This is an attempt to summarise my life changing two years at Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong.
Let’s start from the very beginning. I heard about UWC for the first time by reading an interview of Hoshide Akihiko, a Japanese astronaut 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. The two rounds of the Italian selections were challenging but it was also the first time I felt eager to bet my comfortable life in exchange for new discoveries and growth. When I received THE email stating that I was selected to go to Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong with a scholarship, I cried so hard that my parents were laughing at me. If you know me well enough, you probably know that I can cry for anything at any time but the day I left my parents on the other side of the airport security gate, I did not cry. The curiosity and excitement were way more than sadness.
However, sometimes reality is not as gentle as we would like it to be. I remember that my first month in LPC was just a big struggle. First, I fell down from being always one of the top students in my entire school career to be an average one. Second, language barrier. I have always been quite confident with my English but, hell no, everyone there was just at another level. Third, Homesickness. Fourth, learning to live in a community with everyone that comes from very different backgrounds and customs. Wanting to be yourself but doubting who you are at the same time. For the first few weeks, I remember coming back to my room in between classes or during lunchtime and just desperately cry out all my feelings and insecurities while trying to act as nothing was happening. At one point my physical health just crashed. I woke up one day with 40° of fever which lasted for a good week. Although I truly thought that I was dying, that felt like an “initiation ceremony” that purified myself from the past and made me start fresh. Most importantly, I realised that people cared. My roommate came back to the room every hour in between lectures to check if I was still alive and to change the ice on my forehead. She brought me back food from the canteen for every single meal and told me funny stories to keep me company. I will never be grateful enough to her. Staying in bed for a week without being able to do anything made me reflect on the reasons why I chose to leave everything and come this far. After I got better, everything seemed so much brighter. I decided that I would stop keeping everything within myself because that was just too much to carry which made me also realise that so many other people were feeling exactly the same as me. So here is the first thing that I have learned: do not be afraid to ask for help.
My true LPC experience started with China Week, a week long service trip in which first years were divided into groups that went to different parts of China (usually rural areas) to serve and to get to know Chinese culture better. I was placed in Liannan China Week together with other eighteen peers who became few of my closest friends for the following two years and beyond. Liannan is a small town in the North of Guangdong Province where the ethnical minority of the Yao tribe fights to keep their traditions alive. On the 29th of October 2017 my group and I took the bus to Shenzhen were after a very long line we finally passed the border to Mainland China. At that time I remember being very impressed to see the differences between the very westernised Hong Kong and the city of Shenzhen where I could not find a sign written in English or advertising boards around the city. During the six hours trip to our destination, we stopped by the Thousand Year Village where we had the chance to have an insight into how the Yao tribe used to live back in time and how they are still keeping some of their customs alive. This was an important opportunity to reflect on how the evolving society is too often blind to the silently dying traditions of ethnical minorities.
Our typical day consisted in waking up at 7:30AM, quickly eating a very Chinese style breakfast and rushing to the elementary school we were serving at. I remember that on the first day of our visit, we arrived to the school when all the kids were outside in the courtyard, standing in very neat lines and singing the Chinese national anthem. Then the charm rung and everyone ran back to their classes. My peers and I were divided into groups of five and each group was assigned to one class. My group was formed by two people from Hong Kong, one girl from Bosnia and Herzegovina, one guy from Poland and myself. We introduced ourselves to the class and I remember so vividly that the second I told I was Japanese, one six years old boy jumped up from his chair making the “gun sign” with his little hands and started “shooting” at me. I was shook but not surprised. In his innocent act, I felt the weight of history and the power that education has in shaping people’s mentality. One of the most memorable moments of this week was when that little boy came up to me and hugged me tightly to say goodbye on our last day. His act was the purest evidence that we are not born with hatred and prejudice but we are taught to think that way. We also had the privilege to visit a local high school were we had the opportunity to discuss some environmental choices we take in LPC and how these differ from the ones in our own countries and in China. Whereas, on the last two days we visited a care house for children affected by autism and an elderly home. These experiences made me reflect on the existence of a deeper layer of connection between humans which goes beyond nationality, race, and language barrier. Indeed, although I did not understand perfectly what the people that I have met during this journey were telling me (and vice-versa), I felt that I found some ties that I will forever keep in my heart regardless of the fact that I will probably never have the change to meet any of them again. China Week also gave me precious friendships with my trip mates. Some of my favourite memories from this trip are the evening dances in the main square with the old ladies, how we have learned to wash your dishes and chopsticks in the tea before eating, the night we spent stargazing in the rural town of Qingyuan, signing “Mamma Mia” on the bus, Esther’s hilarious non-sense quotes, the deep and emotional conversations which made cry us all, but most importantly, China Week taught me to not have prejudice over people, over China, over my friends and over myself.
After coming back on campus, I felt that I was slowly starting to belong to this mysterious place called LPC. We were welcomed back by our first cultural evening, African Cultural Evening, followed by European Cultural Evening which I was part of. All the meetings, the arguments, the discussions with the members started to make me question the extent to which I could say that I was from Europe. I was born and raised in Italy and I came to LPC representing this country, but I always felt some kind of exclusion from my own origin, as if, no matter how hard I try, 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 ask you why your Italian is so perfect or when you have to be in the “foreigners line” at the immigration although you are going back to your home. 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 unique, be proud it.
