Volunteering through Thai cuisine! Days spent learning with my irreplaceable friends


Riku Suzuki spent his high school years in Thailand and Germany. After returning to Japan, he enrolled in Meiji Gakuin University’s Department of Global Legal Studies, where he is learning about law and different cultures in a practical way. Utilizing his experience of living in Thailand, and exchange with and support of the YMCA in Thailand, he is currently participating in volunteer activities that support Thai children. Here, he tells us how learning from and with his classmates and seniors is essential to his growth, in which he values originality.

Riku Suzuki Second-year student, Department of Global Legal Studies After spending his high school years abroad, he enrolled in the Faculty of Law’s Department of Global Legal Studies. Since his second year, he has participated in the Phayao Project, in which students from across Meiji Gakuin support children in the Phayao region of northern Thailand. He is looking forward to studying in the Wine Law seminar in his third year. Possibly because he spent three years during which he found information regarding trends and news from Japan to be invaluable, his hobby is information gathering.

Differences in “national rules” I experienced while living abroad

Due to my father’s job transfer, I spent the winter of my third year in junior high school and my first year of high school in Germany, and my second and third years of high school in Thailand. While living in Thailand, I witnessed chaotic conditions such as students using cell phones as calculators during tests, and people paying bribes to obtain visas and to get out of traffic violations. By contrast, the apartment where I lived in Germany had very detailed rules unlike anything I’d seen in Japan, rules related to consideration for the environment, the landscape, and the neighbors such as having to shower and do laundry before ten o’clock at night, drying laundry indoors on weekends, and always keeping windows clean.

This made me wonder whether the rules of a country or region can reveal its national character, which in turn made me want to more formally study rules, foreign ones in addition to the Japanese rules upon which I have based my life. I enrolled in the Department of Global Legal Studies because I wanted to simultaneously study both Japanese and foreign law, and because study abroad was a built-in part of the curriculum, allowing me to fulfill my learning goals.

Participating in volunteer activities based on my experience in Thailand

In March of my first year at Meiji Gakuin, I found myself checking out the “Information” section of Port Hepburn looking for something at school I could take part in. That’s when I found the Phayao Project. Through this project, junior high, senior high, and college students at Meiji Gakuin support Thai children through exchange with and support of the YMCA in Thailand. I decided to participate because there are few opportunities for volunteer work related to Thailand, and I thought my experience might allow me to be of assistance.

Our activities started after a kick-off event in May 2021. Because the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from visiting Thailand, we held online events with the children during summer vacation and Christmas. We hosted independent study and presentations related to social issues in Thailand, as well as talks by invited lecturers, with students sharing negative aspects of Thai culture such as human trafficking, along with positive aspects such as the appeal of Thailand’s food culture and tourism. To further deepen our learning, we also invited Professor Shin'ichi Shigetomi of the Faculty of International Studies to give a lecture titled “Contemporary History and Rural Society in Thailand.”

Support through Thai cuisine: The Phayao Meal Project

We held the Phayao Meal Project on the Shirokane Campus in November 2021 and at the Yokohama Campus in January 2022. In that project, we served Thai food in the school cafeterias for one week, with a portion of the proceeds donated to a community in Phayao. We were afraid that risk of COVID-19 infections would result in the project being cancelled, so we were overjoyed when we got the go-ahead.

We planned a menu that would be popular among Meiji Gakuin students, including pla sam lot (fried fish in a sweet and spicy sauce), yam makeua yao (marinated eggplant), pad thai (Thai fried noodles), and massaman curry. Our preparations started in early August, including exchanging opinions and information, assigning roles and creating proposals, and creating the menus and exhibits. I was put in charge of menu advertisements, which I designed with a Thai flag motif and included photographs.

Many students would stop when they saw the menu advertisements, and many of the other students in the Department of Global Legal Studies told me they tried our food. We sold fifty meals each day at the Shirokane campus, selling out every day, so I think the event was a big success. We even got media coverage, so I believe this project raised awareness of the current situation in Thailand, both inside and outside the University.

The unexpected synergy of combining forces

Working on the Phayao meal project, I realized it was only possible through the support of many people, including both students and staff. Even when designing the menu advertisement, there were times when I first noticed problems only after others pointed them out, allowing me to fix and improve them.

When working on projects like this, where I was expected to create something in cooperation with others, given sufficient time I would generally consider it faster to just do things on my own, and that if I messed things up in doing so, at least I would have only myself to blame. With this project, however, adding the abilities of others definitely improved the final product.

I realized that this project was made possible by the support of many people: those who gave us advice regarding what we were creating, those who helped us make the project a reality, those who ate our food, those who shared their impressions with us, and others. It may seem obvious now, but this realization was a big gain for me.

We are now talking about reflecting on our previous lectures and presentations and compiling our activities into a booklet. I hope that the first-year students who ate our Thai food at the Yokohama Campus and the high-school students from Meiji Gakuin-affiliated schools who got to know each other through this project can join us in working on the meal project as Meiji Gakuin University students, because that would be a great way to connect our activities to those students who follow us. I look forward to the time when I can work alongside even more friends.

A winery in Thailand? Honing my planning skills in a wine law course

In fall semester of my second year, I enrolled in Kensuke Ebihara’s Wine Law course. Those classes gave me valuable opportunities that would have been impossible at any other university, such as special lectures by winery workers.

The final project for the class was to create a wine-related business plan. Mine was “Starting a winery business in Thailand.” In recent years there has been increasing attention paid to “new latitude wines,” which are those crafted outside of traditional wine-producing countries. Thailand is generally very hot, but even so viticulture is possible there due to technological advancements and large temperature differentials in the highlands. Many other students also chose regional development through wine and wineries as their theme, but I wanted to do something different from everyone else, so I planned this as my own unique theme.

Learning with highly passionate classmates

A wish of mine has come true, in that I will be enrolling in the Wine Law seminar in my third year. I am particularly looking forward to learning in the seminar along with nineteen fellow students and working on student-led projects. We had to rely on faculty help for the Phayao Project, so next year I’m hoping to rely on student efforts only. I heard that those enrolled in the Wine Law seminar this year are growing hops in the Takanawa area with the support of the JR East Japan Railway Company, and are currently designing a beer label, which sounds very interesting to me. I hope to similarly work on a plan along with other highly passionate classmates in my seminar, thoroughly shaping even the smallest details.

When I am heading toward some goal, I have great respect for people I meet whose enthusiasm equals mine, or even exceeds mine, and I want to exchange ideas to create something even better. I therefore consider it very important to meet new people, no matter what you are working on.

Meeting irreplaceable friends at Meiji Gakuin

Meiji Gakuin was not my first choice of colleges, but today I’m glad it’s the one I got into. I enjoyed elementary through high school because of the good friends I had there. From that experience, I highly value the friends I could only have met here, those I would not have met had I not come to this school. We create memories by meetings and doing various things together. I am so happy to have become friends with my fellow students in the Department of Global Legal Studies, and I’m grateful for having met them. I hope to meet even more friends! Nearly every day I become a bridge, introducing my friends and upper-class students to each other, but perhaps I do so because I consider friends as being so important.

All Global Legal Studies students study abroad in an English-speaking country for four to five months. Students in my year are planning to depart in the third year of our program, and we are considering Ireland as our study abroad destination. I look forward to having that wonderful experience with my friends in the Department.