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Beeep. My mind begrudgingly detached itself from the safe nothingness of the subconscious, wondering, as any sane entity would, why it was waking up at 6:00 on a crisp Friday morning. A few confusing seconds later, as usual, I remembered: I needed this time for leisure reading. Relocating myself to the balcony, I opened The Art of War to page 89. “Know thyself, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories,” teaches Sun Tzu. As the first rays of the day slowly warmed Formosa, a disturbing thought struck me. How was I supposed to get through life’s thousand battles without knowing myself?
My life has always been a mélange of seemingly discordant interests; and at that moment, I was at a crossroads of different cultural identities. Thus, through the subtle chaos of self-discovery, I tried to make sense of my multiple facets by adhering to labels. I was the history zealot, the extrovert, the international student. Little did I know that by accepting these labels, I was rendering the other undefinable parts of myself null and void. However, recently I have begun to scratch the surface of the labels – tentatively, that is – and what I’m finding beneath is surprisingly empowering.
I have a profound passion for history and political science. The mere notion of exploring the triumphs, the suffering, and lessons we can learn from past generations induces in me a mixture of fascination and gratitude. Over this past summer, I devoured a book I have always wanted to read: Two Treatises on Government by John Locke. When I finished the magnum opus, I felt deeply enlightened by Locke’s political philosophies of contractualism and inalienable rights. Moreover, at school, I debate with my world history instructor on topics such as the inception of communism and whether veto power in the Security Council is justifiable. When complaints of AP U.S Government homework fill the classroom con fuoco, I stay quiet, engrossed in the teacher’s lesson about political efficacy in the era of Jacksonian democracy. However, deep down, I know there is more to me than the “history zealot” label. Science is also a persistent area of my interest and ability. Climate change in particular has helped me understand, through chemistry, the effects that individual actions can have over the rest of humanity. I once contemplated abandoning my interest in environmental science in order to focus solely on history and international relations, because in my mind, history and science were diametrically opposed. However, in recent months, it has dawned upon me that a student should not define him or herself by a single genre of interest. Not in one epiphanic moment, but gradually, I came to disregard my “social science” label. I realized I can also be a scientist, combining, and thereby even leveraging, my two passions. In our globalizing society, a love for both international relations and environmental science might just be what I need to make a difference.
I have always been an extrovert. At leadership programs, I am the first to introduce myself to strangers from all corners of the globe. When I was younger, I informed everyone that I would be the next Secretary-General. At times, I still do. At The Hague International Model UN, I was the one in the middle of the crowd successfully convincing other delegates that my resolution could deter Iran from building nuclear warheads. My interest in programs like MUN is born out of my desire to actively learn from those wiser than me and to help empower the less fortunate. Thus, I have also dedicated a significant portion of my life to community service. For example, I constructed houses for the impoverished in the Philippines and taught aboriginal Taiwanese children fundamental English. These activities require a raw eagerness to engage with other human beings; I do it with vim, enthusiasm, and most importantly, happiness. However, because of my gregarious disposition, most people don’t see the quiet, contemplative side of me; the Fiona who stares in the garden’s Koi pond for hours, ruminating how books like The Power of Now can claim to have discovered the secret to happiness, or the Fiona who finds solace in thunder because it embodies nature’s majestic and impersonal power. At two in the morning, wide-eyed, I ponder the meaning of my existence, wondering if the spirit lives on and if time really is an illusion. I scribble fiercely in my journal: are environmental sustainability and capitalism mutually exclusive? Is globalization causing an emotionally depleted society? My mind is filled with so many contemplations that I meditate often to bring peace to a restlessly inquisitive soul. I have realized that the label “extrovert” doesn’t do justice to the introspective self who is energized by solitude. I can be both an extrovert and introvert, and I am.
Having grown up in five countries, I’m at a loss for words when people ask me where I’m from. I usually start with “I was born in Taiwan, but eight months later moved to Tokyo, after that, Vancouver and then Bei-” only to realize the person’s countenance always slightly dazed. Realizing I could not do this to everyone, I resorted to simply saying “I’m an international citizen.” I am blessed to have experienced a variety of fascinating cultures, such as that of Hiroshima, Chicago, or Beijing. This unique upbringing has cultivated in me the global perspective needed to undertake the increasingly convoluted conflicts of the modern world. Instead of being averse to humanity’s differences, I value them highly; as Darwin pioneered, diversity is key to a society’s survival. However, I have frequently felt rootless, a grand oak with no radices. At GYLC last summer, after my Trinidadian friend proudly told me her heritage and inquired about mine, labeling myself as simply “international” just didn’t seem apt. “I’m from Taiwan,” I replied. At that moment, I felt a surge of pride and relief at having identified myself as Taiwanese. Thereafter, I have come to appreciate Taiwan for what it is – the island that I was born on and the island that welcomed me back with loving arms. Recently, I found an unsent letter I wrote to the president of Taiwan when I was 13. In it, I advised him to restructure the rigid education system in Taiwan. I realized how much I cared for the country all along. In retrospect, I am both Taiwanese and international, but with the establishment of this newfound root, the tree that is me can reach unprecedented heights. I can now achieve greater things in college and beyond.
I do not need absolutes to steer me through life. I have corrected the belief that labels help me attain clarity when trying to understand myself. If I have the courage to obliterate the labels and accept myself for who I am, fear of complexity naturally disappears and my other selves reemerge, steadily asserting their rights in my life, fortifying who I was before, and giving me confidence for the future. Historian and scientist. Extrovert and introvert. International and Taiwanese. Some of these might seem irreconcilable, but I am all of them. Without labels, I can still overcome the battles ahead. I closed Master Sun’s chef-d’oeuvre, smiled, and readied for the day ahead. In life there are never absolutes, except, of course, this one.
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