While China Week taught me to grow as part of a team. Project Week forced me to look deep inside myself and push my body and mind to the extreme. Hike Hong Kong Project Week challenged us to hike 150 km with no technology across New Territories with a 15~20kg backpack in the course of 6 days. This has probably the most physically challenging experience 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 (no jokes). My entire body and mind were constantly in pain. We bucket-showered in public toilets with ice-cold water, our tents collapsed on us in the middle of the night due to the heavy wind and rain, we got our canned food stolen by monkeys, we got attacked by cows, I sprained my ankle four times and fell down more than thirty times, I cried in the middle of the forest and I temporarily lost sensibility of my feet. However, I also remember that during that trip I made a promise to my second year Sofia. We promised we would excel in our IB exams and in life because if we could have accomplished that deadly hike, we had not reason to fear anything in life. The lesson here was: Live without regrets, challenge yourself, be crazy, push yourself to the extreme 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 fact that second years were graduating and that a new era was about to begin. I had a lot of pressure coming from exams and the huge amount of workload, sadness mixed with excitement for what was ending and what was about 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 leader. I was genuinely so happy and honoured to be representing and working together with such diverse group of people and to present the beauty of our cultures. APEC turned out to be one of the greatest highlights of my LPC experience. I discovered so much about my Asian half of identity and finally felt I belonged to something. I was so impressed by the passion, collaborative attitude and precious contributions that each one of the members brought to the group. Everything worked out perfectly and hearing all the positive and inspiring comments from everyone made me so proud of us and so grateful to the formal APEC leader for asking me if I was interested to run for representative. I will never forget how my heart felt so full and so empty at the same time when everything finished after months of preparations. 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. Quicker than what we desired, my second years’ graduation day came around. Of course I was happy for them to start a new chapter of their lives but I was honestly in a deep grief when I saw them leaving campus one by one. Then I had to accept that nothing lasts forever.
Coming back to LPC as second years felt strange. The year 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 our 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 LPC agin. We soon had to accept that we were officially second years which came together with more responsibilities but also many satisfactions. Term 3 started with 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 campus together which made me reflect on the power that a community can have when it works united with a common aim. Everyone describes term 3 as being “The 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 there, surrendered by the most inspiring peers, teachers, staff and the most privileged education that I will probably ever have in my life. In term 3 I also focused on my future. I officially chose my university major, engaged in museums/art related internships and applied to universities which gave me the opportunity to explore both myself and Hong Kong. The term concluded on a good note with me having the honour to be chosen as the co-leader of SOS Project Week in the Philippines.
SOS Children’s Village in Davao, Philippines is an NGO that takes care of orphan children by creating a new family environment for them. A truly inspiring and successful mission. A family might not be biological but the spiritual connection that is created between the brothers and sisters as well as the mothers of these families is so precious. Ironically one of my university essays started with “If a country is to be entirely destroyed, the true and deepest core 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 “core humanity” no matter all the difficulties that might have destroyed their past. I believe I got reminded of this humanity as well as the value of humbleness which we tend to forget in our hectic lives. Coming back on campus after Project Week made me realise that my time left in LPC was decreasing day by day. Towards the end of term 4, we had our Visual Art exhibition which was 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 with the art world.
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 the last big assignment of the year. Sitting at the graduation dinner and listening to the amazing speeches of my peers made me face the reality that I was trying to avoid. For the two weeks following that day, I disconnected from the world and studied for my final IB exams on the second floor of the A-block, in classroom 212. 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. The day we finished the last exam, I remember our Italian first years surprising us with a little cake and our iconic song on block 3 rooftop to celebrate the liberation. For the next week or more I was so drained from exams that 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 see everything from a more positive perspective.
Graduation was such a strange day. After literally losing my shoe and almost tripping on the stage on the way to get my diploma, I realised how light that piece of paper was 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 being hugged by my friends. Then, on the 26th of May 2019, I left what I have called Home, and the people that I have called Family for the past two years. Honestly, even after a year, the bittersweetness is still somewhere in my heart and I think it will never completely leave me. However, it is true that (luckily or unluckily) time helps and you learn to transform the pain into force because you know that what you have lived in LPC will forever be with you.
UWC is a unique and so privileged place. We celebrate diversity and we are a family representing so many countries fighting for a better (and a bit utopian) future but what I hope I will never forget are the little 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 fights 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 at Starfish Bay, intense study sessions in the library, sunsets and sunrises, mini Starbucks outings just to feel a bit more productive, block activities, listening to unknown languages around campus, the smell of the art room, endless walks to block 4 also known as “the airport”, fire alarms at the worst hours, the frogs, water falls, random hikes around Hong Kong getting to know friends, my roomie’s morning alarms that went on for ten minutes until I would have to get out of my bed and drag her down, the feeling of semi-adulting, the joy of receiving something from LPC compliments, the Guards, the Canteen ladies and the Genitors, Jess, the feeling of being constantly challenged, stargazing while thinking about everything and nothing, canteen table politically correct jokes, GIF, looking right and seeing my roomie sleeping, the wifi-cut frustration, check-in at 9PM, 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 traditions. I feel you are somehow, a bit like me and you have truly changed my life forever. I will remember the amazing people I have met in this journey, and I will never forget how inspiring each one of you is. I learned to see people as people, not as nationalities. Now, when I read the news, I see happy or sad faces of my friends, not countries, not politics.
People say “You make your own UWC experience”. For me, UWC meant growth in every aspect. As cliché as it sounds, 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. Do not be afraid to fail and always try your very best”. I could not be thankful enough to my parents, national committee, and to all the people I have met in the best two years of my life so far which made me question, destroy and rebuild myself from zero.
May I never forget how privileged I was to be able to live such a life changing experience.
Kanon Ida – Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong, Class of 2019.