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.