Laughter fills the air as Nikkei Youth Association (NYA) junior club president Ahmik Chen plays games with children in Mexico. He rolls a die and sprints around a track with rocks in his shoes as a metaphor for accomplishing his goals despite difficulty. Through this, he learned more about himself and met new people.
NYA is an international organization under the nonprofit Pan American Nikkei Association U.S.A. that focuses on service work, leadership development, and international exchanges. Volunteering in Mexico last summer along with students from several countries, including Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia, Chen helped students in impoverished communities.
“We want to create a program in Los Angeles for Nikkeis around the world to be a part of the area’s first inter-exchange program,” Chen said.
Chen learned many lessons from the people he met. This had a profound effect in shaping how he interacts with others and his outlook on life.
“The trip made me be more optimistic with the people I’m with and to be grateful for what I have right now,” Chen said. “I’m more positive around my friends, and a person’s greatest strength is their positive energy. I learned more about myself and how to appreciate what I have right now.”
Chen was also able to take part in various fun activities and learn directly from the community.
“We had all of these activities about self-reflection, like how to make someone feel more like themselves, that included teamwork and individual activities,” Chen said.
Seeing a different culture first-hand made Chen’s experience enjoyable. He was able to connect with his Japanese heritage and learn more about how Japanese people from other countries lived.
“The experience was one to remember,” Chen said. “I went with people my age but from a different culture. Somehow, we were still connected because I am Japanese-American, but people over there were Japanse-Mexican. The connections meant a lot. It’s great having friends from different areas and different cultures.”