What have the past two years been for me?
I would probably never be able to answer this question properly although for the past few months I have been trying to come up with a definition every night before falling asleep. The biggest regret that I have is to not have kept a proper diary of my two years in LPC so I will try my best to report here whatever is still stuck in me. I hope that if you have been part of this journey you could see yourself in some of the words and if you have kindly been supporting me or just been curious about what I have done over the past two years, this could inspire you somehow.
Life thrives at the thin border between fear and courage to face what we fear. Only when you can do it you will grow.
Let’s start from the very beginning. I got to know about UWC by reading a news article about the Japanese astronaut Hoshide Akihiko who went to UWCSEA in Singapore. He described his experience at UWC as one of the major reasons why he chose to work in the Universe, where borders and limits exist only within your fears. I still vividly remember the UWC Italian selections, both in Milan and at Adriatic College in Duino, which have been one of the most memorable but at the same time mysterious experience of my life. Do you know that feeling when you are so strangely driven by an unknown force and irrational confidence that you can do it no matter what will happen? Well, my feeling during the selections was something similar to it, almost a mystic experience. When I received THE email, I cried so hard that my parents were laughing at me. Long story (very long story with multiple break downs) short, I end up deciding to go to the UWC in Hong Kong, Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong. At that time I could not imagine anything, really anything, of what was going to happen. I remember the night before leaving home, the little 16 years old Kanon was alone in her room, sitting on her desk and looking at the moon out of the window thinking “Whoa, this really the last day that I will ever be at home living with my parents… How did I end up making such a decision?” I was so ready to leave.
If you know me good enough you probably know that I am an extremely emotional person. I can cry for anything at any time but the day I left my parents at the other end of the security gate at the airport I did not cry. My curiosity and excitement for this new beginning were way more than sadness.
Reality is not as gentle as we would like it to be sometimes. I remember my first month in LPC being just a big struggle and every day a huge uncertainty. First, being crushed down from being always one of the top students in my entire school career to the bottom line was simply not comprehensible for me. Second, English was a struggle. I have always been quite confident with my English but, hell yeah, everyone here was just at another level. Third, Homesickness. Fourth, learning to live in a community with everyone that come from different backgrounds and customs. Wanting to be yourself but doubting who you are at the same time. I remember every day and every free block or lunchtime, I would come back to the room and just desperately cry out all my feelings and walk out of the room trying to act as nothing happened. At one point my physical health just crashed. I woke up one day with 40° of fever which lasted for a good week. This felt like an initiation act and purification. I realised that people cared. My roommate came back to the room every hour in between lectures to check if I was still alive (lol) and to change the ice on my forehead. She brought me back food from the canteen for every meal and told me funny stories to keep me company. I will never be grateful enough to her, thank you Emma. My friends came to my room to see how I was feeling and being in bed for a week without being able to do anything made me reflect on the true reason why I decided to come so far in the first place. After I got better, everything seemed so much brighter. I decided to speak out and to not keep everything in myself, that was just too much to carry. Then I realised that actually, so many other people were feeling exactly the same as me. So here is the first thing that I have learned: don’t be afraid to ask for help.
China week was the very start of my true LPC experience. I still and will forever believe that Liannan was the best China Week ever. One week in which I got to know and build strong ties with the people that stayed with me for the rest of the two years and I hope from now on as well. One week that changed my perspective over China and my Japanese/Italian origins. One week that has changed my view over myself. One week that made me miss LPC as a home. Liannan was a taster of the UWC experience that was waiting ahead. I still vividly remember the bus back from the Shenzhen border signing out loud “Mamma Mia” or Esther’s hilarious quotes which will forever be remembered in history or being all on the grass at night listening to “Stargazing” and looking up the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen or the little six years old boy in the rural primary school miming to shoot at me just because I said I was Japanese. I realised that this was the reality, that hate really existed between cultures and that I strongly wanted to do something to heal this rift.
After coming back from China week, I felt that I was slowly started to belong to this mysterious place called LPC. We were welcomed back by our first cultural evening (for people that do not know, a cultural evening is one evening show anticipated by a whole week of pre-events entirely organised by cultural groups also known as groups students that share the same culture/ethnicity/nationality. Cultural evenings aim to showcase the beauty and the uniqueness of every culture and celebrate the diversity that makes UWC and us alive). The very first cultural evening that I got to experience was African Cultural Evening, ACE. I cannot express the feeling that agitates in my stomach when I see my peers working so passionately together to present their culture, both what they love and hate about it, share all they have and shine so brightly on stage. This is something so unique to UWC. It is just so real and so hard to explain it to someone that has not seen and felt it, but trust me, it is so extremely beautiful. The second cultural evening of the year was European Cultural Evening, ECE which I was part of. All the meetings, all the arguments, all the work with the people that were part of this cultural group started to make me question the extent I could say that I was from Europe. I was born and raised in Italy my entire life and I came to LPC representing Italy, but I always felt some kind of exclusion from my own origin, as if no matter everything, I will never be considered “as them”. I believe some of you can understand that conflicted feeling and fake smile that you have to put on your face when they say “ Oh I am so impressed, your Italian is perfect, how is that possible?” or random people start to shout at you pseudo-Chinese words on the street without any reason, or having to be in the “foreigners line” at the immigration even though you are going back to your home and being scared that they might comment or ask you racist questions. Yes, this is the reality that you have to face and accept when you live between different cultures and have the courage to fully embrace them. Being part of ECE was a great lesson: you will never be as them and that is completely okay, being different is what makes you shine, what makes you unique, be proud of this gift.
