Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Smallest of Variables

Recently, I received the results my national examinations (O LEVELS, JYEAHHH). Interestingly enough, days, hours and even minutes before the moment my certificate was passed to me, I was completely relaxed. "What's done is done, no use crying over spilt milk" these were the words I kept telling myself over and over again. But when D-Moment arrived, that mantra was put to the test. As I saw my classmates cheering in ecstasy due to their good results, the fear began to creep over silently. When I walked up to my form teacher to receive my certificate, he looked right in the eyes and asked me "What were you aiming for exactly?"
                          
At that point in time I was ready to snatch that certificate from him but I managed a weak reply, "Under 10, Sir." His face darkened immediately and that's when I knew, that was not what I achieved. When he passed me that fated piece of paper and I looked at my results, my world came crashing down. I won't mention my results here, but let's just say there were some extreme results on opposite poles and overall, my performance was below my school's average by 0.2 points. I quickly thanked my teacher and, while evading all forms of questions from parents, teachers and students alike, escaped to my old classroom to reflect on my results. Now, though not meaning to show off, I have always been touted by many people in the school as "the all-rounded guy". Be it sports, academics, student leadership and the arts I would always give it my all and stand out amongst my peers. I had many friends in my school and was allegedly "looked up to as a role model" by many. But my results simply didn't reflect that. As I sat in the empty classroom, I called my mother to seek solace. When I told her about my results, she proceeded to identify my faults. Here they are:

1. In my final year, I willingly involved myself in multiple major school events despite O Levels looming around the corner. A normal Secondary 4 student (Year 10 in Indo) would have settled down and began their O Levels(which began on October 24 2011) preparations by April. I on the other hand, due to my multiple commitments, only began preparations in August, round 2 months before my exams to cram in 4 years of education. Impossible? No. But very, very, very difficult. This also left me less settled/"in da zone" than most to face O Levels.

2. I, admittedly, underestimated O Levels. My school's standard is higher than the national average and this "comfort zone" so to speak rubs off on the students (myself included) such that we think O Levels isn't as hard as the adults tell us. This kind of mentality stunts our performance and can cause us to panic when we come across difficult questions in the papers (fortunately, this didn't happen to me but it did to many of my friends). This also caused me to scoff at the moderation system of O Levels (those interested to know more ‘bout this, contact me or Google it) and caused me to think I'm safe, always.

3. A few days before O Levels, I had a really bad argument with my father. We never had a spectacular relationship and I tend to defy or argue with him more than I do with my mother. This argument lasted throughout the exams and the emotional "baggage" that came with it subconsciously took a toll on my mind, heart and soul. This in turn made me unfocused from the main objective.

So, after this looong lecture, the guilt and sadness silently poured out from me. Hahahaha, it was also the first time I cried since August 2010 (AYC guys...my secret is out D:) Because of these minor things, I failed to achieve my main goal. The important thing from this long-ass fable that I wish for any reader to take away is that you must not ignore the small things in your great gigantic plan.  A variable, no matter how small, is still a variable. Screw one too many, the others will not be as strong (THEY WILL NOT COME TUMBLING DOWN INSTANTLY, SO IT'S OKAY TO MAKE ONE OR TWO). It's also vital that you enjoy the small things in life so as to value it thoroughly, a similar (but not congruent :D) concept to the one above. And all in all, when shit happens in life, take a step back to analyze what went wrong so as to learn and move on without guilt :)
                                 
What happened afterwards... I'll tell you guys another time. Before February, promise! But until then, farewell! J

-Ezra Taliv Mo [Singapore]

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Empowered Through Science


It's surprising how using the scientific method can change your outlook on life and the career you wish to have. It's also astounding the connections you can make, and the amazing people you can meet and continue to stay in contact with.

I was assigned to participate in science fair on my school level; little did I know my engineering project would take me to Houston, Texas where I would be competing against international projects at the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering, Environment, Project Olympiad (I-SWEEEP).

My engineering project focused on light pollution. Light pollution occurs when the light is shining up into the sky, as well as on the ground. There are several environmental issues surrounding light pollution.  Light pollution affects bird migration and the growth of flora and fauna. Light pollution also wastes valuable energy that could have been used to direct light in a conservative way.

To fix this problem, I engineered nine unique light shades to direct all light downwards. I tested each of these light shades with three different types of light bulbs; fluorescent, incandescent, and LED.  The best design was the ninth light shade. This design was a rectangular prism with asymmetrical flaps.  When the LED bulb was put inside, the design gave off the least amount of light pollution, lit the intended area, and illuminated the area consistently.

I have always wanted to travel outside of the United States, and interact with other cultures. I-SWEEEP gave me this opportunity. At I-SWEEEP not only was I able to interact with the most creative international scientists, but I also made friends who I am able to stay in contact with using social networks.
 
At I-SWEEEP, 70 countries across six continents were represented. From these countries, 601 students competed against 440 energy, engineering, and environment related science projects.

