I was fortunate to have been raised in a global culture: I was born in Singapore and migrated to Hong Kong at a very young age, which made South-east Asian and Chinese culture a prominent aspect of my family life. Since my relatives are still in Singapore, my family and I used to fly back at least once every year. Each time, I would gain knowledge about Malaysian-Singaporean social norms, cuisine (durians!), and often I returned to Hong Kong with a Singaporean accent, ending my sentences with “lah” and ignoring grammar rules during conversations.
All 13 years of my education were completed through the international school system—my teachers came from every other continent except for Asia, and all my classmates held a non-Chinese passport. Lessons were instructed in English; however, my school really prioritized celebrating our individual home cultures. Throughout the year we would have special events celebrating international occasions such as Diwali, St Patrick’s Day, Chinese Mid-Autumn festival etc. The culture embraced by the student body was to proudly represent your home country, since we all did not “belong” in local Hong Kong society; we were raised with a vast array of cultures from our friends, family and teachers. Some of my classmates have spent years in Hong Kong, while others came over from Europe only to stay for a year; therefore, I have had the privilege to be completely immersed in their cultures whenever I got the chance to meet their families or even travel with them back to their home countries. My parents also prioritize seeing and experiencing the world, so as a family we traveled extensively, to countries such as Australia, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Macau etc.
Since I grew up in a heavily polluted metropolitan city that prioritizes time and money over environmental responsibility, my appreciation for nature is augmented every time I travel to a rural or suburban country. I have lived and breathed the effects of air pollution, swam in the plastic and oil infested sea, and felt oppressed by the smog that permanently hangs over Hong Kong. By participating in the Costa Rica Program, I hope to learn what I can do to help save the environment, to improve people’s quality of life and health. My main interest in sustainability is to learn how to reduce the amount of trash in the sea and to regulate the chemical components in the waters, since as a scuba diver I find the aquatic world fascinating and breathtaking. Additionally, learning how to do my part in reducing air pollution has always been a priority. Breathing Hong Kong air has similar effects to smoking cigarettes in the long term, and I did not realize how abnormal our air quality is until I came to America in 2013. Waking up to blue skies, breathing in clean air, and seeing healthy trees every day has honestly been a treat for me since the day I moved into UCI.
I am most excited about traveling to Costa Rica and learning about their native culture and lifestyle. Since we are visiting an agriculturally driven community, I am curious to find out more about their daily life style, how they cook, use plants as home remedies, interact with neighboring communities, and avoid interrupting wild life. I am not too familiar with methods of sustainability, so I look forward to learning and carrying out their tips and tricks beyond the confines of a class room. Also, in my experience, trips that involve experiencing something completely foreign and out of our comfort zone tend to create an emotional bond between all the participants, so I can’t wait to meet all my teammates!