LEAVING home to attend secondary school abroad was a big step for me. I had never really seen myself going abroad so early in life. Yet, the opportunity to study at a United World College (UWC) was too special to forego. I made the choice to go.
Li Po Chun (LPC) UWC of Hong Kong is located in the relatively more peaceful surroundings of the New Territories. The college campus commands a beautiful view of Tolo Harbour on one side and a majestic view of Ma On Shan mountain on the other. Quite a different picture from the Hong Kong I had once imagined – a bustling city, bright lights and all.
Coming here, I have discovered so much about Hong Kong’s other side – its lovely rolling hills, ideal for camping and hiking; its courteous and helpful people (yes, believe it or not, Hong Kong shopkeepers are not what they are rumoured to be!).
Perhaps some might think that, culturally, Hong Kong is not really all that different from Malaysia. This, I have found to be true and yet not true. As a Chinese and Malaysian, I discovered so many things unique to Malaysia, which I have learnt to value more and more.
College life itself is a hive of activity most of the time. Extra-curricular activities (or quan cai) are very much a part of the student’s daily routine. Activities range from calligraphy to climbing, drumming and diving.
There are also many opportunities for language lovers here to pick up new languages, such as Spanish or Arabic. Almost all the activities are student-led or student-run, giving ample opportunity for developing leadership skills.
LPC is unique in many ways. For one, it is located at the doorstep of mainland China which is one of the oldest civilisations in the world.
Many students here learn Chinese dance or Chinese cooking, and the college itself offers Mandarin as a language course. One important result from this close proximity is China Week, whereby students go for a one-week trip to various parts of China, such as Beijing, Xian, and Shaoguan, during their first semester.
I joined a service project trip to visit the Yao tribe, a hill tribe in northern Guangdong province. Playing with the children at their schools, visiting their farmhouses, sharing their food and hiking in the beautiful hills which have inspired Chinese paintings for centuries – it was truly one of the most unforgettable weeks of my life.
Come to think of it, every week at LPC is memorable in its own way. Just living and working with people from 60-over countries brings something new each day and is a daily wonder for me. The atmosphere is rich with diversity; cultural understanding is an important ingredient.
However, one learns quickly that stereotypes do not work simply because each and every individual is unique. We share and learn about each other through Regional Cultural Evenings, presentations or just over dinner table talk. We are able (in spite of different accents!) to just sit down and chat with one another, making friends across social and cultural divides.
A quote from Wang Bo of the Tang Dynasty (displayed prominently in the main building) states: Friendships across the world make near neighbours far horizons, and this perhaps best sums it up.
The world suddenly seems much closer and more familiar. Events that happen in Fiji or Finland no longer become just newspaper articles but real things happening to real people. Deep down inside, we are, after all not that much different from one another.
Being a microcosm of the world as it is, making a difference just where we are does count in LPC.
There is much emphasis on service within the college community, with many projects aimed at benefiting the wider Hong Kong community. Others, such as Teen AIDS or the newly-founded, student-led, Middle East Initiative, strive to bring about a difference in people’s awareness of world issues.
It was by no means easy for me, at first, to be able to adapt to all the new and different things in LPC, but I have found the experience to be truly rewarding. It outweighs whatever benefits I might have received from remaining in my comfort zone.
Like any other place, LPC is not perfect; but the difference here is that the community together is constantly striving to better itself and to make a difference, no matter how small, in our world today.
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