Language and Celebrations: My Experiences in the APRRC 2024

By Julio Lorenzo Abatayo | Posted on July 1, 2024

When you visit another country, one of the first concerns you would probably raise is that of language: “What language do they speak there?”

As I asked this same question, I realized that such an inquiry was rooted in a more pressing concern: “Would the people there understand me at all? Would I be able to understand them?”

These thoughts occupied my mind as I boarded my three-hour flight from Manila to Singapore for the Asia Pacific Regional Rotaract Conference (APRRC) last May 31 to June 4, 2024. As a first-time solo traveler flying off to a different country, I couldn’t help but anxiously ask questions I didn’t have answers to.

I knew I could probably get by with my English as it is one of Singapore’s official languages, but I also understood that not everyone speaks it, nor that everyone would speak it the same way I do. It’s already given in the name of the conference— “Asia Pacific.” Our region is home to so many cultures and populations who don’t necessarily share a common tongue. Such diversity can also be found even among those who speak the same language, like the differences in accent, grammar, and vocabulary between my native Philippine English and its cousin called Singlish.

So the question remains: how can we understand one another despite our language barriers? My experiences in the APRRC would testify and say that understanding can be found in something that goes beyond words alone—it can be built on the experience of celebration.

Celebration: an assembly, a joyous commemoration, a frequent occasion. It ranges from large, bombastic displays with lots of singing and dancing, to even simple, solemn moments shared in a quiet calm. This word captures what the APRRC felt like to me from beginning until the end.

The conference began with a celebration amidst the vibrant pinks of the Museum of Ice Cream, welcoming its attendees with an all-you-can eat ice cream and pizza party. Amidst the fun and energy in the museum’s bounce house and ball pit, I also experienced a quieter celebration in the form of spending time with my newfound friends, especially my fellow delegates from District 3780.

During the workshop sessions, I attended the talk entitled “Twin District/Club Experiences,” where the various speakers taught me the importance of bonding with my fellow Rotaractors through fellowship activities like inter-club parties as part of the process to form twin district or club agreements. In other words, the talk taught me to view these agreements as the product of spending valuable time with new friends from both near and far through the shared experience of celebrations.

The night of the second day was spent enjoying the Cultural Night, where the main event was the APRRC Got Talent. Originally, I was only going to support the Philippine delegation’s dance performance entry as part of the audience, but I somehow ended up joining the performance myself as a dancer. Although we had limited time to practice, our performance turned out to be unique in that we invited members of the audience themselves—Rotaractors from across the region who we had yet to properly get to know—to join us onstage in the final section of our performance. Both our efforts and uniquely welcoming performance got us an impressive 1st runner-up finish, prompting the whole Philippine delegation to celebrate with a late dinner in Lau Pa Sat.

The atmosphere of the third night was just as festive thanks to our impressive contestants for the Mr. and Ms. APRRC contest. With our representatives’ confidence, costumes, and diligent effort, they were respectively awarded 1st runner-up and overall champion; we spent a good portion of the night celebrating in an impromptu fellowship night with delegates from the other Asia Pacific countries back in Hotel Boss.

Although the conference formally ended at the end of the third night, I only felt it truly come to a close during the final breakfast I shared with my fellow delegates. A meal consisting of pancakes, noodles, spring rolls, scrambled eggs, and a cup of coffee, the act of sharing my breakfast meal in the presence of friends concluded my APRRC experiences with a simple celebration of new beginnings and hopeful tomorrows.

Looking back to the APRRC, I realized that I did not need to worry about my concerns as much as I did before the start of the conference. In the absence of a universally-shared language, what made me feel a sense of solidarity with my fellow Rotaractors were the celebrations, both big and small, that made the APRRC what it was to me. Celebrations spark joy and all its manifestations like song, dance, and smiles; and joy is itself an emotion that cuts across all the cultures from which we all come from.

 Aside from joy, celebrations promise a return—we cannot celebrate an occasion only once. And so will the APRRC come around again in the following year in Mongolia, and it is my hope that by that time, more Rotaractors will get to experience the same atmosphere of celebrations I had the privilege to enjoy this year.

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