Project Week: Service

Tuesday:

Since there was another Project Week group working with School For Life, we agreed that they would complete the other aspects of their CAS plan while we went to School For Life for our service aspect of the trip. On Tuesday morning, School For Life brought the girls back to their chosen accommodation and picked us up from our hotel in the Old City. We sat in the back with two of the girls from School For Life, who were really friendly and excited to see us. Although their English was limited and our Thai nonexistent, we were able to swap names and ages, and found out that they are similar in age to us. One of the girls mentioned she liked to listen to K Pop when we were talking about what type of music we like, so Rhea played some K Pop from the girl group Blackpink and we sang along as best we could (which was poorly) but the girls knew most of the words and we had fun. School For Life is around an hour drive away from Chiang Mai city, but it was easy going and we saw more of Thailand in the truck. School For Life was located deep inside a forest and nature area, and was a very large complex. When we arrived, we were met by the other students in the oldest grade, and we were shown our two rooms in their guest area. After giving us some time to unpack and get ready for the rest of the day, we spent the next hour or so playing icebreaker games and getting to know the other students. The group split into two and we got a tour of the School For Life campus, which was very natural. There were living facilities for teachers and students, sports and music facilities, several classrooms, a cafeteria and joint kitchen, offices, a library, a communal assembly hall, and farm areas. We walked all the way to the farm area, and the main academic and living area was concentrated in the front while the back end of the land area was for sports, music, and farming. They explained that the children helped farm and cook, taking turns with their class to help. In the farm area, one of the students in my tour group grabbed some mangoes from the mango trees they had, and as we walked back, explained to me some of the Thai words for various plants. While the students broke for lunch together in the communal cafeteria, we ate lunch in a separate guest area and discussed our plan for dancing which was our first activity and schedules for that afternoon. We chose to teach a modified version of a Kahaani dance that Mallika choreographed and Rhea and Isabella participated in. Aarushi and I spent an hour going over the dance several times again to ensure we also knew it. The dancing was actually very successful despite the dance being a difficult one. Everyone was enthusiastic to learn despite the dance being intimidating, and we quickly taught all the choreography within an hour. By the end everyone was smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves, and we didn’t focus on the precision of the movements rather the community feeling everyone shared and enjoying oneself with the activity. After we taught our Indian dance, we motioned for a trade, since we discovered that K Pop seemed to be very popular with the students, and the girls who rode with us in the truck were very familiar with the dances to many songs and could perform them herself. Thus, we had her teach us, but we spent most of the time watching her dance while we tried to stumble along in the background, but I enjoyed that part the most. At that point, the younger children were done with school, so many of them were sitting in the room watching us all dance. At the end, the teachers asked us to perform the dance as one large group the next day to the rest of the school, so that they would get to experience it as well, and we agreed. 

 

 

Wednesday:

