Cross-cultural exchange on youth empowerment

Shirley Lam and Audrey Chung

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An exuberant lion dance symbolizing the spirit of youth, power, strength and vitality marked the opening of the “International Conference on Youth Empowerment: A Cross-cultural Exchange” organized by the Department of Applied Social Studies (SS) on 17 May. Over 300 practitioners, scholars and students in social services from 34 cities in 14 countries flocked to CityU to share their findings and experiences in youth empowerment studies and initiatives at the conference that lasts until 20 May.


In his welcoming speech at the opening ceremony, CityU President Professor H K Chang, remarked that the conference was taking place aptly in a locale where many cultures meet. “Hong Kong is fundamentally of Chinese culture, but it also has received many ideas from all over the world,” Professor Chang said. “There is no better place than Hong Kong for experiencing cross-culturalism.”


“Social workers have often been criticized for focusing too much on controlling young people’s behaviour and development while neglecting their right to make decisions that affect their lives and well-being,” said Dr Elaine Au, Assistant Professor in SS and organizer of the conference. “In view of the social and political changes in contemporary societies, the youth empowerment movement will help young people to fully prepare and equip themselves to face the challenges of global change, as well as offer more effective solutions to youth problems.”


“Youth empowerment is one of the major global issues as far as young people are concerned,” said another officiating guest, Dr Choi Yuen-wan, Chairman of Commission on Youth. Dr Choi, who has been involved in youth services for over 30 years, discovered that “habitual dependency” characterizes Hong Kong youth. “At home, youth depend on parents and domestic helpers; at school, they rely on teachers and social workers, and in the community, on the Government,” he explained. “We have to break this pattern. Youth are the leaders today. They can be empowered,” he added. The conference, he said, could help continue the youth empowerment movement. As one of the initiatives to fulfill this mission, at the opening ceremony Dr Choi launched a post-conference website jointly developed by SS Department and the Commission of Youth, the YouthEmpower Web (Y. E. W.). “We hope to continue the kind of networking and connections we built here via the information highway,” he said.


According to another officiating guest, Mr Tang Kwok-wai, Director of Social Welfare Department of Hong Kong, the conference provides an opportunity for experts and professionals from different countries to learn how they have empowered young people to become responsible adults. He was
particularly impressed by the presence of a significant number of student participants at the conference which he described as “a true testament of our commitment to youth empowerment”. Mr Tang also looked forward to more new ideas and stimulation at the conference to help further improve youth services in Hong Kong.


The SS Department has been organizing fruitful exchange tours to the mainland and other parts of the world under the Cross-Cultural Learning Programmes since 2000 through which students acquire skills in leadership and teamwork, and develop civic-mindedness. In addition to the commitment of SS staff, Professor Ng Sik-hung, SS Head attributed the success of the exchange tours to the hosts in different parts of the world who open their doors to CityU students. One of the motivations for the conference, he said, is to use CityU’s 20th anniversary as an opportunity to invite the hosts to visit Hong Kong in appreciation for their generosity. But equally important, Professor Ng added, “the conference brings people of different cultures, disciplines and professions to one place to intensify and broaden the cross cultural learning experience of CityU students and guest students.”


The enthusiastic response from student participants at the opening ceremony testified to the realization of Professor Ng’s goal. Shane M J McBreen, a first year student in community and youth studies from the University of Durham, UK, found the conference excellent. “I’m learning more about Chinese culture and meeting students of different nationalities. I’ll pass this knowledge to my friends when I return to my hometown.” Second year CityU SS student Carmen Wong concurred, “This is a profitable experience! I can meet with international students and learn more about different cultures.”


For Jiang-xu, a second year Master in Psychology student from TsinghuaUniversity, the conference was inspiring. “This is the first time I’ve learned about youth empowerment, as there are not many scholars in this field on the mainland,” he said. “This conference enables me to develop a better understanding of the concept and discover its social impact on youth.”


In addition to keynote speeches by 12 speakers from different parts of the world, the four-day conference features 15 youth symposiums during which 32 teams of overseas and local student delegates present their field experiences. The conference includes a visit to youth agency in Hong Kong. The closing of the conference will be marked by a Cultural Night on 20 May during which participants from different countries will stage numerous cultural performances.


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