While China week made me grow by being part of a group and learning from others, Project week transformed me by looking within myself. 150km, 5 days, daily 30km around Hong Kong mountains with a 10kg backpack, no technology, just yourself and group members. This has probably the most physically challenging experiences I have ever done in my life. I remember that after the 20th km I would start having flashbacks of the happy moments of my life as if I was about to die. My entire body and mental state were constantly in pain. But I also remember that during that trip I made a promise to my second year Sofia that was on the trip with me. We will excel in our own way in IB and in life because if we could have done what we were doing there, we could have done anything. And I believe I kept that promise, I really did everything that I could have done in these two years. Live without regrets, challenge yourself, be crazy because this is the only chance you are given.
Term two came to an end with a mix of many feelings: having to face the reality that second years were graduating and we would have to step up and start a new LPC era. Insecurities coming from great academic pressure for exams and the huge amount of workload, sadness mixed with excitement for what was ending and what was going to begin. All this chaos in my brain was put down for a while by the news that I was chosen as the Asia Pacific Cultural Group (APEC) Leader and to be part of the Student Consultative Committee SCC. I was genuinely so happy and honoured to be representing and working together with such a diverse group of people and to present the beauty of our cultures. Asia Pacific Cultural Evening turned out to be one of the greatest highlights of my LPC experience. I discovered so much more about my Asian half of identity and finally felt I belonged, even if to a small extent, to something. As a leader, I was so so impressed by the passion, collaborative attitude and precious contribution that each one of the members brought to the group. Everything worked out just perfectly and hearing all the positive and inspiring comments from everyone that came to “experience” APEC made me so proud of us and so grateful to the formal APEC leader who one day came up to me asking me if I was interested to run for the leader. I will never forget the feeling my heart so full and so empty at the same time when APEC finished. I came back to the room, laid on my bed and cried while smiling until my roommate came back and smiled at me so warmly (hehe Moon, I love you).
And suddenly it was my second years’ graduating day: I cannot describe the feeling of grief when they one by one left campus. Because I had such a tight relationship with many of them, it was very hard. Coming back to LPC as second years felt strange but I had more confidence in myself at the same time. My second year at LPC started with an intense week of IAs and EE research which placed me ahead with my work. At the same time, we were so excited for the big arrival of first years. I remember working hard until late at night with my roommate preparing all the welcoming letters and decorations for our first-year roommates. We were all so excited to meet the remaining half of our family that would have given life to this new chapter of LPC. I also remember the overwhelming feeling when 150 new faces came all in which soon became part of my everyday. We all had to accept and face the reality of officially becoming second years which came together with more responsibilities and many satisfactions.
Term 3 started with the arrival of the strongest and most destructive typhoon I have ever experienced. Our campus was all turned upside down and we were off from school for a few days because of the damages. This event really brought our community together which made me reflect on the power that a community can have when it works united with a common aim. At the same time, I was inspired by the humanity of the people that is always present at the foundation of human beings. Everyone describes term 3 as being “the true Hell” but for me, it was really one of the best terms that I had in LPC. I became more comfortable with myself and I started to truly love and enjoy being in LPC, surrendered by the most inspiring peers, teachers, staff and the most privileged education that I will probably ever experience in my life. In term 3 I also focused on my future. I officially chose my career path, engaged in museums/art-related internships and applied to universities which gave me the opportunity to explore myself and Hong Kong through different lenses. The term concluded on a good note with me having the honour of being chosen as the leader of SOS Project Week 2019 in the Philippines.
SOS Project Week has been one of the highlights of my LPC journey and a true life-changing experience. My Project Week this year went to the SOS Children’s Village in Davao, Philippines which is an NGO that takes care of orphan children by creating a new family environment for them. A truly inspiring and successful mission. Through everyday interactions with the families which we were assigned to, I understood the importance of a family unit in the development of an individual. A family might not be biological but when is spiritual it is valuable as much as or more than a normal family. Ironically one of my university essays started with “If a country is to be entirely destroyed, the true and deepest authentic humanity within us will be the force leading to the rebirth of that country.” I think that during this week I was able to see the application of this idea with my own eyes. Everyone that I have met was truly driven by their authentic humanity no matter all the difficulties that might have “destroyed” their past. I believe I got reminded on how to express this humanity that we tend to forget in a hectic everyday life. Humility and humbleness were two qualities that we were constantly reminded of. I was not only inspired by all the children, mothers, staff but also by all the members of the Project Week group. Lastly, each day we had the opportunity to reflect on the different missions that UWC promotes. Honestly speaking, living our everyday life in LPC make us sometimes develop a certain extent of indifference towards our mission statement. Through this project week, I believe each one of us had the opportunity to reflect on sustainability, leadership, personal challenge and sense of idealism for a better future.