There were so many things I loved about being at I-SWEEEP; I loved the down time, judging, and the award ceremony. All the contestants and their guardians stayed at the luxurious Hyatt Regency-Downtown Houston hotel. The great part of all being in the same hotel was the opportunity to interact with the many nationalities through talking, playing games in the lobby, or even competing in the nightly water-polo game in the swimming pool. 

I-SWEEEP provided field trips to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the NASA Space Center of Houston. At the museum, we explored and watched a 3D IMAX movie. While attending the Space Center, we learned everything from the Space Program to what astronauts eat in space.  We were even given free time. My group from Utah chose to use this time to explore Downtown Houston. 

Judging was my favorite part by far; the row I was on was considered the "party row." Between our judging, we congregated in the center of the row and had fun talking about everything from our projects to planning a trip where we could all visit each other's states and countries. Our row was made up of students from Portugal, Indonesia, Brazil, Jordan, Hong Kong, and the USA. The other great thing about talking with each other was we were able to understand and accept differences between our cultures and countries. 

When I first arrived at I-SWEEEP, I thought I understood the pressure the international participants must have been feeling. They would be flying for many hours across the globe to Houston, Texas.  Most of the international participants didn’t speak English as a first language, and some had never been in the United States before.

My new international friends informed me of the extensive process they underwent to attend I-SWEEEP. Their countries had spent so much money to allow them the opportunity to share their ideas and projects with some of the young brilliant minds of the world. Not only were these students competing to receive an award, but they were also competing for the honor of their home country. I was humbled by the continuous hard work and pressure of my friends. I truly hoped they would be rewarded for their persistence, even if I didn’t place.

The award ceremony was amazing. There were many generous foundations and colleges who sponsored the award ceremony. They awarded everything from scholarships to laptops. The most exceptional part of the award ceremony was seeing my friends (representing their states and countries) from “The Party Row” receiving placement awards. The prolonged enthusiasm and support given by all the contestants was an exhilarating feeling. The finishing touch was when all the contestants from Utah placed in the energy, engineering, and environment topics.

I didn't want to leave Houston, and all the new friends I made (we figured we might be able to go on that trip to all our countries when we were successful, wealthy scientists), but we all hoped to be able to attend next year’s I-SWEEEP.

Although I-SWEEEP was May of 2011, I still stay in close contact with my friends from I-SWEEEP; mainly my dedicated and benevolent friend from Indonesia. 

Not only have I stayed in contact with my amazing friends long after I-SWEEEP, but I also knew what I wanted to pursue as a career.  I want to be a Chemical engineer who not only participates in a fun “everlasting science fair,” but who also is working to help the world through scientific discoveries.

Amber Barron [USA]

Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Best of Role Models

My English teacher has this blog called 'Express Your Opinions!" where, well, the name says it all (see for yourself here). One of the questions thrown at us was "Who are your role models?" When I read the comments that came before me, Parents and Teachers seemed to be the most common answers. Yes it is undeniable that they are role models. However, for me, the biggest role models in my life don't fall under any of those two categories. The people on this earth who are my biggest role models have changed my life indirectly but in a very adversely positive way.

A role model to me is someone who I know inside-out, or at least know quite well. Thus, people like Oprah Winfrey and Bruno Mars, famous people, though are great people, don't qualify as a role model of mine. There is a simple reason behind that. Who knows what they are really like? I've experienced this first hand. I looked up to someone for such a long time just because of the reputation that he had and just because everyone talked good about him all the time, even though I didn't really know him well. Then, one day, I did get to know him, and got to know more and more about him, only to realised that I had been fooled by "The Cover". I'm not saying that a role model needs to be like a best friend who does everything with me and tells me literally every detail there is to know about him. What I'm saying is that a role model must be someone who has been able to convince me that they are admirable inside and out. The whole point of this is so that I truly learn the process behind what we see. There is no hidden conspiracy behind a person. Imagine admiring a great athlete who claims that he trains for 8 hours a day but what you didn't know was that really he's just taking steroids or whatever other drugs and just so happens to be really good at getting away with it. To see someone go from zero to hero with your very own eyes is just most ideal and convincing. This can only mean one thing, my role models are people who I know personally.

I truly do look up to my parents but the thing is, I just can't really compare them to myself well enough. I did not live to see them being my age. Circumstances were and still are different for us. Even though they do inspire me, the inspiration is not the strongest. In order for inspiration to really hit me at its strongest, it needs to be so applicable to me that I am genuinely inspired. In my opinion, the best role models I can have are those who are younger than me or at least the same age.

Every one looks up at all the "tall" adults around but does anyone ever "look down"? I'm sure that we are no stranger to the line of poetry "If you can do it, so can I!" Well, to better illustrate the point I'm about to make with a very extreme example, if my 40-year-old father can earn a million dollars an hour in the year 2011, can I, a teenager, with school and everything, earn a million dollars and hour in the year 2011? Most probably not. Impossible I guess, unless my father gives me his company or something. Maybe yes in the future, but who knows what the circumstances of our world will be like in 2050 when I'm 45 or even in 2012. However, if my classmate can get full marks on last week's Biology chapter test, can I get full marks on next week's Biology chapter test? If my younger brother is able cook dinner for the whole family one night, might I be able to cook dinner for the whole family the next?

