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Harmony in diversity: Sharing Japanese and Cambodian cultures

Kay Kimsong / Khmer Times Share:
Noppon Chhim, Cambodian student in Japan AFS International Cultural Exchange Programme

Noppon Chhim, a 17-year-old Cambodian student, has returned to the Kingdom after spending six months studying in Japan under the country’s AFS International Cultural Exchange programme.

For as long as he can remem­ber, Mr Noppon has always been fascinated with Japanese cul­ture and tradition. Years later, his interest in the country was acknowledged as he was cho­sen as one of the 200 students to receive a scholarship from the Japanese government.

With the scholarship, he was able to receive tutoring from the Hyogo Prefectural International High School located in Kobe city from August last year to March 22 this year.

The School headmaster Hi­roshi Maekawa says, the school was established in 2003 to pro­vide students from all parts of Asia with the opportunity to partake in a cultural exchange, school headmaster.

Ryohei Kashiwagi, Asia Kake­hashi Project team coordinator for AFS Intercultural Programme, told Khmer Times that: “The basic idea is to allow them to make friends and engage in dia­logues with one another as they try to familiarise themselves with the Japanese language and cul­ture.”

Commenting on cultures, Mr Ryohei said he found many differences between Cambo­dian and Japanese cultures. For instance, Japanese customs dictate that when holding a conversation, one should wait for the other to finish speaking before replying as a sign of re­spect – a practice that is not emphasised much in Cambodian conventions.

Being well-travelled, Mr Nop­pon has been accustomed to adapting to different cultures, although he found the Japanese language and customs were much more difficult. It took him three months to learn the basics of the Japanese language and another three to communicate fluently with his classmates, ei­ther in Japanese or English.

In an interview with Khmer Times in late February, Mr Nop­pon said though his passions were STEM-based, he believes humanities and cultural studies are essential.

“I have learned a lot – the way Japanese people think, talk and act. I have also learned about the respective cultures of my classmates who hail from differ­ent countries in Asia,” he said, adding that particularly notable in Japanese culture is their high regard for rules and regulations.

He added that “I feel like… Ja­pan is a very respectful country. They show deep respect for each other.”

Asked about what he was planning on bringing back to Cambodia, Mr Noppon said he hoped to bring back student management skills. “I want to share their culture of respect and harmony [to Cambodia].”

“While I can’t copy and paste everything from their culture to ours, I can borrow some of their practices that will fit the Cam­bodian fabric like how they ob­serve punctuality, such as how they think critically and how they write,” he said.

Of course, Mr Noppon also made it a point to share the Cam­bodian culture to his fellow Asian classmates by cooking Khmer food and teaching Khmer music and dance.

“This programme has pro­vided us with the experience of understanding different cul­tures and taught us how to live harmoniously amid these differ­ences,” he said.

Noppon noted that “In Japan, families were verbally expressive of their gratitude and affection for one another – something which is unusual in the Cambo­dian culture where words are not as important as actions”.

“Now, I am learning to say thank you for every little thing. It doesn’t matter how different our cultures are, we must ac­cept these differences and live respectfully with each other.

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