Imagine Yourself at 40

Last year in honour of CIC’s 40th anniversary milestone, the Columbia International Scholarship Endowment Fund created its first ever Anniversary Essay Scholarship. Students were asked to reflect on their recent school experiences and submit a written essay in response to the following question: CIC is now 40 years old. Imagine yourself at 40. How will your experiences at CIC contribute to your personal and professional development, and help you overcome obstacles and reach your goals?. We are pleased to present the scholarship to the following students who inspired and impressed us with their submissions:

Laura Arias Fernandez (2nd place winner), Mr. Chan (CIC Executive Director), and Melike Celik (1st place winner)

1st Place: Melike Celik ($10,000 prize – Melike chose the David Suzuki Foundation as her charity of choice to receive 50% of her prize money)
2nd Place: Laura Arias Fernandez ($2000 prize)
3rd Place: Ayshin Mehrabi ($1000 prize)

You can read Melike’s award-winning essay here:

8,832 km by: Melike Celik

For an eighteen-year-old about to graduate from high school, imagining your life at 40 seems to be something out of a horror movie.  It is simply scary to imagine how many possible routes your life can take.  Little do we know, that what we have been doing up until now is a preparation for when we are 40; graduating high school is just another step of the process.  Choosing to go to a boarding school, was one of the most challenging decisions I had to make.  By deciding to go to Columbia at 15, I made an investment for my future self, I knew that there would be a lot of drawback of studying away from family, but the benefits outweighed it all.  The two and a half years I have been a student in Columbia taught me to be concerned with the needs and wishes of others besides my own, accustomed me into an international environment while making me open-minded, and honed my self-restraint and discipline.

Up until I started studying in Columbia, I had never seen community service and education be so unified.  Leadership activities are what pushed me out of my comfort zone, introduced me to new friend groups, and broke me out of the same old routine that you tend to get trapped into in a boarding school.  My view shifted from being focused on myself to people around me, I began to realize how much happier and fulfilled it makes me to be a part of someone else’s happiness.  I started out with a year in the Student Council and then became a Residence Life Prefect, which was unusual since I was always reserved and shy person.  Both of these roles strengthened my ability to work in a team and made me more confident in putting out my ideas forward during the weekly meetings.  What completely shifted my perspective, however, was the ME to WE Ecuador Trip I attended with the Social Justice Team this December.  We are constantly exposed to the global issues – whether it is through news or the class you are in, we become desensitized.  In some ways, we are in the loop and out of it at the same time.  This trip changed my position from being an observer to someone who takes the matters of change into their own hands.  After all these years being surrounded and aware of these issues, I was able to contribute in a way besides talking about it.  For about 12 days, we helped build the foundation for a water filtering system in a town called Kanambu.  After this trip, I came to the realization that I wanted to be able to contribute to the people around me with the career I pursue and continue offering my help in the local, and if possible, international community.  My experience in Columbia prepared me for a professional setting that I will come across by the time I am forty, I became comfortable with working in teams and grew into being more empathetic and understanding.  When it comes to my personal development, my involvement in leadership teams rotated my outlook from being based solely based on myself to the people around me.

I am no stranger to being in foreign environments and adapting to new cultures; I have moved countries every two years since elementary school.  However, I can definitely say that I have never been a part of a school as diverse as Columbia International College.  Besides the fact that the school is based in Canada, a country that prides itself on its multicultural population, in Columbia I was surrounded by people from over seventy different countries.  Over the course of my studies, I had roommates from Mexico, Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Taiwan.  There was a constant exchange from knowledge, traditions and customs – I celebrated Lunar New Year with one of my roommates, and tried Mexican candy with another, while would share with them a part of my own culture.  The school environment being an immersion of a variety of backgrounds made me open to understanding points of views distant from mine.  Being a part of Columbia was like a privilege of getting to escape the boundaries set by what I know and into a world of what I have yet to learn.  In the 21st century, something is rarely limited or geared to a certain group of people, we are more interconnected than we have ever been at any point in history.  From this point and on societies will only get more integrated, which means that by the time I am 40, being conscious and appreciative of people’s way of life will keep me away from prejudice and misinformation and make me a suitable candidate to work in an international setting.

Going to a boarding school, was a thought that never crossed my mind – until it did.  Before I knew, I was in Canada at the age of 15, committing myself to Columbia for the rest of my high school life.  At the peak of your adolescence, it is very easy to get lost in acting upon what you would like to do instead of what you have to do, especially if you are in a boarding school with no parents to supervise you.  It took several failures for me to find the balance between my studies and the time I set out for myself.  When I did find it, I recognized that I gained a skill that is crucial for university and professional life beyond that.  My experience as a student in Columbia molded me to be independent and responsible.  At times, it can be hard to sacrifice something you enjoy, to do something you need, but in long-term, self-control matures you.  When I am 40, nobody will be there beside me checking if I am doing satisfactory work, I will have to be my own judge.  Thankfully, the fragment of my life that took place at Columbia International College, has set-up the foundation for a good work-ethic and self-discipline.

Whenever I return home for the holidays, my parents ask me if I regret making the choice of attending a boarding school.  My answer has always been a “no” and will remain the same in the future.  At times it was tough to be 8,832 kilometers away from home, but I created a second home for myself right here, in a town called Hamilton and in a school called Columbia International College.  I can never predict what life will be like for me at 40, but what I know for sure is that my experience as a student in Columbia will set me apart and prove itself to be beneficial.  I can confidently say that the two and a half years I have spent at Columbia International College, made me selfless and compassionate towards the people around me, attained me the ability of will power and control, and made me accepting of a variety of cultures.  My investment for my future self paid off.

Congrats to Melike, Laura and Ayshin! We wish them all the best in their future endeavours.