I used to think that there was absolutely no way a Junior High student could win science fairs. In Indonesia, this was one industry conquered by the Senior Highs. Then, I had just terminated my science project and deemed it hopeless when two classmates, Becky and Owen, called to tell me that they won the national science fair and have been chosen to represent Indonesia in the international competition in Brazil! If Becky and Owen had never earned that ticket to Brazil (even though they didn't place in competition in Brazil), I wouldn't have even won the science fair the following year, let alone earned my ticket to Houston. They really have become role models in my life. Furthermore, they had the heart to help me with my project. They shared with me what they had learnt from their experience, allowing me to learn from their mistakes and repeat their right-doings. They were able to make me better than themselves. They lead me to a Bronze medal. In turn, they have really become my heroes.

I find much inspiration from my peers and from my Juniors. It amazes me sometimes to see a kid years younger than me obtain such amazing achievements. Whenever I do, I begin to ask myself "What was I doing when I was his age?"

I take the effort to tell all my role models how they affect me. I feel that they deserve to and need to know for their better. You don't have to look far and wide or up and high to find your role models. They may not even be the best ones. Heroes are all round us, and sometimes, you just have to look, well, down!

Yudhi Bunjamin [Indonesia]

Saturday, 10 December 2011

All It Comes Down To

I walked into the auditorium of Erasmus Huis and stared at the tiny stage. It was all what it came down to.

***

It was not one bit easy for me to make it to that point. It wasn't easy for all of us. Though we had done it before, there was a lot of apprehension over the fact that we could not do it again. People doubted us, and it made a lot of sense. It looked to be falling apart and dwindling to the ground. It was falling apart and dwindling to the ground. However, there was no turning back. We had no choice. Somehow, we had to make it work. Somehow.

Upon my return to Raffles PSB Singapore School, I was already given a job. Who would think that a returning student who had not even sat for his first class would have already been appointed as Director for the school's upcoming Christmas production? I had rejoined the school just in time for their second production of 'Dr Susses' How The Grinch Stole Christmas'. It seemed absurd that of all plays, we had to do this one. Why couldn't we just do a play with perfectly human characters? What seemed even more absurd was that we were doing this with a school of practically 200 people, that figure inclusive of all students, teachers and non-teaching staff from all levels. Then again, we had done it before. 

We staged a production of 'The Wizard of Oz' literally in 15 days. 15 days of sleepless nights and continuous rehearsals was what it took to stage, despite circumstances, a spectacular show. What I learnt from the last production's experience just before I left the school about two years ago was the true meaning of the line of poetry "when there is a will, there is a way." So, with that said, I guessed that that time should have been no different. I know how to have a will and thus, there is a way. This thing was going to happen, one way or another.

So, there was no turning back and we had to make it work somehow. When there is a will, there is a way. Yet, at the half way point, just under two months into the process of rehearsals, we deemed it true that it was not going to work and there was no way. It was a project deemed hopeless.

At one point, I turned to Ms Diana, the teacher who was my fellow Director, and told her that I could take it no more. I kept asking myself why I was doing it all in the first place. Then again, it was, and still is, my love for the school that kept me going. I had to repay what the school had done for me and my future with more than just tuition fees. I have to show them in my short three-month return not only what I had learnt in the previous school but also how all that I had learnt in my first four years in PSB has helped greatly.

I decided to step up and fulfil my duty to simply make it happen. On top of that, I decided that I would make sure it happened with quality that I am proud of. It's not that someone came to me and motivated me to not quit. I really did want to end it all. I wasn't getting paid to direct the production and it all only seemed not worth the time and sacrifices. But somehow, I couldn't leave. I just could not help but finish what I stated. I didn't want it to haunt me for the rest of my life. On top of it all, I didn't want to disappoint everyone. It was just much easier to move on than to quit.

***


So the day came. It was really happening. Three buses of performers pulled over. The students skipped up the flight of stairs to the second floor and took their seats in the auditorium based on their performing groups. Their smiles shined so brightly and their laughter filled the air with glee. Their emotional state was contrary to mine that was filled with fear and anxiety.

The day had just started and things were already off to a rough start. The show was scheduled to start at three and the time was already nine. The usually heavy traffic of Jakarta's morning rush hour caused the buses to be late. Tardiness was not a common problem in our school and we had not expected it to ruin our day's plans. Almost the entire cast raised their hands when asked who needed to go to the toilet when the toilet could only accommodate so many people at one time. The children were very hungry and a time had not been found to allow them to eat the countless boxes of food the parents had generously provided for us. Major props had yet to arrive. The boy who was supposed to play Max the Grinch's dog was still at home trying to recover from a fever that just seemed to get higher and higher. Worst of all, a dry run had yet to be done with the entire cast on the actual stage for the first and last time.

It was unimaginable. The tension was way too tense. Disaster had already lurked at my heels. I looked around and saw what my pessimistic mind envisioned. Everything was just not right. Then, as things got worse, so did the stress of it all. People were screaming and scolding each other over problems that were not even clear. Innocent little kids came up to me to ask appropriate and well educated questions only to get scolded by me because I didn't have the time to spare the few seconds needed to appreciate and understand. I would scream in their faces saying things like "Don't come to me for these kind of petty things!" or "Not now, I don't have the time for you. Figure it out yourself or ask Mr X or Ms Y." I would yell in their faces and leave them just like that. Even if deep down inside I wanted to help, I just could not. I had far more major and disastrous matters to worry about. In the rapid race against time, we probably weren't thinking when we were working. We were running around like headless chickens. One teacher asks a boy to go to the make-up room to get his make-up done before wearing his costume and on his way to the make-up room, the boy bumps into another teacher telling him to do the exact opposite. Imagine the confusion this nine-year-old boy is faced with. Imagine the chaos and disorder caught in all the drama and desperation.

However, one thing still surprises me to this day. I can scold a PSB, I can starve a PSB in the name of lunchtime one-on-one script reading, and I can even scream vulgarities in the face of a PSB, and yet, they still appreciate me. They still respect me whole hearted and hold no grudge on me. They understand me and can read my true intentions that are hidden way deep down inside and they read that it is good. I don't get a group of people like this to work with in any other institution and for that, it is one quality of a PSB that I truly do admire and appreciate.

***


In the rush of it all, somehow, we come to a stage where everything was ready. Everyone miraculously appears in the back stage holding room all properly seated based on their performing groups and all neatly dressed and made up. All eyes are on the two directors standing in the middle of the room and absolute silence is heard for the very first time that day. It was a moment that was the anomaly that day. The moment was an opportunity to finally catch my breath after hours of mayhem. We gave our final instructions and composed ourselves into prayer which, compared to the rest of the day, was a moment of great peace and tranquillity.

Then, it was show time!

As every line was uttered, I followed my script that was scribbled with instructions all over it. The play progressed line by line and as each line was recited, I thought of how many times that line had been rehearsed. Writing each line of the script was a painstaking process. Some lines were the results of hours and hours of careful consideration and thought. I pondered over certain phrases over my weekend, thinking of how to make this short phrase rhyme and fit just right. It takes hours for the line "The best who of the year will be given the once-in-a-year honour to light up the Who Christmas Tree" to develop into "The best Who of every year, will be honoured to light up to tree with holiday cheer!" just to make it rhyme. Then, it takes rounds and rounds of rehearsals and one-on-one script reading to perfect that one line. A lot goes behind one line. A lot of hard work and attention to detail goes behind making that three-second moment just a little more special. All the countless hours of preparation came down to only 120 minutes of each our lives.

When the intermission finally came about, I had the chance to mingle with the audience. To see smiles on people's faces and to hear positive reviews on what had been showcased up to that point finally gave me a sense of comfort and relief. It warmed the heart. However, what was even more touching was just seeing who was there. Everyone's family was there. The Grinch's grandmother who was in a wheelchair took the effort to see her grandson perform. Down to those who worked off stage, be it the props people or even the ushers, their parents were all present to support us, along with the extended family. Former teachers, alumni and down to the spouses of the teachers all came. It was the entire family of the school. Everyone was involved in one way or another, and that is what makes it so special and rewarding.

I leave the school with an experience like none other, feeling proud to have be, and still be, a PSB.

Yudhi Bunjamin [Indonesia]

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The End of The Road: Novo Hamburgo

Novo Hamburgo... I'll never forget whatever happened there...

Novo Hamburgo is a small suburb near the city of Porto Alegre. It's such a small city with barely anything except shoes; which is what the suburb is famous for.

Because I left early for a 3-day holiday in Rio de Janeiro, I only met up with Mr. Didi and Owen on the 16th of November in Porto Alegre's airport. They had a flight delay from Sao Paulo, so they only arrived in the evening. And it was already night time when we reached Green Park Hotel in Novo Hamburgo. After going out for dinner, we called it a day.

We spent the next day touring the city of Porto Alegre by hiring a driver that was available at the hotel. We went to several different places such as the building that was previously used for an electricity power source, the mall (which is a must for every traveller that wants to see everything), the science center, an art museum (which was really amazing, by the way), the church (to ask for guidance). That evening, we went to Carrefour to store up our daily needs, such as snackscause I get hungry often, water, and some other stuff. We had dinner after, and had a good night sleep.

When I woke up the next day, it was already the big day. It wasn't the competition day yet, but it sure was the preparation day. Bringing the huge roll of posters, we walked towards the venue (since it was near). It was weird seeing our "competition" for the first time. Honestly, I didn't think of them as a competition at all. I just felt lost in the sea of high-schoolers and what looked like college students. They all looked 20 plus, and being the only 14-year-old there alongside Owen definitely felt awkward.

