GCD: Public Communications

Until a couple of months ago, the thing that frightened me more than anything else — even more than my childhood fear of crows attacking me — was standing up before a group of people and speaking.

In February of 2017, I took the biggest ever leap out of my comfort zone and faced my biggest fear: public speaking in front of parents and teachers 🙂 I participated in the Nourish Conference which is a school workshop intended for parents and educators who want to discuss and learn more about well-being.

I was first introduced to this conference by my school counsellor who I worked with for about 6 months – in a lot of our meetings, we discussed about mental health & well-being, confidence, overcoming challenges (etc.) and we thought it would be a perfect idea to share what we’ve discussed in our meetings with parents and teachers. While I was excited to be able to talk about something that I was so passionate about, I was also really nervous – to me, the idea of speaking in front of parents and teachers seemed impossible when I often already had difficulties delivering presentations to my classmates. However, I understood this opportunity as a perfect way for me to demonstrate some of the things I was able to learn through my discussions with my counsellor regarding confidence and overcoming challenges so I happily accepted the offer.

Ironically, our presentation was on “doing hard things” 🙂 We discussed some tools to help “identify and dissolve limiting beliefs”. In the last few minutes of the presentation, I also talked specifically about introverts and what it means to experience school as an introvert as well as how this affects me personally on a daily basis. I also gave advice to parents on how to support their children who are struggling to open up to friends and teacher at school, and how they can be actively involved in their children’s lives to support their well-being.

1) Preparation

In preparation for the conference, I did A LOT of practicing 🙂 I practiced at home, at school, in the train, and as I began feeling more and more prepared for the day, I also began to see my confidence improving. I also made sure to practice some of the strategies for public speaking that I learnt in class as well as from my counsellor – this included things like enunciating every word clearly, gestures, breathing techniques, etc.

2) Delivering

While I was very nervous and anxious on the day of the presentation, I definitely think it helped a lot that I was talking about something that I was truly passionate about and on a topic that I was clearly knowledgeable about. It also really helped me that I had my counsellor by my side during the entire presentation and the confidence she demonstrated in her parts of the presentation also gave me the encouragement to stand up in front of everyone with confidence. I also appreciated that my counsellor decided to make the workshop “introvert-friendly” – in between the presentation, we gave the teachers and parents some time to reflect quietly and we also gave them activities to do individually. During this time, I was able to practice the next few sections of the presentation in my head as well as give myself a few minutes to relax and breathe.

At the very end of the conference, some parents and teachers came up to congratulate me on the presentation and I really enjoyed hearing what they had to say about our presentation as well as about the topic.

While I was very happy with how the presentation went, especially given how much and for how long I’ve always avoided speaking publicly, what made me even more happier was hearing what the audience had to say about the topic. One of the parents in the audience came up to me after the presentation to thank me for some of the strategies I shared about finding the confidence to say “no.” It was especially interesting and refreshing to know that some adults also struggled with the fear of saying “no” 🙂

3) Reflection

After conquering my biggest fear, I truly learnt the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone, in the context of public speaking. I have learnt that public speaking can really help to influence important decisions and to motivate change – these were things I’ve consistently tried to achieve in my life but it was only after the conference that I truly felt like I was able to demonstrate my passion for promoting well-being and that I was able to motivate positive change for parents and teachers.

Since the presentation, I promised myself to do something scary on a regular basis. One of the most important things I’ve learnt this year is that facing my biggest fears allows me to develop wisdom as well as confidence – since presenting at the conference, I’ve learnt that I’m so much more capable than I think I am 🙂


GCD: Personal Goal (Grade 10 Personal Project)

MYP Personal Project – this blogpost is a simplified version of my final personal project report.

To finish the MYP in 10th grade, I produced a concept video that explored the issues surrounding bullying for my personal project. A concept video in dance is a video that shows a story or a concept through the art of dance and choreography. This project was inspired by the “Dance Out Bullying” campaign by Christina Perri after the release of her song Human.

1) Setting a personally meaningful goal outside of my comfort zone

Although I have had a few experience with bullying, this project was not so much for myself but really for all the other people that I knew were victims of bullying at that time that I was working on this project and of course before that. I wanted to take the personal project as an opportunity to not only pursue my passion for dance but to also help encourage kindness and compassion.

