It’s not everyday that we encounter extraordinary people.
Out of the approximately seven billion people who currently exist in this world, how many of them do we know? How many of these people do we like? How many of these people are we friends with? How many of these people are we ACTUALLY friends with? Not too many, I assume.
By nature, people are just too different—too unique.
People who don’t share the same interests, nor possess the same set of beliefs as I do are just not worth my time. I’m simply going to find the few individuals who I believe are similar to me and stick with them. This was always how I lived my life, and I honestly thought that this was true for everyone else as well.
However, over the week of June 7-14, my personal perception on the value of people took a 180° turn.
When I received the invitation to represent the Philippines in the first Southeast Asian Leadership Conference called BlueSEAL 2014 (held at and funded by Singapore Management University), I couldn’t have been more exuberant. In fact, my thought process at the time probably went something along the lines of: “I get to go abroad for free AND skip school?! HELL YEAH!” Accordingly, I quickly filled out the applications, completed my interview, and packed my bags. I was definitely ready to just chill out and have a good time.
“So how’s the leadership conference thing going?”
“It’s so awkward…like everyone’s so weird. I don’t belong here. I wanna go home.”
I had the above conversation with multiple people who I was in contact with during the first two nights of the camp. I felt that there was absolutely no way that I would make friends with 44 other teenagers from 11 different Southeast Asian countries who I had never met before. I was completely and utterly miserable. Everyone was so different from me; I missed my friends and family back home in Manila.
To shed some light on the nature of the conference, the first few days were filled with multifarious team building exercises and group discussions that encompassed topics like seeing past the boundaries that we tend to fabricate in our own minds, to more personal matters like intrapersonal beliefs and perceptions of our respective communities. Quite frankly, these weren’t very new to me.
What did, however, pique my curiosity and interest, was the environment that the BlueSEALS established; there was something fascinatingly arcane about it.
Although it took me a while to analyze and understand, I was finally able to point out what I believe to have been responsible for the formation of this atmosphere. Along with the undeniable openness, transparency, and enthusiasm that every individual showcased, it was their inherent uniqueness that radiated the most sublime display of affability and closeness. Ironically, it was the nuances and quirks of each BlueSEAL that fortified our homogenous relationship with one another.
With a revamped perception of the people I would be spending the rest of the week with, I deliberately made the effort to take note of the personalities and tendencies of as many of the BlueSEALS as I possibly could. Especially because the participants were from 11 different Southeast Asian countries, the diversity in culture and beliefs resonated throughout the room during every discussion. Everyone suddenly had something valuable to say in each conversation. The beliefs and culture of each individual was made apparent in the way he or she spoke and approached each task. There were no two perfectly identical participants, yet each of us played an integral role in building our BlueSEAL family.
Being immersed in the midst of such colorful characters truly broadened my perspective on the value of the people we encounter on a daily basis. In retrospect, the same people who I currently see as amazing individuals were the same people who I once dismissed as “weird” and perhaps even as “boring, ordinary people.”
But what is it exactly that sets the ordinary apart from the extraordinary?
We constantly find ourselves going out of our way to search for the extraordinary, but are we really looking in the right places? Maybe we’ve been looking too hard and too far that we oftentimes fail to appreciate what’s staring at you right in the face.
Perhaps the extraordinary exists in the ordinary.
A few jokes, adventures, hugs, and tears later, I could not be prouder to say that I’m friends with 44 of these extraordinary, ordinary teenagers—the pioneer batch of BlueSEALS.
Special thanks to JS, PE, MN, AY, CP, PB, NN, JK, and SW.
To relive our BlueSeal adventures, watch the highlights of the conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6fIIkli-z8
Joshua Lim is a Canadian-Chinese-Filipino student at Xavier School in the Philippines. He’s currently starting his last year in high school, and is excited to make the most out of all the opportunities presented to him. During his free time, he likes playing basketball, trying out new things and meeting new people.