Despite having separate rooms, we all slept together in one of the rooms. There wasn’t access to wifi in the majority of the compound, so the atmosphere was very peaceful and the rooms had large windows that looked out into the surrounding forests. We spent some time getting ready for the morning assembly, which some of the other volunteers explained as being a meeting with everyone in the community for announcements and school events. The students all lined up in order of age with the youngest class on one side and the oldest on the opposite. The teachers were spread out around the children. There were several announcements both from teachers and some of the older students, and there was a school chant in both English and Thai. While much of the announcements were in Thai, there was a part of the morning where everyone participated in stretching with music accompaniment that were able to follow along with. It was quite brief, but we all enjoyed the ceremony and the common theme of School For Life with having strong community relationships. After everyone ate breakfast, we did arts and crafts with a younger class, around grade 7, and the two long term German volunteers who would be acting as translators throughout the duration of our stay. Many of the girls knew various origami animals or flowers, so we spent two hours learning different origami types and drawing pictures. I was personally curious about learning origami, since it was something that I was never good at. It was also nice to be able to do something simple and have conversation without any outside distractions. Everyone was very focused on participating in the activity and I found that something nicer than what we usually have in our lives with all the technology and quick access to information. School For Life let my group and I slow down and step back from the fast pace of life. In the afternoon, we chose to participate in different activities that the children would do since Wednesday afternoon was the time where all the students participated in a club or activity of their choosing. Mallika, Rhea, and I joined Thai traditional dance, and Aarushi and Isabella went to do organic farming. In the general assembly hall where many of the larger group activities were held, we were joined by a younger mixed class of boys and girls along with a very young class of children no older than six. It seemed that the teachers would be sitting back more as supervisors since two of the boys took it upon themselves to organize everyone in two circles. We started in a kneeling position facing into the circles and the students to our left and right showed us what to do. Everything was done within a count of 8, and for our benefit and understanding they all did it in English. We quickly learned that it was not dancing we were doing, but Muay Thai, because after around three counts of 8, the two boys who were leading suddenly spun into a standard fighting pose opposite each other. Rhea was dragged to be with a little girl in the other group, but Aarushi and I were each pair with one of the leading boys while the other children split up to be with each other. While everyone seemed fairly familiar with the moves already, the boys had to repeat the steps in each 8 count several times before we were able to move on to the next section. While fun, there was definitely a large amount of stress since everyone seemed rather amused by the three of us and we really couldn’t understand many of their corrections. Overall though it went really well until one boy braced himself and the other one ran up onto the leg he braced and 

kicked up and over before landing opposite the boy once again. That was where it all completely devolved because really no one else could do it. I would do it again, or for a longer time, but we did definitely join in at more ofa middle level than a true beginner, so it would have been nice to spend longer with the boys to learn at a slower pace and from the beginning. Apparently the organic farming was very successful but perhaps even more tiring, since they were in direct sunlight but we had some cover. Everyone went back to class and we went back to our rooms to shower and share our experiences. In the end, everything was rather different than how we thought the afternoon would pan out but still a good experience nonetheless. Towards the evening, we went back outside to play with some of the children who were playing on the playground before dinner, and they took great delight in the see saw, something I definitely do not find delightful. They rushed off to dinner and we went back to the guest area for ours, and had another delicious Thai meal. All the meals we had so far were very authentic and they were very accommodating to the different allergies that we had, for which we were very thankful. 

 

Thursday:

We had to leave around midday for our flight back to Bangkok and Singapore, but we planned to bake during the morning with one of the classes. After the morning ceremony, we drove with some of the teachers to the nearby town around 20 minutes away, where we went to a market to buy all the ingredients that we had preset for our baking. While we had considered that butter would be hard to find and so found a recipe that substituted butter, we didn’t consider things such as cinnamon not being powdered and that there wouldn’t be many tools like large bowls or measuring cups. The same girls who did arts and crafts with us were going to be baking with us. Since there were no measuring cups, we used a large rice pot to mix all the ingredients, and small plastic bowls to measure out the ingredients as best we could. We also used a mortar and pestle to grind the cinnamon sticks into powder. When we practiced the recipe at home, they didn’t turn out to be that appetizing, so we modified certain aspects and then tried the modified version at School For Life. I’m amazed the cookies even turned out as well as they did, because we guessed the majority of the amounts. They did take a long time to bake, but that was because we were all listening to K Pop and rolling the dough in sugar balls and generally enjoying ourselves. While the last of the cookies were on baking sheets waiting, we washed up in the communal dish washing area, and waited for some cookies to finish. After leaving instructions with the German volunteers, we had to leave for the airport. We never saw the majority of the cookies baked, but all the children that we had gotten to know came and said goodbye, and as we left in the truck all the children were gathering for lunch and waved goodbye to us when we drove past. We hadn’t anticipated Chiang Mai being like it was for us in the end, and despite all the difficulties we experienced while planning, the trip itself turned out to be an amazing experience, both with each other and with the CAS aspects that we had designed and participated in. It was in the end all about the people who made it worth it.

