Before finishing the Diploma Programme (DP) at the Universal American School (UAS) in Dubai, Kymberley Chu grew up with an international background—having lived in Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates. As a writer, she had previously shared her perspective on being a third-culture kid and a first-generation, international university student at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis). Now, Kymberley helps other first-gen and international students transition to life at UC Davis in addition to completing her undergraduate degree and conducting research on social issues such as food insecurity.
We spoke with Kymberley to share more on how her IB experience helped shape her views on being a global citizen, encountering stereotypes and advice for students to be open to new perspectives and identities.
“I think the IB does a good job of acknowledging that there are multiple viewpoints and ways of connecting”
Can you start by telling us a little bit about your life at university and what you’re studying?
Yeah. I’m a current junior double majoring in international relations and psychology. I’m also working at the international center, where I coordinate the global ambassador mentorship program, which helps international students transition to life at UC Davis and in America as well. And at the same time, I work in a couple of research labs that study social issues such as food insecurity. In my spare time, I enjoy rock climbing, hiking and, you know, having intellectual talks at coffee shops.
Could you speak about your experience in the DP at the Universal American School in Dubai?
Initially my parents, wanted me to experience a new challenging educational system that would improve my cross-cultural learning and improve my intellectual exploration of issues, and I think the IB system is perfect for that. You know, my parents saw it as a good fit for me because, they wanted me to ask questions. They wanted me to improve my values, like open-mindedness, be a global citizen and be able to connect and understand people from different cultures and backgrounds. So, I guess they were looking for an educational system would not only improve my knowledge but that would also help me address and reflect on identity and social issues.
What role does identity play in the way you or students in general learn?
I think identity in the school environment, especially in a very rigorous, highly abstract sort of global educational system like the IB, provides a very global outlook, where you can go beyond your nationality. You have the opportunity to challenge yourself to develop a more holistic understanding of different fields and subjects. I think the IB does a good job of acknowledging that there are multiple viewpoints and ways of connecting with both areas of academic knowledge and interactions with people from beyond your own culture or perceived social environment. I think that identity ties in when you know you’re trying to build your own school experience, by interacting with people, social environments as well as your hobbies and what you want to do in life as well.
“I think the TOK framework has helped me a lot with establishing my own worldview over time”
Did theory of knowledge (TOK) played a role in your exploration of these topics? What advice do you have for students approaching TOK for the first time?
I liked the IB’s TOK framework because it provides a holistic understanding of how we perceive the world, and it encourages us to see, be aware and reflect in different ways of knowing. It could be using your emotions, anthropology, the social sciences or other types information as well. It’s a good sort of abstract framework, in a sense, that it helps you analyze the different abstract viewpoints and build logical arguments.
Based on my school experiences and how I’ve reflected using a TOK framework, I’ve found that some students may find engaging with TOK to be uncomfortable, because they see it as ambiguous and sense that there is no one right answer. I tell students that as STEM major, you might feel uncomfortable in the liberal arts because the style of writing is not the same way as you are used to—or a liberal arts student might struggle with understanding the different natural sciences because maybe they never had exposure to equations and STEM topics but it’s ok since it opens opportunities to learn.
I think the TOK framework has helped me a lot with establishing my own worldview over time without relying too much on IB jargon. And while I, in an abstract metaphysical sense, am building, reflecting and learning, you are also able to develop your own viewpoint and worldview through your different life experiences and beliefs.
“I think it takes a lot of self-awareness and time to reflect on these issues because there are some people to this day that are really uncomfortable talking about these sorts of issues”
I hear two things there. I hear that you’ve developed a vocabulary that you can use to start investigating, understanding and then also support other people. Do you think that it’s possible that this could help overcome stereotypes?
I’ve realized that there has been a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes revolving around labels. For me, I think that’s why we need to focus more on bridging differences and different types of predefined groups. As I’ve reflected on the intersectionality of identities I carry, I realized that there’s stereotypes and misconceptions. Like, if you are a third-culture kid, you must be rich enough to travel from country to country, and I would say no, that’s not true. My parents are immigrants, and they moved from the working- to middle-class, and they have better economic mobility now. It’s been a learning experience because I realized that I had a range of different experiences, whether it be socially, economically or culturally that impact my experience.
I applaud everyone who’s been trying to solve social issues and issues that carry a lot of weight in their communities. I think for me the big takeaway is to avoid the whole, “us versus them,” mentality, and try to challenge your own misconceptions and stereotypes about other predefined groups. This can be done by interacting with other groups on campus, whether it be more informal, like grabbing coffee, or more formally by coordinating events with different centers. I think those types of social interactions would help a lot and learning and interacting with predefined groups and at the same time help bridge the differences.
I think it takes a lot of self-awareness and time to reflect on these issues because there are some people to this day that are really uncomfortable talking about these sorts of issues within the IB classroom or in real life. And I think that for me it’s kind of like, “what can I do at a local level?” I can think big, but I also need to acknowledge these issues at a local level—and it’s kind of like acting local, thinking globally, if that makes sense to you. That’s kind of the approach that I have in my framework and identity right now.
Kymberley Chu is a current University of California, Davis second year student double majoring in Cognitive Science and International Relations. She is also a graduate of the Universal American School in Dubai’s IB program in 2017. Kymberley aspires to pursue academic research and PhD programs that examine social issues such as the psychology of racism. She enjoys reading, coding, weightlifting and making mind maps in her free time. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.
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