Our ongoing We are Wellington series shares our community’s memories, thoughts and experiences of life at Wellington. Daniel Ang is one of our latest class of Old Wellingtonians, who is preparing for his post-Wellington life as university beckons.
I actually started my time at Wellington when the College itself was just getting started. I arrived six years ago, along with just 27 other people in my year group, to settle into our brand-new school. Before then, I had been educated in the Chinese public school system, but my mother felt that I should have an education that would truly broaden my horizons. That’s why we chose an international school where the wider differences of backgrounds, experiences and, ultimately opinions would allow me to see just what was out there.
I don’t mind admitting that, at first, being at Wellington was quite a struggle. This mostly stemmed from the fact that my English wasn’t great, and I could barely understand what the teachers were saying in most classes. Mercifully, I immediately found everyone around me to be really supportive – from teachers to classmates. I settled in with my friendships and within six months I think I felt fully settled at Wellington.
Overall, life at Wellington involved a lot of changes from my previous life in Chinese public schools. Rather than a practically unbroken day of study, I found the wide range of other pursuits, from house competitions to CCAs and pupil-led projects, to be immensely refreshing. What was most eye-opening for me was how many of these activities depended on us pupils to take the lead and give it our all, rather than be led by the hand. Exploring the arts, sports and other interests was a little bit overwhelming at first but that feeling quickly subsided. One major influence for me early on during my time here was joining the samba band with my friends. It was great fun, and we even performed on the field to the whole community during a festival, which was a new experience for me.
Samba turned out to not quite be my thing in the end, and I soon switched my efforts more towards positions of leadership. This change was important in of itself, Wellington allows you to grow and change, to pursue new interests easily.
New roles, new challenges
When I first arrived, I wasn’t capable of expressing my views and ideas in an articulate manner. Still, teachers like Mr Shaw, my first housemaster, and Ms Hawkins, were very supportive and encouraged me to apply for leadership roles despite my initial shyness and quiet manner. As my confidence grew, so did my desire to take on more ambitious roles. In year 11 I applied for Head of House of The Stanley, which I was chosen for. That year I loved helping people out, organising events and generally listening to the voices of my peers and being a positive conduit for their ideas.
I applied for the same role in year 12, but then got more into my supportive role of helping younger pupils to become future leaders themselves, as deputy head of The Stanley and then later that year as Deputy Head of College. Overall, I would say that my most meaningful role was being Head of The Stanley. It was my first time in a leadership position and I discovered that being a leader is quite different from what I imagined it would be. To me, the essence of the role is to be a facilitator for the needs and wants of the people you are trying to lead. While you need to come up with your own ideas sometimes, it’s more about finding out exactly what people are thinking and feeling by listening to them, and then working with them to come up with solutions and plans that best represent them. This has been an important learning curve for me, and I believe that it has made me more independent, a better organiser and a more empathetic and understanding person.
I think this experience also led me to another formative experience: my IB Fellowship project. Alongside my friend and fellow sixth former, Katia, I went to Cambodia to take part in a microfinance project with an NGO called Projects Abroad.
Applying lessons in life outside of school
The project Katia and I planned was to join the NGO in their efforts to provide relatively small loans (typically around US$200) to people living in disadvantaged parts of the Cambodian capital, Phenom Penh, so they could start a business. Before going to Cambodia, Katia and I organised a fundraiser at the Summer Festival, running a stall for making DIY bags. We raised 3000 RMB, which we used to buy supporting materials for the loan beneficiaries in Cambodia.
The entire experience was eye-opener. Growing up in such a privileged environment means you are not fully prepared to see the first-hand effects of genuine poverty. Seeing families struggling to maintain basic necessities and lacking very small amounts of additional money to start their proposed business venture made me realise the importance of acknowledging the imbalance and trying to do something about it.
The reason I think this kind of work is vital is that we weren’t just giving out money; we helped the successful loan applicants create business plans, conduct basic accounting, learn how to self-market, and to prepare the groundwork for expansion and upscaling. We were trying to give people the money to get the business up and running, and the intellectual tools to sustain and grow it. With these things, even a loan of 200 US dollars becomes a lifechanging amount.
Looking to the next step
I have been lucky enough to secure a place at New York University, where I will study media, culture and communication. I feel like this is a growth area that I really want to explore because if I’ve learned anything from my time in positions of leadership, it is that words matter. I was also responsible for the Chinese language pupil-led magazine here at Wellington as its editor-in-chief, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
When I think about the transition to university life, I’m happy to say that my first feeling is one of excitement, not anxiety. Even though the shadow of COVID-19 is large and I don’t know exactly when I will get to go to New York, I feel like I’m ready to take on any culture shock when I do get there, thanks to my time here! I am looking forward to the new challenges, friends and avenues of learning. Most of all, I am looking forward to exploring what I’m capable of.
I will, however, miss my Wellington life. Six years is a long time, and the people I have met and spent this time with are very important to me. My teachers and friends have always made me feel like I can do whatever I set out to do. They have helped me realise that I can plan effectively, study hard, organise events and projects I care about, and express my opinions – these are all qualities that I’m confident I have now. This is the best form of preparation, not just for university but for adult life itself.
I am very grateful for the bonds I have made with my ‘Wellington family’, which started out very small and has grown each year. It’s reassuring to know that I can stay connected to them wherever I go.
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