The Where Are They Now blog series looks at the lives of Beijing International School alumni after the last school bell has tolled. Veronika Cencen is an alumnus of the Western Academy of Beijing from Slovenia. She graduated in 2011 and now attends university in Canada.
What have you been doing since leaving WAB?
Since graduating high school in 2011, I applied and was accepted to the University of Ljubljana for a BS in biotechnology. I continued my side career in rhythmic gymnastics, and also competed at the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia. In my third and final year, I went on a semester-long Erasmus exchange in Kaunas, Lithuania, where I was happy to be reunited with the culturally diverse educational community that I was used to. After completing my undergraduate degree in the summer of 2014, I applied for and was accepted into the University of Ottawa M.Sc. in Biomedical engineering, with a teaching assistantship in physics and research project in interdisciplinary nanotechnology and biophysics.
Besides education and gymnastics, I always found some interesting and beneficial opportunities on the side as well. I participated in a variety of volunteering and training activities, including animation in a retirement home, membership in a “green” group called Ecologists Without Borders, acceptance and participation into the Regional Biocamp 2014, attending start-up training camps, membership in the science-promoting group Let’s Talk Science, coaching rhythmic gymnastics, and many others.
What has been your greatest lesson?
During this time, one of the most important life lessons I had learned is that it is important to gain experiences and help those in need as best as you can, but never allow yourself to be exploited or forced into doing what you do not feel is right in any way.
What do you miss most about high school?
The diversity of teaching methods and the learning activities I was able to experience. It is in those years that our personalities are being shaped by our environment, particularly in the school environment. I can therefore consider myself very privileged to have been introduced to so many opportunities, both in class, as well as in the form of extracurricular activities, school trips, and on-campus social gatherings and fairs. However, I have since kept the motivation to seek these out myself, and in this way still feel connected to those years.
Do you keep in touch with old friends?
Social media has made it much simpler to stay in touch with friends. Yet to strengthen the friendships I’ve come to value most, I try to keep in touch through other means as well, including Skype, “regular” mail, and, when possible, visiting in person. I made use of the study exchange, family trips, as well as nearby high school reunions, to catch up with old friends, even if just for a coffee. When I found out I would be going to Canada, I immediately tried to reestablish contacts with fellow alumni, and was very excited to be able to meet them again after so many years. While I’m always looking for ways to grow and make a difference, I’m becoming increasingly aware of the value in being able to reconnect to my past experiences and friends. As one way to keep this balance, I’ve decided to take up the role of alumni representative in my region.
What general advice would you give to current high school students?I would certainly recommend to find out what interests you, what you find fun, and try to take advantage of the opportunities offered by your school to engage in activities in that field that are offered by the school. This is a great time to “experiment” by trying out different extracurricular activities, or see how well you can do in the one of your choice, as you will have plenty of support and guidance from your friends and the school staff. This will hopefully enable you to keep this motivation as you become more independent and face new challenges.
What influence, if any, has your experience as an international student in Beijing had on your choices and experiences?
In my (potentially biased) opinion, being an international school student in Beijing was perhaps the best possible way to grow up! I became somewhat spoiled by the magic of such a culturally diverse educational environment, and simultaneously being able to experience the fascinating medley of tradition and accelerated modernization taking place in my city of residence. Much like our school, Beijing was a very active and inspiring city with many opportunities. I find that I am now able to bring this energy wherever I go.
Photo: Courtesy of WAB