Laura Hough: Modern Languages Student, Durham University

Posted: 21 February 2023

Laura is an alumna of two Round Square Schools. In Switzerland, she attended ICS Zurich and in Singapore, she graduated from UWCSEA Dover Campus in 2019. Laura is studying Modern Languages (German and Spanish) and Cultures at Durham University in the UK.

Cultural identity is fascinating to Laura. She is a Third Culture Kid (TCK); born in Paris and then relocated to Switzerland, Singapore and finally to England for university. TCK is a term used to describe a person who has spent a significant part of his/her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The third culture is the hybrid culture of the international school. A multi-cultural space where children from all nationalities come together and create highly empathic, diverse communities. It was in this third culture that Laura developed her passion for internationalism, languages, and cultural identity. “I am sure that my educational background and international upbringing probably strongly influenced what I decided to study as a degree at university!”
Laura reflects that although ICS and UWCSEA embraced the Round Square IDEALS in different ways, the core understanding was the same. “I definitely saw a similarity in terms of the educational philosophies that underpinned both schools. It just manifested itself in different ways.”

Laura believes that her education at Round Square international schools provided her with opportunities and a perspective on life that she does not think she would have gained anywhere else. “We were surrounded by this mindset of how we could make the world a better place. What could we do to make someone else’s world a better place? It made us think about our actions and how our actions have consequences.”

The ethos of the schools, and the focus on service and internationalism, were a foundation for Laura, but the invitation to get involved and have an impact was what made the difference. “It was having the opportunities to get involved, to give back to other people, and being involved with projects that care for the environment.”
Laura believes that the experiences she had at both schools – and the people she met – were key to her own personal development.
“What made it impactful was interacting with so many different people, from so many different backgrounds, and so from many different cultures. It really forces you to approach your day-to-day life with an open mind and an awareness of different values.”
This richness in diversity, coupled with an array of experiential opportunities, helped Laura understand herself better and what she wanted to do to have an impact on the lives of others.

“It is really important in shaping who you want to be and how you want to live your life. It helps you understand the kind of person and the kind of difference you want to make – and the mindset you are going to have. I can’t begin to articulate how grateful I am for having had an education that was so much more than a pure academic education.”

At ICS, Laura was involved in Round Square Action Groups. She met with her team each week and engaged in leadership and service projects that were designed to give back to the community. In Grade 6 she travelled to Cobham Hall, in the UK, for a conference on Environmentalism, in Grade 9 Laura went on exchange to MLC in Adelaide, Australia.

Laura remembers that her exchange was her “first big moment of independence”. She explains, “I went out by myself, and it was the longest I had been away from my family.” For Laura, being only 14, it was a challenging experience. The time zone, the distance, and the reduced contact with her family and friends was hard.

“It was incredibly daunting. I had to insert myself into a new school curriculum, take different classes, and I had to start afresh with making friends. I had to put myself out there in a country whose culture I had never experienced before. And stay with a family I didn’t know.”

Laura reflects on her decision to travel to a country on the other side of the world. Although it was more challenging than she had imagined, she shared that she experienced a great deal of personal growth.

“It did so much for my self-confidence and my independence. It opened my eyes and mind to a new way of living, a new part of the world. I really embraced that. I had to find the confidence to put myself out there and say, “Hey! I’m here!”.”At UWCSEA Dover, Laura continued her passion for service. This time she used her talents in swimming (she was a competitive swimmer) and helped teach young, underprivileged children water safety and how to swim.

Later, Laura became involved with the organisation Blue Dragon, an organisation that provides rescue, care, shelter, legal advocacy, and long-term support for young people in crisis. To begin with her work was in advocacy and fundraising, but then she decided to travel to Hanoi, Vietnam and work directly with the children.

As she worked with youngsters who had been rescued from the streets, or had been victims of child trafficking, Laura gained a deeper understanding of where the children had come from, how they were living, and what they had experienced. What she valued was seeing the impact of the advocacy and fundraising work she had been involved in, and how that had made a difference. “I got to see the physical evidence of what kind of difference we were making.”

Laura reflects on how she was able to share her service experiences in her university applications. With such a wealth of experience in service, it was not easy! “A personal statement is really tricky because you’ve got to sell yourself in 4000 characters; when you’ve got a lot to say, you have to really pick the best bits.”

Laura had a strategy, “For every initiative that I’ve been involved in, I really took the time to think and ask myself, “Okay, well what did that teach me? How did that change me as a person? What did I learn from that?””

Laura felt that reflection on her experiences, her understanding of the personal impact, and the relevance to her course of study was key. “I wrote… it taught me this … it gave me these skills and awareness… and this is why I’m a good fit for this course.”

Although Laura achieved very high IB results, she was disappointed, “I put so much pressure on myself”. She didn’t feel that her marks reflected the work that she had put in. But now, as she nears the end of her time at university, she finds it hard to remember what grade she did get. “It’s strange how irrelevant things become as you progress.”

What is not irrelevant is the experience she gained outside the classroom. Laura believes that experiential learning has a long-term impact on character development.

“At the end of the day, I got life experiences that stay with me. That’s been so much more important and that is what I am building on more than what my IB result was. Now I am applying for jobs, what I got at school doesn’t matter. It is now about my degree and the experiences that I had. The extracurricular activities and initiatives. That’s what I feel stays relevant all the way through.”

When asked to share advice to her younger self, Laura shares that she would tell herself not to be so anxious about change or the future. Everything works out for a reason, and everything works out in the end. Laura also talks about the importance of seizing opportunities.

“I think I would tell my younger self to make the most of every single opportunity that’s handed to me because students who have grown up in international schools are in such a unique position. We have been given so much opportunity to take on positions of power, roles of leadership, responsibility, and to take initiative to make a difference (not only to other people, but to ourselves as well) and challenge ourselves in whatever shape or form we might choose.”

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