Ignoring the fact, we concentrated on decorating our booth. It was a bit different from the guidelines that we saw from the Internet, and after asking a few questions here and there (with the help of some interpreters that Mostratec provided), we managed to get a board which was supposed to be the place for us to post our posters. With the effort of all five of us (Mr Didi, Owen, his dad, my mom and I), we managed to put up the posters neatly. Putting our energy into the display for a few hours, we arranged the booth: from the posters to the provided items to display. We arranged the cables' placing so that our booth looks as neat as possible.

By the time we were finished, it was late afternoon already, and we saw the other groups getting ready because they arrived later than us. In my honest opinion, our booth looked really cool and it sure stood out from the others. I'm not trying to brag, but I'm just saying that we put a whole lot of effort into the display; from designing the posters, making the powerpoint presentation look right until finding the right toys to use as our display (and we finally ended up using Lego).
Mr. Didi gave us a quick review about the physics concepts that we used for our project, and all of our hearts were filled with excitement; we couldn't wait for the actual showtime tomorrow.

Tuesday was the public visit, Wednesday to Thursday were the judging days, and Friday was another public visit day. That was our brief schedule, so we relaxed on Tuesday, wearing our activity shirts and jeans. We had a little trouble presenting, though, since most of the visitors didn't know how to speak English. It was only then that we found out the competition allowed three languages: English, Spanish, and Portuguese. It was confusing, so we just showed them a brief animation of how our project worked. We didn't expect that we'd get a personal interpreter to stay at our stand all day long.

Surprisingly, our stand was really crowded; we didn't even do anything over the top. I mean, all you have to do is smiling, greeting people, having short conversation with them with your broken” Portuguese, but that's what kept them coming. Smile and greet. Simple stuff, really, but that made a really good impression on our booth.

During the times when the venue was quite deserted, we socialized and had some conversations either with our new friends across, beside, behind our booths, or talked to our interpreters and learned about the typical things in Brazil. We found out that Southern Brazil has a traditional drink called ChimarrĂ£o, that a president election was going to happen soon, that at that time, it was the end of spring, and yet it was still 20°C-23°C.

Following the rules that were explained during the first day, the booth was not to be empty. So we had to take turns having lunch, if not they would give us a strike. Four strikes, you would be disqualified. The rules were strict there, and it felt oddly good to be in such condition. It was different, and it was exciting at the same time.

The event didn't end at 9 P.M.—only the exhibition did. There was an opening event from 9 P.M. to 11 P.M., and Owen was the Indonesian representative. He wore his traditional clothes while bringing the Indonesian flag. It was quite a tiring day, and we had more days to come.
       
The "Environmental Management" section, which happened to be ours, had their judging day on Wednesday. The teachers nor the parents were allowed to be near us, and the hall was clear; only the contestants were there. When the judges came to our batik-dressed selves, we were pretty confident because they didn't ask a lot, and we had a peek at their copy of our project report; it all had the writings "OK!" on it. We were pretty happy with that reaction, but deep down, I kept asking to myself,: "That's it?" It just didn't make sense. It was an international competition where there are competitors from twenty-one different countries and that was all that happened. That was the climax, the part that everyone feared. And turns out what I worried about was true. That was it.

The next few days passed on just like that: smiling, greeting, explaining. My voice was really hoarse on Wednesday night. There was a Cultural Exchange, but I didn't speak much. I didn't talk much that night either. My voice was never powerful enough to go through more than half a day of talking, and I just thanked God at that time because the judging already passed, so I had nothing more to fear.

Thankfully, Thursday morning, my voice came back. Well, kind of.

I met a lot of people, several different interpreters. It was really interesting to see different types of people all interested in science: from students who had to go around for their school assignment, to goth pairings going around the competition hall for a date, but they were all interested in science.

The simple conversation in Portuguese I had with the civilians were never different.

"Hey."

"Hey." After meeting several people, I found out that it was okay to greet people with a "Hey,".

"Do you speak English?"

"No. You speak Portuguese?"

"No," with a slight smile.

The conversation was that simple, and I had that exact same conversation with all different people. Believe me, that simple conversation was enough to get their attention to our booth for a few seconds, to pay attention to our project, and make our booth crowded. The simplicity of our project seemed to be one of our attraction points as well.

We had souvenirs: small bookmarks that had batik imprints on them. People seemed to like them a lot, and they kept praising the beauty of those bookmarks, the batiks on our shirts, and the traditional outfits that we wore. I couldn't help thinking, “If foreigners are so happy to see our culture, why aren't we?

Thursday night, my voice was even hoarser than the day before. I thought it'd be gone by Friday, so I didn't worry about anything.

I was wrong, though. Friday morning, my voice dropped into a lower pitch. It was really hoarse, and I just spent my whole day drinking water and running to the bathroom over and over. I didn't bother to greet every single person anymore; I was too worn out. I was too tired because of the previous days, and my voice didn't want to cooperate anymore. I was just really thankful that it was the last day, but it was kind of sad, too. I never liked goodbyes, and this was just one goodbye I had to pass. Being with the same people for five days, you get to know them more, you know? Most of us exchanged e-mails and Facebook names, and promised to keep in touch with each other. We still are.

