Terence Young (Hong Kong, LPC UWC 2010-2012)
I must admit, when I entered the Li Po Chun United World College in September last year, I was sorely disappointed: Even though everyone was extremely interesting and friendly, we did not do much more than become friends. What happened to pushing for world peace and a sustainable future? What happened to making a difference for those around us? I am afraid that at first glance, my fellow collegians and I did nothing more than sit around and discuss about things to do without actually realizing them; a perpetual wait for Godot.
The angry desire of mine to change and rectify the problems of my country, coupled most unfortunately with my naïve impatience, drove me to seek out the different student run initiatives at our school. Like a hungry bloodhound I researched into the different activities, spoke with those involved and observed their regular sessions. However, due to my rashness and my lack of vision, I often failed to see the purpose behind these community service groups, a weakness that set me on a perpetual odyssey from one group to another in order to look for a course that would be meaningful to me on a personal level yet also broad enough for me to see the effects of my actions.
For a long time, my cyclic migratory pattern of moving on to new pastures, only to find the grass thin, sickly and slow growing continued. As much as I understand the need for discussion, I felt a strong abhorrence towards long and pointless debates as they impeded the speed of progress and had little visible impact on the targeted people, much less the world. Similarly, activities that were too focused seemed to have little potential in helping the large masses of needy people despite their heartening immediate results. I soon realized that the perfect initiative for me would be long term and far reaching whilst at the same time rewarding and satisfying in the present.
In the end, I knew my wandering had to stop for I too was doing nothing; no contributions to the community despite my intentions. My Oedipus-like drifting must end for my inner turmoil to ebb and for me to finally help construct a better future for our posterity. At that moment, fate moved me to choose our school’s only UWC short course, the Sino-Japan Youth Conference. To me, this conference was very relevant for not only am I a very patriotic Chinese, but I have also seen firsthand the effects of China and Japan’s poor relationship.
When I was young, I was greatly affected by the history of the Chinese during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Along with many of my Hong Kong classmates, I felt a strong dislike towards the Japanese for their inhumanity and cruelty during the war. This seething hatred embodied itself in our very actions and we regrettably grouped together to alienate an innocent Japanese classmate. As I grew older and more mature, the guilt of ostracizing this classmate made me want to make amends, to work towards making this world more understanding and accepting so that the horrible things I have done will not be repeated. It was this personal attachment that drove me to join the youth conference, a strong ember of pain that became my fuel and inspiration to continue working in this UWC short course.
It was very ironic because the Sino-Japan Youth Conference’s main mean of strengthening the ties between Japan and China was to educate youths from both countries through exchange and interaction. Much like the United World Movement itself, I thought that its ability to bring about a positive change was too slow; I believed that it was crucial and impertinent that we strike while the metal is hot and mould it into the shape we want. This sluggish pace was one of the main problems with the conference; many amongst us could not see that the goal was in sight and decided to leave. When complemented with the large workload for each member in the small team and the dead serious nature of the seemingly pointless and bureaucratic meetings, I, looking on hindsight, am fondly surprised that our flames of passion were not extinguished.
Our unity kept us strong, all the remaining members worked so fast that the keyboards and pens would leave burning trails in their wake. We all put our all into what we did, be it a funds proposal, a session plan or a simple presentation. Through hard work, the Sino-Japan Youth Conference team grew into a tight and inseparable group, a characteristic that would set us above other initiatives. It was this close bond that made me the optimistic person that I am today, for I finally saw the first fruits of a United World College Education. I saw that people, when placed together on the same boat, can help each other through mutual understanding, sensitivity and respect.
However, this was not to be the last gift of hope the Sino-Japan Youth Conference was to give me, but the first of many others to come. After a long and tedious year of planning, our backbreaking toils finally bore fruit. We met the other regional teams in China and Japan, all of whom were very unique and very determined to improve Sino-Japanese relationships. My horizons expanded exponentially when I learnt about the cultures and backgrounds of the other organizers, all of whom were very open and willing to share their personal experiences. Most of all, their passion and drive touched me deeply and for the first time I felt truly like a United World Collegian as I saw that there were many like minded people around me, supporting our dream and goal.
Most importantly, I felt that we actually fulfilled our objective: To bring youths together through friendship and education. With the effort all our organizers put in, the conference passed without a hitch. We squeezed what little time we had in our schedule to put in as many interactive and varied workshops for the participants. In a short span of a week, we had run these young students through a daunting marathon of critical thinking sessions, workshops on historical bias and cultural stereotypes, as well as other activities that were aimed to tell them that their initial perceptions may not be true. Although this endeavor seemed like the futile rubbing of two twigs, for many of the participants had a very limited knowledge of English and were initially very shy and reclusive, over time and with more interaction the friction between the participants from China and Japan sparked and ignited a warm and yet powerful fire of friendship: At the Peace Commemoration event during the conference (an emotional moment where participants would share their stories on Sino-Japanese relations), I was surprised to see Chinese and Japanese participants embracing each other in tears. When I saw this, I knew immediately that I had found what I was looking for: An unbreakable friendship born from a tragic yet accepted past, a friendship that would be watered by these genuine and well meaning tears, a friendship that would blossom and flower into peace. It was during this conference that I truly understood what Kurt Hahn intended for us United World Collegian, his goal of teaching us to make peace through understanding, through friendship and not through violence. Now, when I look at it, this UWC short course really does fulfill its purpose. After all, it is but a shorter United World College education, a course that still as poignant and meaningful because it too can change the youths of today through exchange, learning and growth.
Today, while I am writing this article, I still look back on those sweet moments as a turning point. To me, the conference was a place linked with the growing self understanding and the rebirth of my fiery spirit and desire to help the world. Although I initially wanted to introduce the Sino-Japanese Youth Conference in a more informative manner, so as to garner the much need support for the coming year, I felt that it was more appropriate to tell all of you people, people destined to move the world towards a better future, why I too feel this way. After all, without personally experiencing this conference, meeting all the different organizers and seeing the limitless possibilities the participants have created with each other, I would have never gained this indispensable flame of passion and I feel that only through an honest and personal touch, can this flame be passed on to light the torches of tomorrow.