Disclaimer: This is a relatively long reflection on everything. This is about my experience and it is biased. I am aware that not everyone will have the same experience and there is no right or wrong way to go through our UWC experience. The purpose of this post is to reflect and share my own experience.
A few weeks ago, I performed guitar over the zoom class graduation dinner event and said farewell to many of my beloved classmates. This was not the proper 'goodbye' I expected. I had to wave to my friend's faces on the screen so that they can notice me. The world is a funny place right now. I graduated IB without taking the IB exams.
However, I am currently in a very privileged position - privileged enough to have a quiet and peaceful place to sit down and think, and reflect on my past two years while gazing at the graceful Ma On Shan mountain peak covered by mist. I have been such a very lucky person to go through this experience and this post is a not-so-short summary and reflection on everything.
This was me when I was three. I always wanted to build things and dreamt of becoming an engineer. I attended school in Myanmar. As a developing country, we did not have much facilities in our schools. However, I really wanted to learn and try out things. I was very happy one day, when an engineer who returned from Singapore gave me an Arduino (an electric circuit board which you can use to build robots) for free because he was impressed by my passion. For some years, I experimented with electronics in my living room tabletop because my school did not have labs. I really wanted to go to a place where I have access to the resources and learn from great teachers.
I was accepted to Li Po Chun United World College (LPCUWC) with a full-scholarship back in 2018. My expectations were simple, I expected my LPCUWC experience to be a good school with great resources and teachers, where I can continue my studies. As my father used to say 'No matter how good the seed is, if the soil and environment does not favor, the plant cannot grow well'. I expected LPCUWC to be that 'soil and environment' where I can 'grow well'. For an eager child from a third world country, these expectations were good enough.
I would say my original expectations were not high enough.
In a matter of months, from being the introverted boy who likes to experiment electronics and build robots in his living room, I was transformed into a student in Hong Kong surrounded by friends from around the world. The classes were fun and I enjoyed my studies. I made close friends and was exposed to an international friend group for the first time. Not only was I able to continue doing what I love, but also was I able to step out of my comfort zone and explore other interests and cultures. I took part in the school Chinese Dragon Dance team and I perform the guitar regularly at 'music nights' for my friends.
Moreover, I was also able to take opportunities in the school events such as the Cultural Evenings, where the students exchange and express their pride in their cultures, and the Youth Camps, where we invite other youths around Hong Kong to participate in workshops which promote peace and intercultural understanding. By sharing my own culture with other people, I became more aware of my own and learned to value my individuality and own culture. I also began to appreciate other cultures (sometimes to a great extent).
My biggest explorations during my two years at LPCUWC are the trips which we call 'China Week' and the 'Project Week'. During these trips, we travel around to different parts of East Asia and do community service activities. I went to China twice. In my experience, I went to a school for the children of immigrant workers in Beijing, to teach English. This experience is where I see the real world 'people' problems for the first time. I witnessed social inequality, and people’s unequal access to resources. As a young aspiring engineer, I have always held the naive belief as a child that 'technology' is the key to solve all problems - 'Better technology' has been a solution for a greater quality of life historically. From my trips to China, I experienced a different kind of education outside the classroom - the education which made me realize that there are bigger social problems to be tackled which cannot be solved by technology alone. This sparked my interest in the unfamiliar fields of study which I have never experienced before. After coming back from these trips, I talked about 'economics' and 'anthropology' with my friends and teachers in order to truly understand the roots of such social problems. Previously I was ignorant to such issues,but now I am at least aware of them.
Moreover, I was also able to experience personal growth outside the classroom. The best aspect of my life at LPCUWC is the 'residential life'. We had to live together with the teachers. It may seem 'intimidating' to be with the people who design your test papers and give you grades, but to me, the opposite happened.
During my time in LPCUWC, I had shockingly inspirational teachers - the teachers who will sit together with the students and engage in conversations at the canteen tables, and the teachers who will listen to all your questions and guide us to find the answers ourselves. My chemistry teacher was the most inspirational to me. Inside the chemistry class, he would let me go and do the chemistry beyond the syllabus requirements if I wanted to (because he was aware that I love doing things). Outside the class, he would let me come to his apartment and browse his bookshelf for personal development books and let me borrow them for free. At free times, he would offer mentorship on life and teach me the organizational skills for work.