Saturday came, and the awarding ceremony only started at 8 PM. To kill time, we hired a driver to tour a little 'city' called Gromado. It was basically a small German village with lots of cute stuff to see, and we enjoyed our tour. Before we knew it, it was 4 PM already; just enough time to get back and walk to the venue for dinner, and the awarding ceremony afterwards.

Wearing our navy blue and red activity shirts, we stepped into the awarding ceremony feeling extremely nervous. I had a happy and relaxed look on my face, but I was really tense inside. My emotional reactions always came late, and this was just one of those days.

After several speeches, the awarding ceremony finally started. I was really tense as they called the winners one by one, starting from the fourth places, and going up gradually to the firsts (four awards for each section).

When the time came to announce the firsts, I crossed my fingers. It was such a tense moment, since it was either first or nothing. Just then, I saw my friend, a group two booths from mine, who exchanged a cheek-to-cheek with me earlier, step up to claim first place. Being the naive person I was, I was happy for my friend, till Owen's Dad said this:

"Hey, that group is from our section, right?"

That was when it hit me. I started crying, just like that, endless. All the time I spent working on the project, all the things I sacrificed, all the things I missed, all the people who counted on us, all the people who supported me, who wished me good luck with their smiling faces... Everything flashed into my mind and it was like a huge pang of guilt that you couldn't fight back. Tears kept flowing down my face as I hid myself behind my mom's shoulder. Everything was a blur afterwards; I didn't know what was going on anymore. My mom just told me that when I was crying, Owen was silent, and Mr. Didi kept eyeing me with a helpless look on his face, slumping into his chair himself. We knew we were only junior high schoolers against all those high school and/or college people, but we did it once during the national competition, why not international?

I was mad, honestly. The judges didn't even bother to ask us thoroughly through our knowledge. They should know that we only understand to a certain point, but that doesn't mean we don't master what we understand. I was frustrated why we didn't get the same chance the other groups got. It was annoying, but we couldn't do anything about it.

After a while, I started to calm down, and I went to the bathroom to wash my face. Lucky for me, my eyes weren't that swollen, so it was safe for me to come back into the ceremony room with a slight smile on my face.

Only five minutes after sitting down, our project name was called. Not knowing what it was for (the whole ceremony was conducted in Portuguese), we went up anyway. Clueless, I expected it was the 'best project from each country' award, as it was mentioned in the information book. My assumption was right; we won that award, Best Project from Indonesia. Well, we beat some high school students (the other Indonesian contestants). It was like winning ISPO (Indonesian Science Project Olympiad; the national competition that allowed us to be the Indonesian representative to Brazil) all the way in Brazil, but whatever.

After the ceremony, there was a party, where a DJ was there to play music for everyone to dance. Honestly, I was really looking forward to the party, to just release all that tension with my new friends, but I was too tired. I walked quietly back to the hotel with the others.

Sunday morning, we were all ready to head to Sao Paulo to spend our last day in Brazil. Sao Paulo is basically like Singapore, but it's a Portuguese version. It was nice touring the city, but all I wanted was to go home. Lucky for us, we left that night. Well, the next morning, to be exact. 1 AM on the 25th of October, Brazilian time (GMT - 2). Boarding the 22-hour-flight plane (with 3 hours of transit in between), I was ready to head back to my own country, hoping to get back to my normal life with some extra experience.

Felicia Rebecca Isjwara [Indonesia]

Becky and her research partner Owen Yunaputra Kosman represented Indonesia in the 2010 MOSTRATEC Competition in Novo Hamburgo, Brazil.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Maximum Excitement = Lumos Maxima!

It's amazing, really, what a group of kids can do when they come together. Even more so, when the results exceed all expectations. This year in 2011, Santa Laurensia came out again to host it's bi-annual event, the LAURENSIA CUP!

I feel slightly well, really guilty cuz I feel like I didn't contribute much to this cup, even though I had so much free time and wanted to help out, I just couldn't figure out how. I signed to be part of the public relations (Humas) division. My job is to announce the details of Laurensia Cup to other schools and hand out proposals for anyone willing to participate. It was a little touch and go at first, but we managed to at least fill up the minimum quota for the games.

What really sucked was that my tasks were focused up until Laurensia Cup started. Once it did, I became a mere spectator, even though I was given a "Crew" member shirt. It was like I was trying to find something to do, but everyone was already assigned to do this and that, and my offer fell on deaf ears. It also felt like I was imposing.

Enough of the ranting. Let's get on with the showcase!

