OPINION: I was treated to a screening of a darkly-comedic, slightly unsettling, Korean film called Parasite last week. It was a commentary on the country’s class divide, and for those not familiar with Korea, an insight into the complexities of modern-day Korea.
Don’t worry, I haven’t decided to use this column to review a film I like (though you should watch it if you have a chance).
Rather, I want to point out how fantastic it is that New Zealand audiences can glean cultural insights like this from a comfy seat in a Wellington movie theatre.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Perceptions of Asia research tells us that young people are learning about Asia in a different way than previous generations.
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It’s no longer just language instruction in schools – though that’s still an important and currently under-resourced part of the picture – it’s coming at them from all directions.
On any given weekend, an ordinary teenager in a New Zealand city will be choosing from sushi or dumplings, from movies about a yeti lost in Shanghai or an action film from a Taiwanese director.
Many young people will travel to an Asian country with their families or opt for Asia as their OE destination rather than the well-beaten path to London.
New Zealand’s increasing population of people who identify with at least one Asian ethnicity means non-Asian young people learn via visits to friends’ homes; and children of migrants learn the difficult task of straddling two cultures, and ultimately end up with cross-cultural skills that are of huge value.
Today’s young people are exposed to Asian influences several times a day, and while there’s still a way to go on understanding Asian peoples and cultures at a deeper level, this exposure does give the next generation have an advantage.
Those who have had their eyes, ears and hearts open to Asian cultures and peoples are better equipped to tackle business relationships in Asia.
All of this of huge benefit to today’s businesses and, frankly, it’s often under-estimated by those who have been in business since before some of today’s up and comers were born.
To be successful in business in Asia, you need skills to navigate different cultures and business environments, and today’s young people are much more adept at switching modes.
That’s why, and in celebration of our 25th anniversary as an organisation, we decided to highlight 25 of the young people already well on their way to leading the New Zealand-Asia relationship.
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting most of our 25 To Watch, and I can tell you we’re in safe hands.
They’re entrepreneurs, scientists, community leaders, sports leaders, students, diplomats and public servants, journalists, engineers, musicians and dancers.
Their connections and work span from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, and together they represent the breadth and potential of the Asia-New Zealand connections.
Let me give you a few examples to show you what I mean.
There’s Serena Lim-Strutt, a 20-year-old from Hamilton, who’s studying neuroscience and philosophy, and spent her summer in Cambodia researching how landmine-induced trauma affects economic decision-making.
There’s 23-year-old Alvin Cheung, who developed Mandarin language-assisted football coaching and refereeing courses to break down barriers for Chinese players and coaches in New Zealand.
Pounamu Wharehinga, a 17-year-old from Gisborne, dreams of a career in music and sees the potential for cultural connections to be made via waiata. She’s already been a part of hosting delegations from several Asian countries.
I’ll stop there because, well, there’s 25 of them – but suffice to say I had a hard time picking whose achievements to highlight.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of young New Zealanders who still couldn’t point to China on a map, hint: it’s the big one – but that’s why the group we’ve identified are so important. They’re role models, they’re advocates, they’re bridge-builders.
We’re committed to supporting them on their journey – and others – and are excited to see where they go from here.
Simon Draper is executive director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono