Personal Goal: There is No Wrong or Right… Only WRITE (Starting a personal writing blog to spark joy and promote skill)

From infancy up until the start of high school, I was raised with books as a part of my identity. This passion for stories and words eventually progressed towards me synthesizing my own material. Since I began, creative writing has become an important artistic medium of communication for me. When I moved to South Africa, I realised I had a talent and passion for words went beyond reading. I was pushed to write, analyse, and work creatively by my English teacher, who placed me in class that (though challenging and far from my comfort zone) expanded my appreciation for literature and its analysis on a thematic and technical level I hadn’t experienced before. I applied what I was inspired by through writing prose as means of catharsis. Later, through the inspiration of a writer friend I realised stories weren’t something I just had to read.


With four years of practice and increasingly “sophisticated” inspirations, I have been able to  improve my work and become better with editing. I was also able to recognise writing not only a passion, but a talent. When I was accepted into the creative writing course at Saint Andrews’ University International Summer Programme, I remembered that writing is a “use it or lose it” thing much like any other ability. When I started off I felt like my material was awkward, but towards the end of the experience I found myself writing increasingly refined and self aware material.
I want to continue with this kind of work and live up to any time myself/somebody else has considered me a writer. So, I created a writing blog to motivate myself to document, write, edit, and build upon my own work. I want to see where I made progress and where I still need to make it. With my old work, I have also been able to practice my editing by re-working them. This allows me to generate content that readers can engage with as well as be writing more through adapt the pieces into my current style. Producing almost new pieces that I can be more proud of.


Writing, however, is a practice that requires a time commitment. Through my personal project, I learned that the best way to write is to write frequently enough so that it becomes a second nature. That way, when you sit down to write it becomes you end of getting more words (and as a result) from it. Similarly, editing and writing together to produce a good piece is a long winded process. Especially when editing, I have to let things rest and then go at it all at once. Getting into a state of flow makes the process more involved, reflecting, and helps me get the good stuff in. However, time is something I feel I don’t have a lot of as a senior and therefore it’s difficult to make or set time aside, especially when the outcome feels far away.
To make a process that takes time a bit easier and manageable for myself, I’ve planned a process that won’t intimidate me and won’t take more time than I’m already taking for myself. I have a terrible self care habit where I actually like to relax for an hour in the evening with my family and watch mindless reality TV shows on netflix. I usually end up doing CAS during this time anyways, so to also make it a time to transcribe from my notebook and make small tweaks along the way is not a huge change to my schedule.
When doing the actual writing or editing I knew I would need more time and have to form habits with more intent. For me the weekends often propose a lot of idle time since I can’t spend my whole day working. I have realised the importance of taking rejuvenating breaks and have used otherwise unpleasant gaps of time to sit alone on the couch, in the sun , or at a cafe to write + edit work. It brings me a lot of joy and makes my weekends feel productive in a more relaxed way.
I’ve also made to take moments of inspiration and make sure I write them down no matter the circumstance. There were often times when I was going to bed, going through bedtime/morning routines, or on the train when I had an idea that I encouraged but never took down. Previously to doing this I found that I only wrote when I was upset and formed the unhealthy mindset that often surrounds the “tortured artist”. The notion of madness being necessary to artistry is encouraged by the lack of actually practising as a writer. It means writing only when catharsis is necessary. However, when you write at all moments of inspiration you’re allowing yourself to write more and more which is really the only way to become a better writer. Easy reading is damn hard writing, but the more you do it the more “small things” you filter out, leaving room for you to struggle with more sophisticated and refined technique.


I’ve found that turning passion into an hobby has allowed me to not only refine my craft but see my evolution as a person and a writer. To have time with my work has increased my confidence in it. I now have more pieces that I am proud of now since I know they reflect the best of my abilities at this point in time. I’ve become comfortable with sharing some of my pieces publicly, which has helped me distinguish from creative journaling/catharsis and a piece that might also hold value and interest for the reader. Both in terms of content and theme.


Community Engagement- Introducing an Emphasis on Mental Health and Wellness to the YIS Community

Mental and emotional health is becoming less taboo as society sees it increasingly as an issue of overall wellness vital to our health and functionality. However, this stance has been worked towards through the people who advocate for it as such; creating spaces in which talking openly and honestly about mental health is a positive experience of catharsis and took for self improvement.
There is a great sense of community here at YIS and people are generally very supportive of one another, but, poor mental health, however, is not often acknowledged despite the obvious need for it. Our competitive, high stress, high pressure environments mean that we fail to prioritize ourselves sometimes and there does not seem to be any acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes things so wrong, but that’s okay because there are tools to help fix the situation. I know this from personally experiencing a degree of stress that was very overwhelming and made me feel hopeless and negatively about myself; an instance that I’ve found rings true with many of my peers. Although our school understands that this kind of stress is a part of our lives, the acknowledgement of, or conversation surrounding it always seems to be about how our academics, rather than us as individuals, might be suffering as a result. This type of feedback made me feel like I couldn’t reach out, communicate why I my academic results were suffering, or have a conversation about adjustments I might have benefited from.
When I got well, I was very concerned about maintaining my own well being, but also more aware and worried for others who might be feeling the same way; others who might not have the tools to be resilient or understand that a persistence through the bad times is always rewarded by a light at the end of the tunnel. So, a friend and I took matters into our own hands and started a service group dedicated to creating an accessible space and group of people within the school concerned about the wellbeing of others- a mental and emotional health club. Our goals were (and still are) to create a safe place that offers support and resources; raise awareness on self care and how to to help others; and reduce the ever-present stigma and shame surrounding mental illness by helping others learn more about it in order to create a happier and healthier student body equipped with yet another set of resources that will benefit them throughout life.

