Premier’s One World Scholarship: Jessica Lau

The Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society, in partnership with the Victoria Foundation, hosts a suite of international scholarships designed to support students from BC in studying abroad.

The One World International Scholarships, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, are available for students at BC public post secondary institutions who are studying or working abroad.

We received this wonderful report from Jessica Lau, recipient of the Premier’s International Scholarship and a student at Capilano University in Vancouver.

Please visit the Irving K. Barber BC Scholarship Society’s website for more information about the One World International Scholarships.

As a business student with more than ten years of work experience, I can see and understand how the business world is becoming more and more globalized. In fact, not only is the business world but also the world itself has become more globalized. Everyone is connected in one way or another; it could be through purchasing something made from a country across the World, having a relative living across the Ocean, watching a movie filmed in a country you’ve never heard of or talking to a friend you met through the Internet. We are all connected.

When I was a little girl, I heard about this Chinese proverb, which says, “Xíng qi?nl? lù shèng dú wàn ju?n sh?,” which means, “walking 1,000 miles beats reading 10,000 scrolls/books.” I knew the meaning and accepted it but I never really truly understood it. Then when I got older, gotten different overseas experience and exposed to diverse cultures in different countries, I started to gain a much better understanding of this proverb. That was when I discovered that it is one thing to read and learn about a culture from a textbook but another thing to experience it myself. I believe that to truly understand a culture, the person must live there and be embedded in the culture him/herself.

With the help of the Premier’s One World Scholarship, in September 2011, I took the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Amiens, France. That was one of the most amazing experience I have ever had. It opened up my eyes to a different perspective, understanding, and appreciation for life and the world. I learned so much about others, the World and myself.

Jessica Lau flatmates

I went to study in Amiens and was arranged to live with other girls that were also on a study abroad program. My flatmates included two girls; one is from Czech Republic and another is from Russia. We shared one toilet, bathroom, kitchen and living room; I have never lived in a place where there’s only one toilet and bathroom nor live with anyone else but my family so I knew it would be an interesting learning experience. Living with the two girls allowed me to be more observant and read people’s body languages more effectively because I knew different cultures have different ways of expressing their thoughts and feelings. For example, through my experience hugging my Czech flatmate, I could sense that she felt uncomfortable. After awhile, when we got to know each other a lot more and were more open to expressing our feelings, she told me that she was a little bit more reserved in expressing her feelings in the beginning. She told me that people from Czech Republic are more reserved in expressing their feelings and less tactile until they get the chance to know the other person. Also, the experience living with my flatmates made simple tasks such as dish washing, cleaning and kitchen arrangement became a great learning experience. I didn’t even think there could be so many different ways of doing dishes.

When I was studying in Amiens, the school was scheduled in a way where I get to take different modules each week and the modules are 3 days per week. Just going to school with this system was a great learning experience. In the beginning, I resented the system because I couldn’t imagine how it was possible to learn, complete the projects, prepare the presentations and write an exam within such a short timeframe. But then afterwards, I completely accepted the system and find it very interesting. It was through this system that I have learned more about life and myself. In fact, now I’m having a hard time adjusting back to the system at my Canadian school.

Jessica Lau Europe

And due to this schedule system in Amiens, I was able to travel to different countries and cities on four days weekends. Before I traveled to all the places in Europe, my friends have already told me how beautiful Europe is. But the truth is none of their words really expressed the beauty Europe and the World possess. I was not prepared for the beauty of the countries; it was mesmerizing and breathtaking. I travelled to more than 10 countries within the four months I was in Europe. Through the travelling, I met some very nice people who shared the history and culture with me. These stories along with their kindness are not something I can learn from a book, they are things people need to experience him/herself to understand it.

It was also very interesting to see and experience how different parts of the world view things differently. For example, living in Vancouver, we are used to the diversity of ethnicity. We are expose to Chinese-Canadians, Indian-Canadians, African-Canadians and other nationalities so no one is ever surprise nor ask further when I say I am “Chinese-Canadian.” But when I was in Europe, I encountered a number of individuals who would ask me “Where are you from?” And when I respond “Canada, I am Canadian,” there were quite a number of times when people would look puzzled and other times when people would respond “No, you are not. Don’t lie.” And even when I defend myself and tell them I am Canadian, they still seem annoyed with my response. After awhile, I understood why. Some just did not believe that I was Canadian since I was obviously Chinese and other times, people were wanting to ask about my parents nationality and hearing “Canadian” was not what they expected nor satisfying to them. But in Vancouver, that answer would be sufficient.

Another interesting thing I discovered is the different perspective on the categorization of “students.” I am a mature student; someone who is over 25 years old but being a student at my age has never been an issue for me. I get the same treatments and incentives as any other students, as long as I have my student card. In Vancouver, I have never felt that the school, classmates and society treated me differently due to my age. In Europe, the case is a little different. For example, I am not eligible for the 12-25 card, which is a travel discount card students, can buy but when you are over 25 years old, you are not consider as a student. The same thing happened with opening up a bank account; I would not be eligible for the same offer and account type as other students because I was over 25 years old. Sometimes, it gets a little awkward and embarrassing because other students will get special treatments and I would be the only one out of my group of classmates that do something different. I have never given much thought as to the World’s perspective on categorization of students and when I talked to my European friends about this, they explained and given me a different perspective I have never thought of. I am just lucky to be living in Canada, because I never feel discriminated or excluded as a student because of my age. I am very proud and grateful to live in a country where I am encouraged to keep learning and not get separated for being “older.” I think this experience has further encouraged me to set up programs to embrace people’s differences, not discriminate and label people.

I have always been a perfectionist, fast-paced and a “go, go, go” type of person who would skip sleep, miss out on having fun and forget to relax and smell the flowers as I go through my journey. When I lived in France, I slowly changed. Some of these changes happen so gradually that I did not even realize them until they became a part of me. I learned that it is important to try your best but to get 100% may be impossible. Life is about balance; sometimes in life, good enough is enough. Things cannot and do not need to be 100% because there are a lot of uncontrollable restrictions in life. Now that I am back to Vancouver, I still try my best in school but I learned that it is important to have a balance with the journey as well.

Jessica Lau Eiffel Tower

The experience I had, things I learned will forever be a part of me. I have made some really good friends, built some amazing friendships and shared countless unforgettable memories, which I will cherish forever. I broadened my knowledge and horizon of the World. Words just can’t express the study abroad experience and I know the experiences will be different for everyone but no matter how the experiences differ, they will all be amazing, impactful and memorable. One must experience study abroad him/herself to truly understand it.

There is a Chinese idiom from the story of “Frog in the Well” and to avoid being that frog in the well, one must travel, embrace and learn from different cultures. I believe people are different and unique in their own ways and so much can be learned from these differences. I hope I will be able to use what I learned to achieve my career goal in helping to increase the understanding and appreciation of diversity and in aiding people to embrace diversity and empower people with different cultural backgrounds. I would have never been able to gain so much from a four months period without the generosity of the Victoria Foundation and The Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship Society; thank you for assisting me in connecting with the world and supporting me in my journey!