and where they wish to head towards, while engaging in interesting mini-projects and interactions with a diverse group of people.