     We were able to recruit members very quickly, and started working towards those goals almost immediately post-establishment. Initially, we worked towards increase our presence in the school. We went about putting ourselves out there by advertising for a logo contest: asking people to get creative and take time for art in a way that helped us and reminded people that there was a club devoted to a concern for their well being. To follow along the last of those lines, we also engaged in a bake sale with logo stickers on the goods, and used the money we earned to set out baby’s breath flowers (as depicted in our logo) in all of the high school tutor rooms.
In elevating our activities to look more at self care, we still were trying to leave reminders that there is a group of people devoted to supporting, helping, and caring for others on a personal level. We we did a rock painting activity for people leaving at the end of the year as a symbol of how they had left a mark on YIS- showing that they influenced our community and were loved and important to the people they had bonded with. This combined helping people feel important and loved as well as allowing them to engage in an activity that took their mind off things for a bit. Since there was so much positive feedback, we set up a rock decorating stand at our booth for people to have fun with a crafty activity and take a slightly more quiet moment for themselves. You can see many of these rocks around school, and to have them connected to the mental and emotional health club really sends a message about how important people should be to one another.
During the 2018 school year, we were able to (in an unfortunate way) show our support for others. A student at another school passed away in a tragic road accident, so we brought the community together to make 1,000 paper cranes for the school who collectively suffered this loss. The cranes were to show our condolences and put forth a symbolic understanding of how grief is a process that has many stages to work through, but each step (however small) adds to something quite impressive- the fact that somebody worked through and stayed strong through loss. This activity was especially important for me as it helped people in the community become more aware about how grief and healing was an ongoing, long, and complex process. It was an activity that increased an awareness/had an advocacy aspect, but also was an activity that helped people take time for the catharsis of crafting and (because of the tone of what was happening) helped people be more introspective about their self and their approaches to things like mourning.
     One of the most significant things we did for advocacy was a themed edition of the school magazine. As the collator, head editor, and recruiter this was quite an effort, but I think having content including pieces about struggle and strength people could engage with as well as sections reminding people of available resources was important and well worth any stress I may have experienced myself.  

     This year we are sustaining these types of meaningful actions that work towards creating a positive and open attitude to mental health with activities in similar strains. We use the money we make from donations and bake sales to start activities and fund one-off’s so everybody can feel the love. We have made stable to commitments to self care initiatives such as a “breakfast club” on Tuesday mornings (30m before school devoted simply to preparing yourself for the day both mentally and physically) and a meditation/mindfulness session every Wednesday at breaktime. However, we are trying to make new sorts of progress by gathering helpful resources so they’re more accessible to people through a careful curation of brochures for how to help people you may be worried about and how to care for yourself when feeling stressed or unwell. We have had many discussions about how to engage with mental illness in a way that doesn’t stereotype or enable self diagnosis and we hope to do this by engaging with it on a serious, less objective, and more than surface level: planning to engage with the grade 9 INS classes who do units that may be related to mental health.
I hope this club allows us to sustain these positive changes that help our students learn to prioritise themselves and do more advocacy work to transform the attitude towards mental health in our community. I love the safe space our group creates for people who struggle with mental and emotional wellness and it would give me such a feeling of inspiration and hope to see it expand and create a culture that allows people to get the help they need.



Intercultural Communication: Mandarin Madness (How Learning a Language Allows us to be Part of a Foreign Culture)

       The most formative years of my childhood were spent in Shanghai, China. Since I was a kid, I picked the language up quite quickly and was able to speak Chinese competently enough to communicate with the local community. I would always be talking to taxi drivers, street vendors, and the mostly non-english speaking staff at my pre-school. I’ve always been a talker and to be able to do it in a language that was not my own always felt super rewarding; not only had I learned something, but it allowed me to be included with the culture and community of the place I was living in. Through my constant relocation (meaning having to learn a different language or not having the opportunity to practice my Chinese) I eventually lost the fluency I once had, and when I speak it now, I feel a pang of loss but also a spark of hope. Both for a lost connection and one that could be rekindled.
       As such, when I was presented with the opportunity to take an online mandarin ab initio course, I took the opportunity and ran with it (much against the advice of my IB coordinator). I often fantasise about having taken the easy route, with a teacher and peers to interact with and learn from, but I think my decision to take a course that is loaded with risk and demands at least 100% helps me be an inter-cultural communicator on the most personal and engaged level I can be.
       I think it is important to learn a language. Studies show that it definitely benefits you cognitively, but I think it helps one connect to a culture- I can personally say this is true in terms of my past experiences with mandarin and my experiences now. When I lived in China, I connected to it on a superficial level since I was not at an age where I was cognisant enough to form more advanced outlooks on things like culture, tradition… global things. Most of what I understand about China (even today) is from my parents’ interpretation of it. Because my family is from the west, I think they (and me too, probably) struggle to appreciate some of the nuances in culture that are not very familiar to us or the opposite of what we practice in our own lives. Through learning the language with a course that is also teaching me about the culture, I hope to gain my own understanding of what makes up the China of today.  

