The first thing that hit me when I stepped into Asia was the humidity. The air was thick and made you sweat instantly. I was already out of my element and hadn’t even left the airport. Riding in a bus away from the airport, I caught my first sight of the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. The city was lit up, and the sheer height of everything blew me away. Since then, I’ve stopped being amazed at the size of Hong Kong; I’m able to navigate the streets with ease. In fact I’ve grown to love this city; the first place I’ve lived that hasn’t been Clearwater. It’s been an incredible journey.
In early 2010 I applied to a program called United World Colleges. This organization gave scholarships for youth to attend one of 13 schools around the world. These schools taught the International Baccalaureate or IB. The IB is an equivalent to 12th grade high school, plus a bit of first year university. The program has lasted two years and in a matter of weeks, I will graduate.
I was surprised and elated when I first heard that I selected to attend a UWC in Hong Kong. I was initially nervous about leaving everything behind, about pursuing an education in a culture that I had no idea about. However, I would not pass the opportunity up, so I packed my bags and departed for my new life.
My fellow students were nothing short of amazing. Smart, motivated and from countries around the world – it was an honor to study with them. And study I did. The academics moved at a breakneck pace, and I had naively decided to begin studies of Mandarin Chinese. Often called the most difficult language for an English speaker to learn, I soon learned why. China is a civilization built on a completely different foundation from the West, and this was reflected in its language. Eventually, I managed to get a hold on my studies. It was then that I started to truly experience the environment around me.
Over the course of two years I have visited six different nations: North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and United Arab Emirates. I could write pages about each one of these countries; each one provided me with an insight into the diversity of Asian culture. As I travelled these places, I realized how much more there is outside Canada than I had previously thought. I also realized how incredibly fortunate Canadians are. To live in such a peaceful, prosperous and free society is a true privilege. I saw the totalitarianism of North Korea, and the abject poverty faced by many in Cambodia, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had I been born elsewhere. I think that as Canadians, we have a responsibility to help those not just within our borders but also around the world. At the very least, we should be aware of what is happening in the greater world around us.
I now sit in my dormitory, looking at what I’ve accumulated over my two years overseas. I’ve become stronger, smarter, and more insightful. I’ve seen incredible things, learned a new language, and made powerful friendships. However, it will soon be time for me to leave all of this behind. It pains me, but I also know that it is for the best. I won’t be returning to Canada however. I recently received another scholarship to study four years at New York University in Abu Dhabi.
Don’t let the name fool you, although connected to a university in New York, this university is right in the centre in the Middle East. There is another culture to explore, more adventures to be had, new people to meet. I’m not yet ready to return to my previous life in Canada. Deep down, Clearwater and Canada will always be an intrinsic part of my identity. For now however, my journey will continue.