TEDxKyotoUniversity2017 Speaker Interview #2

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Ichihashi:  Good evening everybody, Sosuke Ichihashi here, and welcome to our second TEDxKyotoUniversity2017 Interview. Today we have Dr. Gruber, Associate Professor at the Hakubi Center for Advanced Research in Kyoto University. Thank you for your time, Dr. Gruber.

Gruber:   Not at all.

I:    So, can you tell us what you are currently working on?

G:   My current work touches upon a broad range of subjects which are nevertheless interlinked. One of my major projects focuses on developing a rights-based approach to cultural heritage protection in Asia. Additional ongoing projects relate to international environmental law, sustainable development, human rights, and regional security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. Another major focus is on the illicit trafficking of cultural property, forgery, and other forms of art crime, their prevention and prosecution, and the restitution of illegally exported objects. The overall aim of my work is to contribute to a more sustainable, cooperative, humane, and safer future for our region.

I:    I see. What drew you to your current research?

G:   I have always had a very strong sense of justice and from early on wanted to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. Other passions of mine are the protection of the environment and conservation of cultural heritage, both of which involve fighting for the rights of people and communities. Fighting for a clean environment means advocating for the people, while truly fighting for the people also means protecting the environment. My work always stems from a strong rights-focused perspective. My love for people, nature and culture is what ultimately guides my way.

I:    Then, what makes you think in this way?

G:   I was fortunate to meet many great people along the way who inspired me with their fight for a better world. As much as I learned from good examples, however, I learned even more from bad examples. I have seen great injustices in my life that compelled to do something about them. I always thought that if I did not do anything about it, how could I expect others to do so? The people who continue to destroy the environment and culture and take advantage of disempowered communities are usually those with far more monetary and political resources than the ones who fight to prevent such egregiousness from happening. This is why the world needs determined people to counter them. Being an academic does not mean to only write books for other academics. We must use our skills to have a positive impact on the world and truly serve society, as it is society that allows us to lead our privileged lives as academics.

I:    What can we expect to hear from you in your upcoming TEDx talk?

G:   I will talk about the interaction between cultural heritage protection and the promotion of human rights in Asia and highlight the reasons why the current approaches to heritage protection appear to be ineffective. In many cases, heritage is primarily protected for monetary or political purposes, rather than for the stakeholders. People residing in heritage places are often regarded as `disruptive elements` instead of as part of the intangible heritage and being involved in protection plans. Relatedly, relevant laws are often designed to fulfill a different agenda other than what was officially promised to achieve. My talk will underscore what is wrong with the current approach and what needs to be changed in order to empower stakeholders and ensure sustainable heritage protection in Asia for the current and future generations alike.

I:    I’m really looking forward to it! Many students are coming to the event. What advice do you have for students?

G:   The future of our society is in your hands. Don’t give up on this enormous opportunity to help shape society and contribute to making it better. With the privilege of a great education also comes responsibility. Don’t blindly follow what others tell you or take any truth for granted. Always think for yourself and ask questions. A meaningful life is built upon something more than just short-term goals.

I:    Then, what advice do you have for students on how to make the best out of their college experience?

G:   You are studying in one of the best research institutions in the world. Take advantage of this and look outside your classroom! Be engaged! Join clubs, participate in competitions, learn new skills or languages, or engage in social projects! The world is much bigger than Kyoto and Japan and it would be a mistake to not learn about it as much as possible while you still can. Your careers will increasingly be of an international nature, so make sure to be the person that the Japan of the present and future needs! The future of Japan will depend on its interactions with our neighbors in this region and the international community.

Follow your interests because your growth as a person does not necessarily happen only within the classroom but also through your interactions with your fellow students, professors, researchers and other experiences. Make sure that you take full advantage of the amazing opportunities that are presented to you during your time at Kyoto University. If you only do the bare minimum to pass your degree, you will miss out on all of this. You will need to have a broad set of skills for your future careers and be able to understand the bigger picture. If I would have focused only on my degree and followed the career path that I initially thought I would take, I would not be here today. I always looked left and right and when I saw an interesting opportunity, I took it.

I:    Now, people might get interested in your college experience. What did you do as a student in addition to fulfilling your degree requirements?

G:   I initially began studying law with the goal of becoming a legal practitioner. When I realized that I was not sufficiently intellectually challenged and satisfied, I started studying philosophy and political science in addition to my law degree. Undertaking two university degrees at the same time would of course not be suitable for everyone. However, the interdisciplinary interaction between law, politics and philosophy has since influenced my life to present day. It broadened my horizon and helped me understand how I could add more meaning to my own life by contributing to making a difference. If, as a lawyer, you only knew about the law, you would understand nothing. Similarly, if you are engaged in politics, you must have an understanding of how policies are implemented through the law. Moreover, if you did not have a multifaceted understanding of ethics, morality, and philosophy, how could you be a decent policymaker or lawyer?  So, always look beyond your own discipline in order to become the best version of yourself that you can be.

The most defining moment of my life as a student was my move from Germany to Australia.  Initially meant to be for only one year, that journey led to a whole new life in the Asia-Pacific for me. It was during this period that I really grew up as a person and realized my own potential. This is also when I took courses outside my core area and discovered my love for the environment, cultural heritage and human rights. Since then, my work and studies have taken me to many places around the world, with a particular focus on East and Southeast Asia. Hence, I strongly advise all of you to study abroad and engage with other cultures. The rewards will stay with you for your whole life.

I was also fortunate to always have mentors who believed in me and fostered my development, whether it be during my time at the University of Sydney, Harvard Law School or institutions in Asia. These mentors provided invaluable guidance and advice during my studies and career decisions and helped me get on the right path. Now I am doing my best to follow their example and do the same for my own students. If you find professors whose lives you find interesting and whose advice you cherish, talk to them!

Finally, if you are a research student, I advise you to present your research and engage with other academics at international conferences early on. In my second year as a PhD student, I presented my research at a conference in Jakarta, where I met a fellow student from Kyoto University. This contact led me to my current position at this fantastic institution several years later. Hence, always look out for opportunities and take advantage of them because you never know what they may lead to.

I:    Thank you so much for your great comments, professor Gruber, and again, thank you for joining us today.

That’s all for today’s interview. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for our next interviews!

by Sosuke Ichihashi