Are you interested in participating at youth conferences in the Asia-Pacific region while taking away some lifelong skills and friends? Read more to find out what it’s like and how you can seize this incredible opportunity!
The APEC Youth Week Program
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is an important institution in the Asia-Pacific region. Its yearly summit brings together representatives from the 21 member economies, as well CEOs from corporations across this region, to discuss issues surrounding economic growth and interdependence. It is therefore imperative to include youth in this discussion; it is our generation who are affected by these issues, and it is our generation who will one day take the reins in addressing these issues. This is relevant to all youth, not only those with an interest in economics.
Fortunately, youth conferences are run alongside the APEC world leaders’ and CEO summits. This provides youth the opportunity to engage in the issues facing APEC today, contribute to the discussion, and observe how a high-level diplomatic summit is conducted. The last APEC Youth Week was held in Beijing from 3rd-11th of November 2014, and I was lucky enough to not only be one of the delegates, but to help put this incredible week together.
This was because the organisation I was volunteering for at the time, the Asia-Pacific Youth Organisation (APYO), was a partner organisation in the conference, cooperating with the Juvenile Avocational Development Center of China, Asia-Pacific Youth Foundation for Communication and Development, and Asia-Pacific Model APEC Organising Committee. The APYO recruited 15 delegates from the 21 member economies and arranged their travel to and attendance at the APEC Youth Week Summit. To ensure delegates were prepared for informed and rigorous debate at the policy discussion workshops held during the summit, the APYO required delegates to research and write a 2,000 word policy paper on one of the policy topics set by the Chinese organising committee, as well as 5 key recommendations for each of the three major policy areas, which were: the blue economy, the internet economy, and people-to-people connectivity. As Chief Policy Officer, my role was to liaise with the Chinese organisation and relay information and expectations to our delegates surrounding the policy discussion series of the program, as well as proof-read their submissions.
The policy discussion sessions ran for two of the seven days and operated in a mock-conference format, where delegates debated policies and worked towards building recommendations based on consensus. As a result of these discussions, delegates submitted a policy recommendation report to APEC policymakers, which was then delivered to the APEC Senior Officials Meeting as a representation of the views of APEC youth.
Besides these two days of discussion and preparation of the policy recommendations, the APEC Youth Week Summit also involved dialogues with CEOs and scholars of the Asia-Pacific, cultural exchange programs, field trips, and workshops. This included a visit to Microsoft Research Asia’s head office in Beijing; a tour of Beijing Jiaotong University’s transport museum; an up-close look at a brand new Tesla car; and two days at the APEC CEO Summit, amongst other things. The media followed our movements, which felt strange but was kind of fun; I even found myself being interviewed by Chinese media. Although I’m not really sure what it says, you can find the article here. You can see us on the news here and here. The absolute highlights for me, however, were a Q&A session and personal meeting with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and witnessing speeches made by various heads of state including Obama, Putin, and Jokowi, live and in the flesh! Not to mention meeting and forming friendships with some very smart young leaders from all over the APEC region.
The First-time-in-China Experience
Besides the wonderful experience that was APEC Youth Week, it was amazing simply to be in China. It was my first time in the country, and my experience began when I stepped onto the Sichuan airlines flight from Sydney to Beijing via Chongqing. The airline staff could barely speak English, and we were offered some kind of pickled vegetable in a packet labelled ‘Spice Girl 1995’ – my first encounter with real Chinese food. I was expecting to be tricked by taxi drivers at the airport, and indeed, they did try. Thankfully I was travelling with my colleague and friend, who is fluent in Chinese. I was surprised, however, when he and the taxi driver starting yelling at each other, and I couldn’t tell what was going on. Afterwards I asked him why the driver was angry with us, and why they were yelling. My friend looked at me confused, replying ‘nobody was angry’.
I was very grateful to have had two extra days in Beijing before the conference – there is so much to see and do. Although I was wary at first about taking the busy subway system, I found it much easier than navigating the tram network in Melbourne. Yes, it was very full at times, but it was still quite calm. It seemed there was method to the madness – at each stop people would exit the train straight through the middle of the doorway, while people who were waiting on the platform in an almost-single-file-line would enter diagonally on the left and right sides of the doorways. I was surprised at how well organised the system was.
We navigated the city for a few days, sight-seeing and shopping. Actually, I was surprised at how difficult it was to shop – but perhaps I was in the wrong places. At Sanlitun, renowned for its shopping, most of the stores were international brands at international prices; although, personally, I didn’t go to Beijing to buy something from Zara. We quickly went through a market that sold a lot of souvenirs at negotiable prices and picked up a few things there. In addition, we went to the area around Hou Hai and went shopping at Nan Luo Gu Xiang. This was a busy area with a lively atmosphere filled with people both foreign and local. They sold a collection of very nice gifts, perhaps on the pricey side, of silk, wool, ceramics and other Chinese handicrafts. I was on the look-out for a key-ring, which I buy at every destination, but was surprised to find that although I can buy these trinkets anywhere in Europe and find them stamped ‘Made in China’, I could not find them here. In fact, whenever I asked a local friend where they purchased something, the answer was always ‘Taobao’, the popular Chinese online shopping platform.
As much as I enjoyed Beijing, I was very grateful that we had the time to travel outside of the city to see a beautiful section of the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu. This was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen! I felt incredibly peaceful resting atop a steep watchtower on the wall; the sun was shining and the hills were wearing the golden colours of a Chinese autumn. Plus it was almost free of tourists, which made for some great photos. I never really had plans to travel to China before this opportunity came up, but I’m so glad that I did.
I took a comfortable Malaysia Airlines flight home through Kuala Lumpur. This was a welcomed return to my comfort zone, because if I couldn’t understand the English I could understand the Bahasa and vice versa. This made me wonder how much more awesome would it be to travel China with the language under your belt?
Interested in this Program?
The APEC Youth Week Program and the cultural experience that it offers is something that I would highly recommend to all youth. Not only will it look great on your resume, but it will provide you with new skills, friendships, and memories never to forget.
The APYO is running a similar program to APEC Youth Week this year which will run alongside the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur. For more information check out Lead Asia Pacific 2015.
If you would like to volunteer with APYO click here to find out how.