2) Planning

This was my initial action plan that I set up during the summer before 10th grade. While some of the things on the list were either moved around or adapted to fit my schedule and other commitments, I was generally able to follow the plan successfully:

  • June 1st~10th: goal proposal
  • June~August: research, take improv technique classes, watch videos for inspiration
  • September 1st ~ 10th: conduct anonymous surveys
  • October: create storyboard for concept video, master firebird and calypso
  • November 3rd~20th: choose songs, choreograph
  • December 2nd: Film, book studios (+ create teasers)

The most significant changes to my action plan were made during the creation stage when I had difficulties meeting deadlines for certain parts of the choreography. Some days I was full of ideas, some days I sat in the studio with no inspiration or motivation and this made it difficult for me to consistently produce a section of choreography each week. Because of this, I had to cram about a third of the choreography in the two weeks before my product was due.

3) Taking action to work towards achieving the goal

Conducting Surveys

One of the most important parts of this project besides the choreography was the surveys I conducted. In order to gain inspiration for my choreography as well as to develop the storyline of the concept video, I conducted an anonymous Google survey which I sent to classmates, teachers, and friends. In my survey, I asked everyone to identify a time they witnessed or experienced bullying, how they felt, and asked them what they know about the consequences of being a victim of bullying. I received several responses that I then sorted into categories by similarities and implemented them into the storyline which I then used to develop my choreography.

Solo lessons + technique classes

As I watched concept videos on Youtube for inspiration, I came across a few dance techniques/moves I wanted to include in my video too. This included things like the firebird (see photo below) and calypsos. In order to master these, I asked my dance teacher for a few solo lessons every week and I also participated in additional technique classes so that I could master them in time for December (when I began filming). Thanks to my teacher, I was able to master the firebird in less than 3 weeks however, I could not achieve my calypso in time.

Problem solving and overcoming challenges
– One of the most important skills for overcoming challenges like acquiring new skills and time management was learning to ask for help when I needed it. It was very important for me that I communicated well with my supervisor and that I discussed any areas that I needed supervision or advice on. While this wasn’t easy for me at the very beginning of the project, after a few meetings with my supervisor, I began to gain the trust and confidence I needed in order to comfortably ask for help when I needed it. When I couldn’t meet my deadlines, I made sure to communicate with my supervisor to let her know that I was having problems managing my time effectively. She was happy to help me re-organise my schedule and dedicate 30 mins ~ 1 hour each week to supervise the dance studio so that I could work on my choreography.

4) Reflecting on the process

One very important thing I learnt during my long hours in the dance studio is how clarity of mental and emotional attention and intention can lead to precision in my choreography. Ideas often came instantly when I clearly understood my intention to communicate a sense, a vision or simply an idea – so it was only when I explicitly stated and recited my goal for the project (which only happened a month and a bit before the product was due) that I was really able to start choreographing a valuable and expressive artwork.

Being the leading voice
The guiding global context of the personal project has helped me to become an empathetic learner as it required myself to be able to express other people’s feelings in my choreography as well as be a leading voice. Through my personal project, I really wanted to urge my peers the importance of empathy for victims of bullying but in order to do so, I needed to constantly demonstrate empathy myself too. My chosen global context acted as a reminder to keep involving people in my project and this helped me to successfully achieve my goal. While I don’t necessarily think that my video helped people who have experienced / experience bullying, I definitely do think those who watched my video learnt just how awful it can be to be a victim of bullying and that’s really what I wanted to achieve through my project. I wanted people to watch my video and then go home with a different mindset – a more caring, integrable kind of mindset and approach to life 🙂 I believe what made my video powerful is all the input from real victims of bullying.

The personal project gave me the opportunity to learn about the topic of dance and choreography. When thinking about my work on this project, the trait that stands out to me the most is being a risk-taker, as I took on the challenge of a project that required me to constantly approach people for important feedback and information. I also demonstrated the traits of an inquirer by choosing a topic I wanted to learn more about as well as something that I was passionate about. I displayed my research skills by collecting information from a variety of primary (approaching teachers for feedback on my choreography, technique classes, etc.) and secondary sources (dance videos on youtube) and synthesizing these to demonstrate all the knowledge I acquired into my final video.


GCD: Global Understanding

A global citizen actively seeks a personal understanding of how life in different countries varies relative to the interaction between power/privilege and economics, ethics, politics, religion, and/or the environment.

In 11th grade, I had the opportunity to visit Cambodia and spend a few days exploring a school in the province of Pursat – this was one of the very first experiences in my life that truly affected the way that I perceive my own education in comparison to the educational systems prevalent in less affluent societies.