The concept for this year's Laurensia Cup is pretty unique. We took on a outerspace galactic theme, naming it LUMOS MAXIMA! It stands for "Laurensians Unites in Diversity through Sports with Maximum Excitement". I love how every single detail is authentic and original. This really showed how damn creative Laurensia kids can be :)

The opening started on 5 Nov 2011, a Saturday. And I have to say, it was a bigger turn out than I expected. My dear mates, Kenny and Karina were MCs for the ceremony, and I'm proud to say they did a great job. There was a ceremonial cutting of a bouquet of balloons: red, yellow and blue floating up into the sky, a beautiful array of colors, all of them imprinted with the Lumos Maxima logo. We also saw the cheerleaders do their thang and even our local Tiger mascot shuffle :D

The match was a thrill to watch. Especially the girls' mini soccer! The Laurensia uniforms, I absolutely adoreee. Cute and spunky with it's combo of dark grey and pink, it stands out! They also played well, and ended up with first place! Basketball, was intense. Girls managed to get second, falling just a little by Pahoa, another school. A lot of people say that it's the girls golden age. The boy's were unable to grab victory this time around, but hey, that's okay! All in the spirit of sportmanship!

VOLLEYBALL! That was the most amazing sports to watch. So much on-the-edge-of-your-seat action. Only the high-schoolers had volleyball, and unfortunately the junior high didn't, mainly because we couldn't form a team in time. Like, I've said before, VOLLEY is something that is lighting my heart's fire, and hopefully I'll get better as I pursue this sport.

The bazaar and food available this time around, I think was more ranged. There was Chatime, Kebabs, a takoyaki stand, Hop Hop (those bubble drinks) and even Crepes. The merchandise the bazaar team came up was amazing, too. All the Lumos Maxima cups, Hand-clappers to cheer the teams, keychains and shirts were all well-designed.

The week went by in a flash. All of those preparations, and cutting classes in the afternoon to supervise the Cup and being given free time to watch the games. It was paradise, a whole week of going to school with minimum studying and maximum FUN! It was a little bittersweet to seeing it come to an end.

It's 12-11-11. A Saturday, a full week since the beginning of Lumos Maxima. There's this sense of things coming around full circle. The final rounds were played that morning, the winners made clear. And soon, 5.30 pm came, and the gym was starting to fill up with an eager audience. The decorations for the closing, were SUPERB. They gym was completely transformed into a out-of-this-world space ship. Outside of the entrace were a few food stands, and once you handed in your ticket and got a Lumos Maxima stamp on your hands, you went into this tunnel, that branched out to both sides.

If you followed the tunnel left, you would step inside the interior of a silver-lined spaceship. To you're right, you meet the brown-rocky terrain of a planet unknown. It was cool inside, the blast of the air-conditioners they put up on full-power. The walls of the gym inside were lined with dark cloth, representing the blackness of space. In the dance room over head, the windows overlooking the gym were covered with boards, lined with little lights that were shaped to form the writing 'Lumos Maxima'. Life-size models of the mascots, Terra, Myu, Kevin, etc. Screens were displayed on both sides, projections of images throughout the show to be seen by everyone.

The show started, and the curtains to the gym stage opened. A model of MAXIMUS, the Superior One, the top mascot hung from the ceiling, next to an astronaut and some twinkling stars. The back of the stage was covered in reflecting tin-foil, giving off a real futuristic vibe. The use of smoke machines, just blanketing the stage made me think we really were on another planet.

Most of the performances were from our own school. The cheerleaders were great, doing a much more daring routine than the opening (TIGERS! GO, FIGHT, WIN!), than the bands performing top hits. From "Do Re Mi", "Stereo Love", "Jetlag", "Mistletoe", "Pumped Up Kicks" to a medley of "Sunday Morning/Chasing Pavements", the musicians got the audience on their feet, grooving, jumping and singing along. The dance numbers were well-choreographed too.

My favorite performance was SPADE <3 From costumes, to the mixed-song, the choreography was on-point and just bursting with energy. Hope I'll get to see them peform again!

After the winner's announcement, then came the main event: WHITE SHOES AND THE COUPLES COMPANY! I did hear a few of their songs before I heard they were performing at Laurensia Cup, and they are amazing! Though I did notice that weren't well-known since their music sort of requires an acquired taste.

The night was drawing to a close. The MC asked the audience to step outside to the parking lot and look up. A series of crackling (slighty ear-splitting) fireworks flew up into the sky.

And just like that, a legendary night was over.

Even though Lumos Maxima is over, the excitement lives on!

Huge thanks and kudos to everyone who helped make this all come true.
Karin Novelia [Indonesia]

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Preacing What I Practice

I sat in front of the laptop that December night watching the live webcast of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. As I watched, I asked myself “What do you think Josh* is doing there?” I lost the writing competition to my best friend, making the difference between experiencing the atmosphere of the talks live on the scene in Copenhagen and having it flat on the laptop. I followed his blog posts on the conference very closely and it was through his writings that I learnt a priceless lesson.

I had flashbacks of the time I wrote my competition entry. Through the research I did, I learnt that I could do more to save the earth. Surely, I turn off the lights when I’m not in the room and I carpool to school. However, being in my youth, creativity and knowledge was my greatest asset. Doing research on climate change and innovating more environmentally-friendly products could not only help me in my quest to save the planet but also the efforts of the rest of the world!

