By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.
Long ago and far away, I sat with 165 other
graduating seniors and their proud (or relieved) families in a
hot auditorium and listened to an interminable invocation and
very forgettable graduation speeches. A good friend sat next to
me, another sat two chairs down. My best friend forever sat
three rows in front, making faces and gestures that only the two
of us understood. I had spent a boring final year in high
school, and was ready to move on. Some of my friends shared
those feelings. And yet this small town school produced
teachers, doctors, farmers, linguists, lawyers, businessmen and
women, writers, engineers, and – yes – even a nuclear
Remembering all of that, I was eager to sit down with a few of
the graduating seniors from Prem International School. We
gathered around a conference room table at the school where
they’re saying “good-bye” to friends and packing to return
home. They are young and enthusiastic, at first a bit shy but
that doesn’t last long. They come from multi-cultural
backgrounds, they’ve attended international schools, and now
their whole lives are before them. Their parents are government
officials, engineers, teachers, business people and fulltime
moms and dads.
Joanna is from Canada. She has attended international schools in
Africa and Vietnam. Jun is from South Korea. This is his first
experience living and studying internationally, but it won’t
be his last. He’s going to university in Canada. Aisyah calls
Malaysia home, but attended international school in Indonesia
when her father worked for the Malaysian Consulate there. Kien
from Vietnam has been here the longest, five years, and came
barely speaking English. And Kinga from Bhutan rounds out the
group, the winner of the Daniel Wilms Award on graduation day.
This is awarded to the student who “is a good representative
of his/her country, with a positive attitude to other cultures
and to the earth we all share, who is able to reflect critically
in the search for knowledge and who has helped bring people
together in community, thus furthering the cause of
international understanding and peace”. As we talk, I can see
elements of the award in every one of the students.
Joanna is the only native English speaker, but can also get
around a little in several European languages. She spoke the
native dialect when she lived in Africa, but she was very young
then and forgot it as she returned to Canada and grew older. Jun
studied English in school in Korea, and worries that he may be
forgetting his native language. English is the language of
instruction in Kinga’s native Bhutan, but the family did not
speak it at home. Aisyah studied English as a young student but
didn’t really begin to use it until her family moved to
Indonesia and she entered international school. And Kien learned
his English the hard way, by total immersion at school.
They are experiencing the universal feelings of new graduates
– happy to have successfully completed their courses of study,
sad to be leaving their friends, excited about the world of
options open to them, anxious about making big decisions,
ambivalent about career choices. They laugh as they admit that
they’ve changed their career goals several times over the past
few years. Only one seems to have a clear path before him, Jun,
and he will study history and hopes to be a writer. Several will
take gap years, perhaps volunteering or working at the school,
maybe getting jobs in other places. It will be an opportunity to
live more independently and to make choices about their future
education. One will take a few months off before beginning
studies in New Zealand. One will begin university and take
generic courses at first. She believes she will work it all out
They’ve completed the International Baccalaureate program,
which is a demanding two year curriculum that meets the needs of
highly motivated students, and leads to a qualification that is
recognized by leading universities around the world. Along the
way they’ve been in many clubs and participated in sports and
other activities. They’ve enjoyed cooking club, and eating the
finished bakery products. They’ve learned about human rights
through Amnesty International. Diplomacy and advocacy are themes
that run throughout our conversation. And they’ve seen the
need for good housing by working with Habitat for Humanity.
Mixing cement was hard work, but the older man who cares for his
grandchildren in the finished house made it all worthwhile. They
found debating club a challenge, and a good language exercise.
Art and music are important to them, but sports are really
important. Soccer is number one, but cricket, swimming and
tennis are right up there.
They are aware of how much they have learned, not only in school
and organized activities, but also by living with people from so
many countries and cultures. Jun was shocked the first time he
went abroad and saw the active, challenging interaction between
western college students and their instructors. It was different
from what he had experienced in his own culture, a little
frightening. Kien says that he has learned a lot about
differences in what is acceptable in small things such as table
manners, and that it can be confusing going between cultures.
Joanna says she has experienced a lot of personal growth by
living among different cultures and learning about them. All
agree that the experience of living and learning in such a
complex situation has been challenging but positive. They agree
that it has built their confidence in their own abilities. There
is an easy give and take of conversation among them.
There is so much I would like to tell them, so much advice to
give, but I remember those forgettable graduations speeches of
long ago and settle for just one thought: “find your own
way”. I have no doubt that they will. I only wish that I could
sit with them again in fifty years and reminisce.
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