Education in Japan vs. Cambodia

As I reflect on my stay in Cambodia, I realise that there is a huge bias in schools with how students are taught according to their position in society. For example, well-known, professional schools in affluent societies have a lot of freedom of activity and creativity when learning, while in working and middle class schools, there is much control and less space to support the potential and creativity of students. As I observed the way that teachers and students interacted in the classroom, I spotted a few things that separated the educational system that I experience at YIS and that of local schools in Cambodia.

From my experience in an international school, I understand that we rely on using a progressive method of teaching which emphasises learning through experiencing and students having role in what they learn and come across every day. We as students play an important role in the learning process as we take part in solving problems, leading discussions and we are always encouraged to actively participate in constructing ideas for the classroom.

On the other hand, the school I visited in Cambodia based their teaching approach on traditional methods, which requires a teacher-based method where the teacher lectures and explains all the time. They relied on teachers as connectors between the information in the textbook and the student which was of course very different from the educational system that I experience that promotes the idea that students should be leading their learning.

Cultural Values

One thing I believe affects the educational system and the way that it’s perceived by students and teachers is the countries’ relative cultural dimension, that is: individualism versus collectivism.

For an individualistic culture where I believe I belong in, education for me improves self respect. In a school like ours, it’s not enough to just earn a diploma: what we do with it is also very important. In other words, we need to have done something with our knowledge in order to achieve status and self-respect.

However, in a collectivist and group-oriented culture like Cambodia, the role of education seemed to be associated a lot with social acceptance. A diploma is not only a great achievement for the student but also, and probably more importantly, for his/her group. Such proof of education provides entry to higher status groups, however, what confers status is the fact that one has achieved education, and less about how well they did in school, or what they did with their knowledge. The social acceptance that comes with receiving education seemed to be much more important than the individual self-respect, as I listened to kids talk about their education in Cambodia.

How the state of the economy affects quality of education

The state of economy in a country seems to be another deciding factor of the quality of education that students receive, not just simply the number of children who are able to attend school. A good economy allows for a better allocation of resources to support schools and teachers. What this then allows is for teachers to implement more diverse activities other than simply reading off a textbook and solving problems on a chalkboard.

The school I visited in Pursat had very minimal resources in the classroom – this included a few textbooks, maps, a few pencils and crayons, and just the right amount of desks and chairs for the children attending the school. To me, it was no wonder that so much of their time in the classroom was spent reciting their textbooks.

As a student privileged to experience the luxury of a gym, library, playground, cafeteria, etc. at school, I realise that there is very little that students can do in a small classroom with limited resources.

This is not to say that the traditional methods of reciting textbooks and solving problems on the chalkboard isn’t a valuable method for learning especially given that receiving an education is already on its own a huge privilege. However, I do see benefits in encouraging students to be more active in their learning process like leading discussions or engaging in student-led activities and this was something that the children in Pursat (and I’m sure in many other underdeveloped countries) were/are missing out on.

In summary, these are some of the differences between the educational system in Pursat and at YIS that I was able to observe:

                         Pursat                               YIS
 Values traditional methods of teaching Embraces whatever is “new” – right now these are things like “collaborative learning”.
Students learn how to do Students learn how to learn
Students only speak up in class if they are called upon personally by a teacher Individual students are willing to offer ideas at any given time.
Education is a way of gaining status in one’s social environment Education is a way of improving one’s economic worth and self-respect based on ability and competence.


GCD: Intercultural Communications + Multilingualism

Intercultural Communications: Engage with people in another language or culture and communicate thoughtfully and appropriately.
Multilingualism: You describe your fluency in multiple languages and reflect on what this means to you and your life.

As a multilingual person, I understand that learning a language is one of the best ways to access another culture, but whether this additional culture is fully integrated into the person is a different question. For me, being able to speak English, Japanese and French fluently required immersing myself in their respective cultures and hence, I have constantly engaged with people in another language and I have demonstrated my fluency by learning to communicate thoughtfully and appropriately in each of these languages.


Japanese is my mother tongue – I demonstrate fluency in the language by constantly communicating with both my Japanese mother and Indian father, my siblings, and friends in Japanese. I like to think that being a fluent Japanese speaker has taught me respect and thoughtfulness. The Japanese language is a reflection of its cultural values like good manners and compassion and speaking or writing in the language almost always requires me to actively demonstrate respect. There’s phrases like “otsukaresama desu” which there are no equivalents for in English but would directly translate to something like: “I humbly exalt you in your state of exhaustion” – it’s a way of showing respect to people who are tired from working hard and I often wish there was an equivalent for this in English especially when expressing my gratitude for teachers at school.