Ballet: CTSD Exam

On June 24, I completed the CTSD exam for grade 4 with my ballet class at Dance Arts in Singapore. The CTSD exam is part of The Commonwealth Society of Teachers of Dancing international dance society, which holds exams worldwide for various forms of dance, including classical ballet. The exams are a form of achievement, with each level progressing to more difficult skills and techniques required in order to dance en pointe and at a competitive level. Singapore offers both the CTSD exam and the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) exam depending on the dance school, but both are similar in concept and are considered equal in their level of preparation of the dancers.

I actually have previous studied the Vaganova style of ballet, which is Russian in origin, and has different stylistic techniques than both the RAD and CTSD programs. However, ballet remains mostly similar regardless of style, so I joined a CTSD class here instead. As my class is actually a fairly flexible one that allows many different ages and levels to join, the exam was a goal that my teacher thought would help direct everyones focus and motivation. She also thought the exam would be a good opportunity to see how we react in a more stressful situation and while being assessed.

The exam follows a general sequence regardless of level, including barre work and center work, with questions about specific techniques, free style movement, and requests from the examiner to show various techniques on the spot. We prepare the barre and center exercises before hand, but the other questions and free movements are on the spot in class. Additionally, all barre and center exercises are done with only the name as reference, meaning the examiner will say the name of the exercise without first showing what the exercise is.

I wouldn’t say it’s fun in the traditional sense of fun. The exam  itself is stressful and you spend several months

preparing for something that lasts around an hour, but you also spend a lot of time with the girls in your exam preparing, and the rest of your class too since the class is often divided into smaller groups. We all arrived at least two hours in advanced to stretch, get ready, and go through the entire routine several times, and that part was probably the best part. However, it is a good learning experience to receive all the comments from the examiner, because it really can only help you prepare more in the future.


 

Project Week: Preparation

Before actually booking or researching, we first came to an agreement to complete the three aspects of CAS, through cooking for creativity, trekking for activity, and working at School For Life for service. This made the rest of the planning more straightforward since we all had a common goal and agreement of what we would like the trip to be. I wouldn’t say I had issues with my group at any point in the planning, and that was certainly quite the relief. From the beginning when we filled out the initial request form, each group member picked a role and followed through with it. I was first aider, and while this required more commitment than all the other roles, it didn’t mean that I didn’t help my group members when needed. Often times, I found myself filling in information or doing separate research, especially since I believe the coordinators actually thought I had a different role. Overall, it was very straightforward for us to find and coordinate the various parts of our trip. We had several Skype calls wherein we discussed plane tickets, accommodation, transport, and our different activities. As Chiang Mai was a very popular destination, the timing and duration of the trip had to be staggered and coordinated with the other 5 groups, and part of the UWC’s request was that there would be no interaction between groups, whether in the services, airports, or hotels. We requested to leave earlier rather than later since there were members of our group who had to be back in Singapore for the end of the given Project Week slot. Additionally, it was discussed with the other group going to work with School For Life that we would first completed our activity or creativity requirements before finishing our trip with service. With this in mind, we looked at airfare and tried to pick one of the cheaper flights (going through Bangkok instead of directly flying in). We also picked a location within Chiang Mai to concentrate our search for accommodation in, and settled with the Old City because lots of food, stores, and tourist sites were all within walking distance from one another and the area was relatively cheap and centralized compared to other hotel areas. I was responsible for looking for and booking cooking classes, so I researched various cooking schools online and found several located within the Old City that looked very promising. After having a meeting with our supervisor, I booked a cooking class with Thai Akha Cooking School. Around this time, we booked flights, and we found a very nice hotel for a good price that had a good location and had breakfast included. We also booking a one day trek with Wild Planet, a group that members of my group had actually trekked with previously on school trips in 8th grade. They were very accommodating, especially since one day treks were not typically offered. The actual booking of the hotel, cooking class, trekking, and plane tickets required flexibility and quite a bit of maneuvering, since they all required one other to be completed all at the same time. There were also shared difficulties between all the Chiang Mai groups that resulted in major setbacks in terms of booking, and we quite literally paid the price for the delay. I would say most of our problems came from working with the school instead of working with the the various partners in Chiang Mai, because there were many deadlines that needed to be completed by a set time, appointments that needed to be done with certain people on certain dates, and various other minor aspects of the trip that needed to be prepared for beforehand. Ultimately though, my group was not denied traveling to Chiang Mai last minute, and we had no issues with cancellations from any providers. 