Coming back on campus after Project Week made me realise that my time left in LPC was decreasing day by day… I was trying to fully live the time that I had left while dealing with mock exams and loads of school assignments. I would probably describe Term 4 as being the most hectic and rollercoaster term of my LPC journey. Towards the end of term, we had our Visual Art exhibition which was probably one of the most memorable academic experiences that I had in LPC. Preparing all the artworks, curating the exhibition space, working with all the art students while being immensely supported by everyone was simply the best experience ever that made me fall in love even more into the world of the Arts and its organisation.
The countdown to the end of the LPC journey started to really hit me with the enormous preparation, anxiety and final liberation from my English IOC which was my last big assignment of the year. The last week of school has been very strange… I could not realise that my high school life was ending but more than that, I did not want to believe that I was leaving this place that I called home for two years in less than a month.
Sitting at the graduation dinner and listening to the amazing speeches of my peers made me face the reality which I was trying to ignore… For the two weeks following graduation dinner, I disconnected from the world and studied for my final exams. Even on the last day of Heisei Era and on the first day of Reiwa Era (these are Japanese Eras for people that don’t know) I was on the second floor of the A-block, in classroom 212 with my history notes and my biology past papers on my side. Exams made me reflect on the importance of taking care of yourself, your mental health and to always keep an eye on your friends that are going through the same challenges. Exams won’t kill you as long as you don’t make them kill you. The day I finished the last exam I was so relieved but I strangely could not be happy until our Italian first years surprised us with a little cake and our iconic song on Block 3 rooftop to celebrate the end of our exams. For the next week or more I struggled to find meaning in what I was doing with my life… Thus, going away to Beijing with my beloved co-year definitely helped me to put everything on a more positive perspective.
Graduation had been such a strange day. After losing my shoe and running on stage to get my diploma I realised how light was that piece of paper compared to everything that I have lived in the past two years. On the night of graduation, all the emotions and fears that I was constantly trying to repress exploded and I remember just crying so desperately in the courtyard while hugging my friends…
And then I left what I have called home and the people that I have called family. In total honesty, after two months I am still struggling to find happiness in my every day since I constantly feel that something within myself is missing as if a part of me is still wondering around Hong Kong and LPC and trying to find its way back to where I am.
UWC is a unique and so privileged place. Yes, we celebrate diversity, yes we live all together but what I will like to always keep in my memories are other things: long walks to the beach talking about the most random things, rooftops conversations at nigh while being blessed by the beautiful lights of Wu Kai Sha and Double Cove, the fight for pineapples and fruits during the 10 mins break, when you ask for “siu siu” and the canteen lady smiles at you and still gives you too much food, Holi in Starfish Bay, intense study sessions in the library, stunning sunsets, mini Starbucks outings just to feel a bit more productive, amazing block activities, listening to unknown languages around campus, the smell of the art room, the endless walks to block 4 aka “the airport”, the frogs, water fall and random hikes around Hong Kong getting to know friends, snoozed alarms that went on for ten minutes until I would have to get out of my bed and drag down my roommate from her bed, the feeling of semi-adulting, the joy of receiving something from LPC compliments, the independence, the Guards, the Canteen ladies and the Genitors, Jess, the feeling of being constantly challenged, stargazing while thinking about everything and nothing, canteen table political correct jokes, GIF, looking right and seeing my roomie sleeping, the wifi-cut, being able to walk around with flip flops, tutor gatherings with fruit salad and ice cream, café and music night, the happiness that you feel when a first year approaches you for advice or the sense of achievement after a hard work, and last but not the least, Hong Kong. You are the most unique crossroad of the East and the West, of the new and the old… a bit like me… you have truly changed my life forever.
I will remember the amazing people I have met on this journey, and I will never forget how inspiring each one of you is. I learned to see people as people, not as nationalities, everyone has its values and limitations but these are correlated to the person and not to the nationality. In the same way, when I read the news, I see friends’ happy or sad faces, not countries, not politics.
People say “You make ur own UWC experience. Every experience is different and that’s the beauty of it.” For me, UWC meant Growth, in every aspect. One of the biggest lessons that I learned is that “Everything happens for a reason and it will go as it is supposed to go. So do not be afraid to fail and try your very best, Always”. I could not be thankful enough to my National Committee and my family for giving me this opportunity and I could not be more honoured to have met all the people that I have met in the weirdest and the best two years of my life.
This is the end of an Era but also the beginning of a new one.
This chapter has been the brightest of my life so far but who knows that the next one might be even brighter.
Kanon Ida – Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong, Class of 2019.