There are more than one of such teachers here. They are not here to help me write correct answers on the exam papers, but to develop me as a whole person. If this experience sounds too good to be true, it is true. This is just so rare in reality so that it ends up sounding untrue. We can see this phenomenon at LPCUWC and I am very grateful to have such mentors, who are willing to raise the student up if the student is willing to take the opportunity and approach them.
After all the fun tips, cultural events and friendship, my life here would not be complete without academics. I enjoyed all the classes so much despite having to struggle a bit in the Economics class because 'Social Sciences' were not my strength. However, as expected, I had access to all the labs , science equipment and facilities to aid my learning. I also picked up additional interests such as learning the Chinese language and English literature.
I loved the International Baccalaureate program I pursued here, because it is not all about exams. It requires students to mimic real life academic work by writing mini 12-pages research papers called IAs and a 4000-word research paper called 'Extended Essay' on a topic of our choice. I enjoyed writing them so much. My research topic was developing a computer program to predict a property called 'vapour pressure' of the chemicals. For physics, I would sometimes become so immersed in it and cover the entire whiteboards in physics equations, either when I am developing ideas for my investigation or while explaining to my peers.
For me, academics was fun. However, although I love learning very much, I remembered in my second year that I was not merely meant to be a 'book' person - but someone who craves tangible results in the real world. Here, we are able to do this by initiating our own extracurricular activities called 'Quan Cais' (Chinese for whole person development). As I have been a lifelong lover of technology, I co-organized the first Robotics Club with like-minded peers. During my second year here, when I am not studying for the exams, I would spend time in my dorm room building something, and share the skills of building robots to my peers when we meet together as a club. For such extracurricular activities, they were very fulfilling and I learnt a great amount of organization skills from organizing the sessions.
I was able to excel in academics and extracurriculars with friends. However, during the summer holidays, I had a crave to fulfill my desires for initiating personal projects which might give tangible benefits to the community.
During my time at LPCUWC, I started learning Chinese language, but found the Chinese characters very difficult to remember. Many applications exist however, they are not specific to our curriculum and good ones come with a price. Therefore, I combined my passion for developing computer applications with my love for learning foreign languages, and created an online platform to help students revise Chinese. It is available for free for everyone at (http://zw.paingthet.com). I shared this project with my fellow classmates who are learning Chinese and they found it very helpful. In addition to that, I also designed softwares which allows people to use YouTube, but without distractions so that they can stay focused and not waste time. My personal projects bore fruit at the community level and I was able to work on my hobbies and interests to create tangible benefits while balancing my school life and sleep during my time at LPCUWC. (Well, honestly, I stayed up all night for one night when writing my Chemistry Internal Assessment because I was in the mood.. this is not healthy!)
Now that I have graduated, looking back, I could not have walked this far without the support and resources here. Not only was I able to get intense high school academics, I was also able to develop my socializing and negotiation skills by living in harmony with others on campus.
I have come a long way to realize that today’s society problems are complex and multidisciplinary. My beloved technology or engineering alone is not enough to solve such problems unless the underlying social causes are identified. My LPCUWC experience has shifted my perspective into a better understanding of the world and I will eventually become an ethical engineer who is aware of such issues and who can analyze through multiple perspectives, through the lens of different stakeholders.
I am very satisfied with my experience. I gained true education. When I walk out of the school gate with my diploma, I am not just holding the piece of paper. I gained friendship, memories and also the skills I can apply in real life (which I learnt deliberately both inside and outside class). Most importantly, I also gained education for the nourishment of the soul which eventually transformed me into an idealistic, but also realistic and practical self-aware person.
This transformation would not have been possible without all the love and support of everyone who involved. I truly owe a debt of gratitude to them. I had been a very privileged and lucky person. I would not trade this experience with anything else and if I were to do everything all over again, I will do the same.