Project Week: Investigation

While the school often says that you don’t necessarily need to be with your friends in order to complete Project Week, there is something to be said about building better bonds with the friends you already have. Luckily, I did not really experience the struggle many people had of not fitting in to any one particular group, and I ended up being with my two close friends and two other girls I got along quite well with. I knew that all the girls I was with were each organized and prepared to take initiative during the planning and trip itself, which was a very key point in being able to work together. We quickly decided to have a Skype call to discuss location, focus, and our general ideas for what we wanted as a goal. Using some older resources from previous years, we went through a list of locations and services. We decided that we would rather do service along with something else, if not all three aspects of CAS, rather than doing activity and creativity alone. Some of the locations would work because we also wanted to prioritize safety, and the areas or cities were in unsafe times or we wouldn’t be familiar with the area at all. We also wanted to work more with children or with education-based focuses as opposed to working in environmental or animal focused services. I really wanted to focus on working with education because my GC is an education focused group that partners with a school in India. While I was unable to go to the school for a variety of reasons, it didn’t mean I would forfeit my desire to focus on education. Therefore, I was quite excited to work with a group that was also passionate about education. We originally decided on a school north of Phuket to work with, that was located in a national park, but when new resources were sent out, we discovered that the list of approved locations and services were greatly reduced. Continuing on the same line, we chose School For Life in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was located in a safe and familiar city, our service would be a school which fulfilled our focus, and UWC had pre-existing partnerships with various activity providers in the area. This meant that we had a good foundation to begin mapping out our ideal trip and see how we could best fulfill the different aspects of CAS in our own personal manner. We didn’t encounter many struggles into finding a location or focus because we all found ourselves in agreements about the various passions and interests that would help shape how we planned our trip, and this gave us a clear sense of direction that lasted the entire process. 

Project Week: Creativity and Activity

Saturday:

We left for Chiang Mai around mid-day, meeting at Changi Airport with our parents for check-in. Since one of the group members bought the tickets together on one account, we all had to check in with the details from her flight details. We were using the digital check-in, and ran in to slight problems when only two of us could check in. While going to the counter to fix the issue, the two girls tried to get the printed ticket set. After completing check-in and immigration, we waved goodbye to our parents and went into the terminal. Some of us exchanged money to prevent having to worry about it later on, while others already exchanged money beforehand. We had lunch and then boarded our flight to Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport. Landing in Bangkok was confusing, as the airport didn’t have much signage for transfer flights and there were many people going in and out of the terminal. However, after going through a second immigration, we had around an hour to relax and get re-situated. Two of us bought Thai sim-cards in the airport, while the rest were going to use their Singaporean numbers with data plans. There was a slight mixup with our gate and our flight was delayed, but we landed in Chiang Mai International Airport on time. We arranged for a shuttle service to pick us up from the airport, but there was confusion with where they would wait for us as international passengers are divided from domestic passengers, even if the flight was domestic. Eventually, we found the shuttle and drove to the hotel. It was a short distance and checking in was very quick. After setting our things down, we went to the hotel cafe to eat dinner and went to bed not long after. Overall a successful journey 🙂

Sunday:

Bright and early, we scheduled our day trek with Wild Planet to begin at 8 am. Wild Planet came and picked us up, and we were informed that we would be driving for around an hour to a market to pick up supplies, before continuing up to the mountain area where we would be trekking. It started out fairly cool, but the weather eventually warmed up, and by the time we reached the base of the mountain to quickly stop for a break, it was already quite warm out. The temperature was estimated to reach 38 degrees, but humidity would make it feel like 42. As we drove up the mountain, I started getting a bit carsick as the road was very windy, but it was a beautiful location, forested treescapes as far as the eye could see. The top of the mountain allowed a wide view of the surrounding lands, and our guide pointed out our final destination, approximately 15 km away. That was our first issue, as we anticipated the trek to only be around 5-7 km. While I have done several hiking trips before, they have never been in such warm weather, and I knew this would be a personal difficulty. The initial part of the trek was slower going and also easier than the later parts of the trek as the descent was not as steep and we were not in heavily wooded areas. On this part of the trek, our guide showed us many local Thai plants, including coffee and tea plants, along with several different fruits and vegetables. He also showed us a particular type of wood that easily burns and was once used as torches by the local hill tribes. During lunch, we stopped in a small village. In my past hiking trips, we did not get the opportunity to interact with the local culture, so I found this to be a slightly different experience compared to what I have done in the past. After lunch, our trek because much harder. We were in much steeper sections of the forest, with many uphill and downhill changes. The path was only wide enough for single file walking, so we all took turns in the various positions. There were some parts of the trek where I was quite scared because one side would be the side of the hill and the other side would be straight down. I was concerned that someone in my group would slip and would be injured. It was also getting progressively warmer, especially as we exerted more effort, so we started taking electrolytes to make sure we stayed properly hydrated. One of our group members became slightly heat-exhausted over the course of the trek, leading the rest of our group to take initiative for various small tasks, such as periodically giving her water, ensuring she wasn’t the last person, fanning her if she needed, and trading bags so she was carrying a lighter load. This sense of responsibility and teamwork was the most important aspect of the 7 hour trek, and we gained not only an appreciation for the Thai landscape and Hill tribe culture, but also an understanding of our personal strengths and weaknesses, along with how we could support each other using these discoveries.

 

Monday:

I found and organized the cooking class that we went to on Monday for the aspect of Creativity. We decided on cooking because food is an important part of culture, and we wanted to be able to take what we had learnt back home through learning something practical. There are actually many different cooking schools in Chiang Mai, but I found a cooking school within walking distance of our hotel called Thai Akha Cooking School that looked interesting because we would get to experience going to a Thai market to buy ingredients before cooking a variety of dishes. It was only around 10 minutes or so to walk to the school, and after the other participants arrived, we went to a local Thai market. Our instructor showed us various different food dishes and ingredients that are important to Thai cooking. I noticed that many of these ingredients were familiar to me, as my mom grew up in Thailand and cooks Thai food fairly often. Additionally, Indonesian cuisine also uses similar ingredients. The entire cooking experience was nicely planned out by the cooking school, despite there being 10 different dishes to cook. We also learnt that the Akha in the name of the school refers to a particular hill tribe, which has their own cooking style that differs from traditional Thai dishes. This day was far less challenging than our trek, but more creative and interesting. The environment we were working in was friendly and inviting, and the situation 

was a very dynamic and animated one. I wouldn’t say there were any downsides to the cooking class, other than the fact that is was essentially outside, and therefore very warm, and the fact that we made 10 dishes and ate them all. I personally really enjoyed learning how to cook as I don’t cook very often, and I don’t often cook complex dishes such as some ofthe ones we made. It was an overall fun experience for everyone, and time passed very quickly through the “learning process”.

Kahaani: Show Week

I didn’t know that “Kahaani” meant “story” for the longest of times, but it truly lived up to its namesake.