I met up with Josh the following month. It was a good chance to ask him what he had learnt from Copenhagen. Knowing me for the past six years, he knew that I was all crazy about Youth Empowerment. With a hidden intention, he asked me “How old will you be in 2050?” That simple question is the name of a youth movement to combat climate change. The question reminds us that it is us, the youth of the world, and not the older generation that will be alive in 2050 when climate change takes its toll on the earth. He shared with me how huge the campaign was and how it all started with a student who was only 13. After that conversation, I realized something that had never crossed my mind.

Saving the earth, sure it starts from me, the little things I do to save a few watts of electricity and a few drops of fuel. But the question seldom asked it “Once I start, where does it go and where does it end?”

That conversation with Josh answered it all. It all starts with me, continues on with other people and it will never end. It’s about doing the little things that save the environment and inspiring others to do the same. They say that there are so many things that you can do to save the earth, but really, unless you invent some magical carbon-absorbing sponge or something like that, there are only so-many measures you can take. However, are you ever limited to the number of people you can motivate to do what you do? All it takes is to pass the message around that together, as a family of 5 billion people, in fact, 30 million species, do the little things that make a difference, like people are afraid of death because they want to live longer, there will be more generations to come.

You live your life to the fullest only if you make the world a better place. When we say “Saving the earth starts from me,” it means more than just the things we do ourselves. It refers to inspiring others to do the same, to have one common goal. It’s all about preaching what you practice and changing the world.

Yudhi Bunjamin [Indonesia]

*Names have been changed to maintain privacy

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Music for the Youthful Soul

Music for the Youthful Soul

Music is a universal language that everyone around the world can relate too. Even in it's different varieties and genres, we can all agree that there's something about the way our brain interprets all these soundwaves. Music can make us put aside our differences. It can even help us unite.

It can be psychologically and emotionally nourishing. When the world collapses in around you, music can turn out to be the only friend there for you, the only thing that can make you feel better.

And in this movement called 'Youth Empowerment' bumps are expected to be hit in the road. So, music, in any definition and form, is a great outlet. Not only to release our orginality and creativity, but also our stress and anxieties. Listening to a song can be empowering!

So here are a few of our favorite picks -- and the reason why their part of the perfect, Youth Empowerment playlist!

1. Jonas Brother's "Kids of the Future"
Featured in the animated movie, Disney's "Meet the Robinson", this Jo-Bro tune is a catchy song that completely captures the essence of what the Youth Empowerment movement is all about: the Youths of today being 'the Kids of the Future'. The generation of now, stepping up and shaping a better tomorrow.

2. Ryan Star's "So Ordinary"
A slightly mellow, piano-oriented song, the lyrics of 'So Ordinary' convey a strong message relatable to the modern present. We Youths need to break out. Break out of 'this modern day belief of not to try' and stop being 'so ordinary', in this apathic world.

3. John Lennon's "Blackbird"
I guess in a sense, we're all blackbirds. Small, just beginning to spread our wings. We're singing, but in the dead of night when no one can hear us, waiting. Waiting for the moment to arise, when we Youths can finally fly free.

4. Katy Perry's "Firework"
Upbeat, catchy and the perfect 'love-yourself' anthem, "Firework" sung by this California Gurl reminds us that we Youths have a spark in each and everyone of us. We're all individuals. We just need to ignite our light and shine! :)

5. Journey's "Don't Stop Believing"
Written by one of the most famous rock bands, the title is uplifting on its own. Being the 'signature song' of the hit series Glee!, a show that embraces 'different' and the spirit of the underdog, it'll have you keep your hopes up in living Youth Empowered!

6. Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"
Say hello to the "Queen of Self-Acceptance"! Lady Gaga who is known for being out there, different and well, her quirky, extravagantly dressed self, has once said that she wrote 'Born This Way' for her fans! So embrace it Youths! You were "Born This Way" and without a doubt, you're on the right track, baby! :)

7. Johnny Rzeznik's "I'm Still Here"
Being the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls, Johnny Rzeznik delivers a soft rock number with his raw, well-ranged voice. Featured in the Disney animation of "Treasure Planet" it captures the coming-of-age story of a young man's struggle to prove himself. And even if we Youths get knocked around, this song will leave you thinking, 'I'm still here'!

8. Wicked's “:Defying Gravity”
When we're young, it's easy to feel constricted. Caged, even, like our feet are always being pulled to the ground whenever we feel like flying. This song composed for the phenomenal Broadway musical, Wicked, is all about breaking barriers and taking chances, because we Youths are very capable of 'defying gravity'.

9. YOG's "Everyone"
In 2010, a historic, Youthful event happened. The first ever Youth Olympic Games was held in Singapore. To commemorate such and event, a theme song was written for YOG. Sung by different artists representing different continents of the world (Sean Kingston, Tabitha Nauser, Jody Williams, Jessica Mauboy, and Steve Appleton), this song reminds us that we Youths, plural, are in this together, trying to make this world a better place for everyone.

So there you have it. 9 amazing songs you can add to your iPod/MP3 player, listen to, and start the day feeling empowered! Enjoy!

Karin Novelia [Indonesia]