Looking back on APCDA 2023 Conference

  By:Momoko Asaka, President, Asia Pacific Career Development Association

The 2023 APCDA Conference was held, attended by people participating both on-site and online, under the theme of "New Look at Careers in a Rapidly Changing World." In this article, I will report, with great pleasure, on the conference held on May 16-19 in Astana in Kazakhstan.


It was the first time in four years since 2019 that the conference was held in an actual place within Asia-Pacific region. In the conference, some 80 participants from 10 countries gathered in Kazakhstan. Personally, this was my first visit to Kazakhstan. When I woke up in the first morning after arriving the country, I was amazed at how wide the sky was, so wide that I could see the horizon. It was also refreshing to see that everywhere was still bright even after 9:00 p.m. and that daylight lasted for a very long time. I realized that Astana is located at a high latitude of about 50 degrees north (the same position as the U.S.-Canada border, London, Paris, Kieu, Sakhalin, Newfoundland, etc.). I was also surprised to learn that Astana has a continental climate characterized by a wide daily temperature range (the temperature rises to nearly 25°C during the day and drops to 3-4°C at night, so we need to bring appropriate clothing to deal with this temperature fluctuation).


At Nazarbayev University

The venue for this year's conference was Nazarbayev University, which was founded in 2010.  The conference started with the opening ceremony on May 17 in which the University’s president, Mr. Shigeo Katsu, made the opening speech. He told us how a series of unfortunate events taken place in Kazakhstan’s neighboring countries have lead people wanting to receive advanced education to move to Kazakhstan.


Then, President Katsu introduced the first keynote lecturer, Mr. Sayasat Nurbek, Minister of Science and Higher Education of Kazakhstan. The theme of his lecture was "Kazakhstan and Future Trends." We were all grateful to him for taking time out of his very busy schedule to speak for APCDA, even though it was limited to about 20 minutes. After Mr. Nurbek, we had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Dr. Loretta O' Donnell, Vice Provost of Nazarbayev University. All the speech and lectures made the opening ceremony a very special and productive event.


The opening ceremony was followed by the Awards Ceremony. This year, we had the honor of conferring awards to 14 scholars of different countries and other six recipients in person and online.


The first day of the conference ended with a keynote speech by Dr. Tristram Hooley and a panel discussion on AI and career development by three panelists.


May 18 (2nd day) opened with a keynote lecture entitled "Working in 2035” by Ms. Marie Zimenoff from the United States. I felt that her lecture was very much in line with the theme of the conference and is something that we, as career counselors, will have no choice but face up to in the future.


After the keynote lecture, a panel discussion on "Future Trends and the Workplace" was held by four panelists, two of whom spoke from Nazarbayev University and two others participated remotely, sharing the current situation in their respective countries and answering questions. It was a very interesting discussion.


Bus Tour

One of the best parts of holding the conference in this actual place[n1]  is the opportunity to experience its cultural and historical atmosphere by taking a sightseeing tour in the area. Here is an overview of the tour we took in and around Astana, the host city of this year's event.


Sightseeing in Astana City


I learned that there are indeed many cultural buildings in Astana. One of such buildings is the Bayterek Tower, which symbolizes the Tree of Life. It was built as a symbol of Astana and is featured on Kazakhstan's banknotes. The 97-meter stone monument is topped by a golden sphere with a diameter of 22 meters. Blessed with good weather, we were able to enjoy a spectacular view of Astana from the observatory.   

At the top of the observatory (97 meters high, named after the year 1997 when the capital was relocated), there was an ornament of the handprint of the first president Nazarbayev. We took a commemorative photo while touching the handprint. After that, we went to the pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a cultural center, located adjacent to the Bayterek Monument.


Incidentally, the late Kisho Kurokawa, who was a master architect of Japan, did the urban design of Astana, the current capital of Kazakhstan. As a fellow Japanese, I felt proud when I found this out. Mr. Kurokawa was a well-known master in architecture who has worked on a wide range of projects, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The urban planning project of Astana is scheduled to continue until 2030, and I am keen to see how the city will look like when the project is completed.


Visiting ALZHIR Museum and Grand Mosque


About 30 km west of Astana stands the ALZHIR Museum, located on the former site of the largest women's camp in the Soviet era. We also visited this museum, which is also known as a memorial to the victims of political repression. In the 1930s, nearly 8,000 women lost their lives there. We entered the museum by descending through a 12-meter-long tunnel whose walls were decorated with the fragments of and relics that convey the history of the purges conducted in the area. Many historical materials related to the ethnic purges in Kazakhstan were on display. “The Fierce Cold of ALZHIR,” a 20-minute documentary film, was being played, which featured interviews with the camp’s inmates and their families. It was heartbreaking to see a letter of encouragement from a child to his imprisoned mother. The museum makes visitors feel a wide range of emotions, including the despair and hope of the women who lived during the period of Stalin's purges. In this museum, it truly came across to me how hard the local people here are trying to preserve and pass on the city’s sad history to future generations while building a new city.


After returning to Astana city, we visited the Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in Asia, which was just completed in August 2022. Upon entering the mosque, women were asked to cover their hair and bare skin by wearing a scarf or other covering (there were gowns next to the shoe rack, so we used them). Since shoes are not allowed in the mosque, we stepped on the carpet with bare feet. The ceiling was decorated with beautiful geometric patterns. Kazakhstan has a variety of religions, but 70% of the population is Muslim (so we saw no statues of saints while in the country). I was impressed by the beautiful contrast between the chalk-white mosque and the clear blue sky, and then amazed by how beautiful the inside of the mosque was. With so many beautiful things in sight, all the members of our tour group were absorbed in taking pictures.



Once again, as APCDA President, I am relieved that we were able to successfully complete our first conference attended by people both on-site and online. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who cooperated and participated in the conference. Personally, as a Japanese, I was happy to host the conference at Nazarbayev University, which was created and lead by a Japanese president and attracts many excellent scholars, staff and students. I had a chance to meet with President Katsu in person before the conference started, and he encouraged me to keep up the good work in APCDA's activities. Keeping his encouragement in mind, I hope to continue our efforts to enhance the activities of APCDA so that they resonate with more and more people across the world and turn our community into an increasingly bigger circle.

Our next conference will be held in April 15-27, 2024, in the city of Trivandrum in India,. The 2020 conference was held online due to the pandemic, but it was originally scheduled to be held in India. After a lapse of 4 years, we are happy to be able to hold our conference in India. I look forward to meeting many of our members there.