From what I’ve come to learn about UWC, performances are intense and the amount of time that goes into preparing for the shows is far longer than anything I’ve done before. The week of Kahaani was very busy, with rehearsals until 8 or 9 pm for a few days. But, there was a large highlight to the preparations: people from Voice of World School For the Blind who are partnered with Kolkata GC came to UWC. We had an assembly and they presented to us how exactly the money and awareness that Kahaani brings is used, and they shared a humbling video of the goals that the school works towards. To actually see a physical manifestation of something that we dedicate our time and energy, there are very few words to describe that. I love the idea of actually seeing our efforts, because I think it became very easy to just think of Kahaani as another performance and event that the school has and forget exactly why we all dedicated ourselves to helping Kolkata GC. That was the most meaningful moment of the whole Kahaani experience to me, and made all the long rehearsals and other annoyances worth it. The people from Voice of World School also stayed the whole week to watch the performances, and I hope it brought them much pride and joy to see the amount of people that turned up.

Only since coming to UWC have I had such an immersion in a different culture, mostly due to the amount of different people from different ethnicities. Kahaani is only my second time doing Indian dancing, and it was so different from the first time. There is such a diversity in the styles of the dancings, costumes, and music that it is a constantly changing experience. Kahaani was still incredibly fun, there were so many people I knew in all the dances, and the show week was filled with so many fun memories. I hope to do Kahaani again next year, because it was only something to gain.

Dance Showcase: Show Week

Dance showcase was definitely challenging, perhaps not so much in the actual style of dancing itself, but in my own personal feelings about how everything was organized and how the week itself went. It was a busy week, with rehearsals and then the show itself all right on top of one another. I also had two tests that were supposed to occur that week, but that I ended up having to move to the next week. I’m not sure how I felt about that, because I personally feel that my academics are more important than my extracurricular, and that having to reschedule assignments because I wasn’t released to go home until 9 at night is a bit unfair. That is perhaps one of my main negative experiences about the show week, in that I felt there was a lack of clarify and order in what needed to be done, and that I had to be on the stage very last minute for the entire show.

However, Show Week was a true test of commitment and collaboration between everyone. My dance had to meet during some of the lunches to fine tune some aspects of our dance that we continued to struggle with, and we all put in time on the weekend before to meet and put together all the different components of the dance. There were some things that we had to change of the week of the show, but everyone relearnt the choreography and integrated it back into the dance. Everyone worked together and shared different resources for hair and makeup and costume, and there was overall a good relationship between all the dancers and the dance leaders. I know that it was difficult for some people in my dance who were in multiple other dances, as I myself was part of the transitions in the show and it was an added aspect, but I didn’t feel there was anyone who wasn’t committed to the dance.

Especially to my dance leaders, one of who had never choreographed or taught before, it turned out wonderfully. We kept to the theme, through our music and our dancing, and the end result was everything that we had spent the months working towards. And while this week was exhausting, there is exhilaration in dancing in a group, when you’re on the stage and the music and lighting is as it is supposed to be, mistakes don’t change that feeling of pride.


Science Fair: Finishing and Displaying the Project

I feel like it’s really important to reflect on more than just things that you enjoyed from, but to reflect on different activities or experiences that you were not necessarily comfortable with or enjoyed. I would say one of the experiences that I continued doing but wasn’t completely invested in was the Science Fair. Which is not to say that I am disinterested in science in any way, but I realized that the idea of our research project wasn’t completely something I was passionate about, and it wasn’t something that the rest of my group members were passionate about.

I did of course continue until the end, because I felt obligated to finish what I had started, and I didn’t want to let my group down by not completely any research at all. I would say this was more perseverance for me than many other activities, because there is usually more of a desire to persevere with an activity you really love. That’s why this experience for me was one where I really did persevere, because I forced myself to follow through with the plans we made and the research question we originally set out, and I did learn along the way. While personally fungal infections were not the highest on my list of things I find fascinating to read about at home, I did end up writing and editing the majority of the report. In the end, I’m rather proud of my personal achievement with this, because I spent a lot of time researching the different aspects of fungal infections and different drugs that can be used to treat fungal infections, and I worked with another group member to get all the information finished on time. I’m quite happy that her and I were able to pull it together.

Link to the Full Report