Eugene Tan (Malaysia, LPC 08-10), Ramanathan Kumar (Hong Kong/India, LPC 09-11)
It’s undeniable, the attention commanded by Li Po Chun in Hong Kong, and indeed Southeast Asia is staggering. Hence, it is almost inevitable that students are slightly disappointed to come to LPCUWC and find that it is not a perfect society; that it isn’t some magical utopian world of activists and upstanding young citizens of world.
The problems that persist in LPC are numerous and varied. The student council and the students they represent are plagued with frustration at its lack of power, and the fact that it has next to no say in the running of the school. There is constant dispute on how much time that the average LPC student spends on academics. The discrimination of LGBT students and teachers by our own Board is another source of occasional discontentment among the LPC community. Every week, canteen tables discuss the “division” between local and overseas communities. The bureaucratic restrictions to fundraising, among other student initiatives, add to this seemingly never-ending list of problems.
But first, let us consider the problems of our old schools. Alice Smith School (yes, laugh at the initials) is an international school with two predominant stereotypical backgrounds – the sons and daughters of expatriates or rich Malaysians. Diocesan Boys school is an “elite” Hong Kong school known for pumping out students with excellent grades and accompanying athletic/musical ability. Like all schools, there were social groups, defined by race, wealth, physical attractiveness, athleticism and social adequacy. Not only were there social groups, there was a superficiality within them that compelled you to conform, saying that you had to act in a way other than your own to be accepted by said groups.
Looking beyond all of that, however, the two of us do think that there is so much more to be applauded about LPC (and UWCs in general) than actually is. We have a rare and extraordinary opportunity to be exposed to such a wide variety of cultures, backgrounds, and people. This is our greatest asset – no matter how overstated it is. It sparks our desire to learn and to give back that is such an integral part of this movement. Because the people who come here are so talented in so many different ways, we discover the skills in which we lack, whether they be social or otherwise, and we truly do discover our potential and the many routes that we can take to self-improvement. In such a packed, close-knit community, we are given the underappreciated opportunity to form strong interpersonal bonds and deeper relationships, beyond the superficiality that cursed schools like our old ones. We also gain the ability to convince and persuade others by better understanding and knowing them.
This variety of backgrounds as well as our different opinions on righteousness also make it a challenge to get things done within the College, especially when controversial issues arise, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. If and when we do get those things done, we have been forced to understand why they really matter. We are challenged to really evaluate what we believe in, and to justify that to ourselves.
Coming from our Asian backgrounds, it’s amazing to us how we’re allowed to have a large degree of personal responsibility here. Over and above that, we’re all given personal accountability that is at once demanding and refreshing. Another characteristic that UWCs should be commended for more often is our willingness to talk about these problems. There is concern for issues throughout the student body, and despite all the problems that hound our efforts, we still try and we still discuss those problems in an attempt to get past them. This is astounding, compared to the drab apathy that permeated our two old schools.
It’s great that we recognize the problems in our respective Colleges and try to address them, but do take a moment to step back and appreciate what we have. The opportunities presented to us here are rare and precious, if we decide to cultivate them rather than sinking into wearied cynicism.
In UWCs, we have something that most students around the world don’t – we can be heard, if we’re willing to stand up for what we want. We have students who care; who want to participate and influence the affairs of their school. We all know there are issues with the way in which we function, and contradictions with the UWC values that are so mightily enshrined in our movement. But we can do something about it – if we want to. At the very least, we can try, which is far more than we could do before in many other places and in and of itself is very important to our consciences in our brief two-year stints at UWCs.
Especially in LPC, where it seems that pessimism, exhaustion and cynicism have taken over the school, it is important to remind ourselves of just where we are and what we are capable of doing; to do it and not look back, and to value it.
Of all that we can do wrong in a UWC, the worst atrocity is apathy.
-United World College Student Magazine-