      Foreigners can very easily isolate themselves and avoid the local people in favour of comfort and those you can communicate with. Having a unique lifestyle and small pool of people to choose from can sometimes make people feel like they are special or exempt from having to adjust, but I think when you recognise how small you are in comparison to the rest of the area, you can either isolate yourself further or be inspired to learn more about the place you are in.
       If you want to learn more about the world, though, connect with more people, and grow to be open-minded and knowledgeable about different cultures being “in the mix”- being a part of the culture- is the best and most authentic way to do so and language learning opens lots of doors to truly understanding a culture and customs of a place. Even if a person is not from the place they are in nor belongs to the culture on an ethnic level, you can see (and experience) that language is the easiest way to become a part of something.

       As an international kid, being able to integrate into another culture is vital to thriving (or at least surviving) during your time in a foreign country. In Singapore I experienced this on a cultural level as I found it difficult to adjust my values to those of the city, but I became more aware of how language impacted this when I moved to South Africa. The shared language there is English, but there are many many others that are recognised as the national language. It was amazing to see the way in which social groups were formed based off of which language people were able to speak (though it could also have had to do with thousands of years of systematic racism and segregation). Although I could get by in day-to-day life, I found it very difficult to feel adjusted socially as friend groups were often formed based on a language, which I thought I would have no chance at learning in a year.
       It is easy to tell yourself that you will not be able to learn a new language, or that it is hopeless to even try because “of the time frame given”, “the difficulty of it”, or even “the frequent rejection when you try to speak”. Being committed to a language on any level is important to acquisition, the skills from which allow you to connect to others from the culture you are in. This is not only important to a global understanding, but a sense of personal belonging. Though it sometimes is easier to fall back on those you can connect with more easily, living in a foreign country does not allow for that. Think of it as being a guest in somebody’s home. It is ridiculous to expect the host to be gracious towards you when you fail to speak to them. You went to that dinner party- that country- so you should be the one trying to be a part of that culture. Not the other way around.

Global Understanding: The Impacts of Tourism (Recognising how a first world privilege affects the way in which we interact with the ocean)

          During the fall break of 2017, I went abroad with my dad. He loves scuba diving and, when his original plans fell through the cracks,  I decided going with him instead of having him refund the tickets would be a good way to bond over our appreciation for the ocean in the midst of two very busy lives. I had initially hoped to develop some technical skill with scuba diving  but found it difficult to stay calm under-water. So, I instead decided to use the access I had to push myself with free diving, and conduct a reef check in a slightly unconventional way.

          I consider the ocean as an entity to be respected for its pure power, wonders within, and the ways in which we as a population depend on it (See: Sylvia Plath’s “A Winter Ship”). As such, I think it is important to take care of it and see it as one of the largest wonders of the world. In having access to a beautiful ocean on this trip I saw it as an opportunity to preserve/clean it and do a reef check rather than use it as a preppy kids’ recreational activity. In having rare and wonderful opportunities like this one, many people are encouraged to use them for personal enjoyment (and perhaps development if the context is appropriate or they are a bit more conscientious). However, I believe that in having a certain amount of privilege which allows a unique level of access, one is obligated to the opportunities that come from it for more than self indulgence and extend themselves to understanding or being more aware of the world around you.
          I think this is especially true when considering  the impact of tourism on natural locations. I began free diving just five meters off from the shoreline of the hotel, a place where I could already see had the most human impact. There was active construction in the area to block the view of the industrial areas directly across from is, which I think speaks to the nature issue on a metaphorical level: First world societies access the natural flow of an environment or way of livelihood in a way that is so distant from them. It allows them to simply not see how their actions affect the flow of other things, leading to a sense of entitlement. By not recognising the other things going on around us, we are more likely to gravitate towards the belief that we lie at the center of the universe.  

     Being forced to recognise the human impact in many different ways (eg. thrice weekly shark feeding, bleached + broken coral under offshore houses) made me more fully understand that an environment never exists to provide for us.  They are places where every our actions are not one-sided; instead to be considered as interactions because of the eventual response resulting from our human footprint.
          Living in a first world population sometimes allows us to forget about consequences, but I think, instead of simply limiting our recreations, we also need to be more conscious of the impacts of how our travel, consumption, and entertainment affects the livelihood of other people or environments.


Skip to toolbar