I came to YIS at the age of 5 with barely any knowledge of the English language – I learnt to speak English purely through listening and observing others in my class and surprisingly, it only took me a few months to be able to construct simple sentences and follow the teacher’s instructions.
As an international school student, I am required to speak, write and read in English everyday but this is just one way that I demonstrate fluency in this language. While Japanese has always been a primary language for communicating at home, I realise that I now integrate much more English into my sentences, perhaps because so much of my time at school is spent speaking the language.

One of the biggest benefits of having the ability to fluently speak and understand English is its global status. Wherever I go in the world, I am able to take advantage of my fluency in English and this isn’t limited to countries where English is their primary language of communication – it works everywhere 🙂 When I visited Taiwan last summer, I obviously struggled to understand what the locals were saying but I often overcame this challenge by starting up a conversation in English.

Although being able to speak both Japanese and English has benefitted me in many areas, I sometimes face challenges with translation between the two languages. I don’t necessarily invent words but I sometimes find myself using English in a Japanese way like saying; “did you cut your hair? ” while of course implying “did you get a haircut?”. In Japanese, you would say “Kami kitta?” which if directly translated to English would be asking someone if they cut their own hair. Although this isn’t always a big problem, I sometimes do encounter embarrassing situations when people would laugh at me for speaking what they call “Japanglish” or “Engrish”.


As a Francophile, I was determined to continue my French study in high school but one thing that made this decision difficult was being a fluent Japanese speaker. At school, it was a common stereotype that fluent Japanese speakers would never choose to study another language in high school (with the exception of English which is mandatory) and this was understandable given that this was actually almost always the case. Every fluent Japanese speaker in my grade decided to continue studying the Japanese language in high school. So it was no wonder that in my first two years of high school, people were constantly asking me if I remembered when their Japanese homework was due or when the next Kanji test was – I had to tell at least one person everyday that I was taking French and not Japanese 🙂

When I first decided to continue my studies in French as a freshman in high school, I remember experiencing a deep sense of inadequacy and an abundance of self-doubt. While I thought I made the right decision to take French class, my first few months were traumatic as I hopelessly struggled with conjugations – something that was foreign to me but ordinary for everyone else in the class who had already mastered the rules from their Spanish, German or Dutch mother tongue.

A turning point came for me one day, however, when my teacher played a song by a French artist called Louane, or as my teacher likes to call her, “The French Adele”. While the rest of the class continued to talk over the song, I was fascinated by the music and asked my teacher to play her other songs. Up to this point, French seemed stuffy and dry, but now, it was something that was cool.

In retrospect, something becomes very obvious now: for me learning to truly enjoy studying a foreign language needed to be interesting – there needed to be a “hook” of some kind. Since learning to truly enjoy learning a foreign language, I have become much more keen on immersing myself in the culture of the language too. Having studied French for 7 years, it was time for me to demonstrate my fluency and so I made my first ever solo trip to Paris for a dance camp two years ago where I was required to speak, read and listen in French for a whole entire week. While English was there to save me at times I struggled to remember certain French words, I was also surprised at the level of fluency I was able to demonstrate. While I immersed myself in the French culture, I picked up on a thousand new words and phrases and cool French slangs but I was also able to experience their cuisine, arts as well as their etiquette and customs like making sure to always arrive at least 5 minutes late to “rendez-vous”s and always giving flower bouquets in odd-numbered bunches but never 13 because it’s bad luck 🙂

What it means to be multilingual:

As a multilingual, I draw on all of my linguistic resources in each area of my lives. For example, I would read in one language but discuss what I read in another. I sometimes even choose to mix  languages when I’m talking with my friends – it’s one way that I try to make sense of the world.

One thing I find interesting about being a multilingual is the way my personality subtly mutate as I switch from one language to another. When speaking English, I’m much more expressive, in Japanese, I’m precise and serious, and in French, maybe a little more vulnerable.  In another language, I don’t just learn new words or sounds, but new notions too. For me, switching between languages is like putting on different spectacles and seeing the world with different eyes 🙂

Having lived in Japan for most of my life, I grew up to be a rather quiet and reserved individual and I was constantly surrounded by a linguistic group whose conservative values ran against my personal values . To me, English became the language of liberation and free self-expression as I began to discover the nuances between the two languages. Learning to speak English fluently has since equipped me to communicate with the world in a way my mother tongue would never have allowed me to do. In this case, the cultural values represented by the languages were the driving force behind my linguistic identity.

