Thursday, May 31, 2012

The AIMSEP Experience: Spring Exchange in Japan 2012

The Asian International Medical Students Exchange Program (AIMSEP) is a culural-academic exchange program AMSA-Philippines holds in partnership with Japan through AMSA-International, open to medical students of any year level. 

This spring, Irish May Co and Karina Terese Santos from AMSA-Philippines participated in the recently concluded exchange program hosted by Kanazawa University in Japan, with four other delegates from Malaysia. Read below to learn about the AIMSEP experience through the eyes of  Karina Santos:

Spring Exchange in Japan 2012

Last April 3-8, at the beginning of spring, two delegates from the Philippines (Irish May Co and myself, Karina Terese Santos) and four others from Malaysia flew to Japan for AIMSEP 2012 hosted by Kanazawa University in Ishikawa Prefecture.
While the program was to be hosted in Kanazawa, the first two days consisted of a tour around Tokyo. Five of the six delegates were welcomed in the morning with the bustling trades in Tsukiji fish market, followed by sightseeing in the entertainment district of Asakusa. Beautiful cherry trees in bloom delighted the delegates in Ueno Park; and the day was ended with a final destination to the quirky side streets of Akihabara, and an eight-hour long bus ride to Kanazawa in Western Japan. 

Upon their arrival on the third day, the delegates were then properly introduced to the traditional city of Kanazawa by a walk around Katamachi and Nagamachi, including a trip to the ruins of the Samurai Houses of the Nomura Family. The group then went to see the famous 21st Century Museum and enjoyed taking pictures of "The Swimming Pool" optical illusion. 

Upon my arrival from Nagoya by train, the six of us were finally complete. After a short walk around malls in Katamachi, and an experience of the cute and quirky purikura, the Welcome Party was held at Ko Sui Ten Chinese restaurant, also in downtown Kanazawa. The event was graced by the presence of Professor Hiroshi Ichimura, adviser for International Affairs in Kanazawa University. The two of us were also fortunate in being hosted by the warm and affectionate Kabata family, with whom we stayed during the exchange program. 

The next day saw the start of the academic program, with rounds in Pediatrics, Radiology, and Biochemistry at the Kanazawa University Hospital. We were also treated to a tour of the school by the Dean of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Professor Hiroshi Yamamoto. 

The cultural exchange part of the day included traditional gold leaf crafts at Higashi Chaya District, and a visit to the unique and traditional tea houses in the area, with a wonderful tour of the interiors of the carefully preserved Ochaya Shima. We then called it a day and were welcomed by home-cooked meals made by Kabata-Okaasan.

For the fifth day, and final day for academics, we were allowed to observe two tumor excision operations performed by the Orthopedics department, and participate in small hands-on activities with the Histology department. 

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing in the famous landmarks of Kanazawa. We were all amazed at the ingenuity with which the Ninja-dera was built and used. Kenroku-en Garden, one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, was still too cold for the sakura to bloom, but the visit charmed the delegates nonetheless. We then proceeded to Kanazawa Castle and then to Omicho market where there was a surplus of fresh seafood and sweet treats. Undoubtedly, the highlight of that day was spent at a nearby mountain, where all of the delegates enjoyed their first time experiences of an onsen or Japanese hot spring. 

On the sixth and last full day, the group was ecstatic with their first experiences of snow in the delightfully traditional and beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-Go. Snowball fights arose every now and then, and there was never a dull moment spent during the time in the historic villages. 

The day was concluded with smiles, laughter, and a very nice surprise in the form of a birthday cake at the Farewell Party. The delegates were more than grateful for the gifts the hosts prepared for the week-long program. Our farewells were filled with optimism and the promise of being friends forever.

Irish went ahead to take her bus to Tokyo that same night. My stay in Kanazawa with the Kabatas was a day longer, but was also sad to leave for Kyoto on the eighth. 

While we tried our best to preserve our experiences in photos, the warmth and hospitality with which we were received in Kanazawa will always just be in our fond recall. 

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