On Words

Elaine Fung (Hong Kong, UWCAC, 2010-2012)

‘-Words are all around, but words are only sounds-’

 Traffic in the Sky, Jack Johnson

When I think back on that very day- 21st August 2010- roughly five months ago, I remember this: a sea of smiles, handshakes and faces of those I now know so well as dear friends. Five hours in London Heathrow Airport waiting for the school bus, spent amidst our trolleys of suitcases and the ever-changing flight-information boards, repeated ‘Hi I’m Elaine from Hong Kong’ numerous times, struck up small talks about our home towns, past lives and future dreams- we began this journey with words.

When our initial amazement of our spectacular castle by the sea faded into a seemingly constant ritual of classes, food and sleep, it is hardly surprising how our awkward words of introduction turned into embraces, laughter and casual gossip; criss-crossing between occasional complaints about the canteen food and discussions on chemistry experiments. Despite our visibly different physical appearance, cultural and religious backgrounds, we are united by words in a language –English – foreign to most of us, spoken in various accents and forms.

When, or rather whenever our conversations turn to our cultures or countries, regardless of the inevitable grammatical mistakes and occasional misunderstandings, through our slightly broken but constantly improving English we explain ourselves and understand each other through our words, our spoken perspectives – until somehow, even our first languages seemed rusty on our tongues laden with a peculiar, metallic accent. For us, breaking the ‘language barrier’ could be much more than just exchanging words, it could also be a chance to shatter stereotypes and establish new common ground between cultures on campus. It’s not the amount of words we exchange, but rather what is said- to clarify, to explain, to learn.

So here we are, teenagers from countries all around the world, living together with nothing much but an opportunity of a lifetime and a heart full of dreams. In two years time we would leave with our own jargons and inside jokes that cloud our external diversity, we would have built these delicate, invisible but nonetheless strong friendships that web across continents and seas. In the end, even if the memories of first impressions fade into a blurry perception, I’ll still remember those first ‘hello’s that initiated the many brilliant conversations, making words so much more than sounds.

-United World College Student Magazine-

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