As a multilingual, I realise that one’s ethnicity and cultural identity is very flexible and can change quite easily as a response to a changing social and cultural context. In this framework, being a multilingual allows me to transcend my ethnocentricity because, as I switch between these three languages, I realise that there are other equally valid ways of being and doing. This, I believe, allows me to build deeper interpersonal relationships with people from other cultural contexts, acquiring sympathy and a healthy acceptance of otherness.

GCD: Community Engagement

Community Engagement: making a consistent, sustained commitment to serving and developing connection with others.

I have been involved in the Van der Poel Community Service team for 3 years now and it has been one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of my time at YIS.
The Van der Poel committee works towards the welfare of children in two local orphanages and throughout the year, we engage in a number of activities that benefit the children such as outings and visits to the homes, as well as organising events such as preparing for and running a booth at a Bazaar held twice a year at one of the homes and the Orphanage Christmas party, a major event held at YIS, which involves the support of the whole YIS community.

I decided to join the Van der Poel committee because I felt as though this group truly demonstrated the important features of service. In my case, serving people took on more meaning when it came in the context of an actual relationship with people. I tried to contribute to a number of service activities during high school and while I understood the importance of community engagement, it often just became another item on my to-do list. In order for me to be genuinely engaged in service at school, I wanted to join an activity where I could really build meaningful relationships whilst also improving the welfare of the community and this is what being part of the Van der Poel committee allowed me to do.

Japan has a relatively low birth rate compared to other countries but this doesn’t stop children from being taken away from their parents for various legal reasons. Whilst building relationships with the children at the local orphanages, I’ve witnessed several problems that some of the children encounter when leaving the homes  – these included lack of knowledge and life skills necessary for living independently, as well as a lack of support as they left to find jobs or continue with further education. As part of the Van der Poel committee, I helped fundraise to support the children as they began their independent journey and demonstrated consistent commitment to the service group by volunteering to participate in home visits as well as helping initiate, organise and prepare additional events throughout the year.

1. Home visits
Every visit I made to the orphanages were life-changing experiences – some of the children I met were the most loving, affectionate and talented people I’ve ever met. Our visits to the homes often consisted of engaging in physical activity with the children, teaching English, and most importantly, communicating with the children. Regardless of whether the children were feeling happy, sad or upset, I tried to encourage the importance of putting feelings into words. Children tend to develop their emotional skills from relationships with their parents but given that these children were lacking this, it was important for us to help them organise and regulate their emotions and help them develop their emotional skills.

To make the experience even more valuable and meaningful, I also made regular visits to the orphanages to teach dance 🙂 In my dance classes, I focussed on movement that encouraged awareness of the environment as well as the people surrounding them in hopes to help children find their confidence in self-expression and in communicating with their peers.

2. Taking leadership

Recently, I organised a trip to one of the orphanage homes to participate in their graduation ceremony and to celebrate the success of those who were parting ways and leaving the homes. As a leader, I was proud to take initiative and to bring in a bit of my creative side to the service group. Because so much of the events and activities in Vanderpoel so far have been initiated and organised by teachers, it was exciting to be able to organise a little project from scratch. Although we decided to participate in the ceremony purely to congratulate the children and say goodbye, it was still important that we could help them in some kind of way so my friend and I decided to make them cards as well as fundraise to purchase the children gift cards to spend on books and stationary 🙂

The importance of community engagement

Serving for others is something that always makes me feel empowered, especially when I get to witness the impacts I make, but being part of Van der Poel also made me realise things that I never would have understood otherwise. None of us liked it when our parents yelled at us for not studying properly or when we fought with our siblings but there was a concern behind every word that they said. Knowing that these children at the orphanage are lacking all those words of care, anger, love and all the feelings that parents express towards their children is what truly made me want to support them. One difference I see in serving at a local community level and on a global level is how much I’m able to see the differences I am making. I realise that it is only by working at a local community level that I can truly see how volunteering makes an important and lasting contribution, regardless of whether I’m working with a school, with an NGO, with wildlife, or with an orphanage. I recognise the issues that have arisen as orphanage volunteering has grown, and some of the incidents that have occurred as a result such as orphanages becoming tourist areas. However, I see a bigger problem in individuals and organisations encouraging people to “never volunteer at an orphanage”. As a Van der Poel member, I have learnt that volunteering at orphanages can provide an important source of hands-on support, energy and skill that can make huge differences to the lives of children, and how it can really have a positive flow-on effect to the wider community.