Twenty-year-old Maria Sofia Alava Limpo won this year’s King’s Experience Global Award at King’s College London for her reflective essay on cultural relevance.
Entries were submitted in December 2015, before the infamous #Brexit, Paris terrorist attacks and other acts of violence and intolerance worldwide. Still, her message to be culturally sensitive and competent remains significant in the aftermath.
The extracurricular award was open to King’s College undergraduate and postgraduate students across all disciplines (13,000 in England, 27,000 worldwide). Only 16 students received the award, among which Limpo is the only Filipino.
According to its website (www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/ke/awards/global-award.aspx), “The King’s Experience Global Award recognizes engagement with other cultures, including (but not limited to) volunteering, studying or working abroad; learning other languages; or engaging with other cultures within the United Kingdom. It aims to develop and enhance knowledge and understanding of other cultures. The Award is for activities undertaken outside formal learning.”
Identity and culture
Aside from 75 hours of interacting with foreign cultures, applicants are required to: show knowledge and understanding of one or more cultures, other than their own; show the ability to explore other cultures with sensitivity; use the learning to reflect analytically on their own identity and culture; and show how what was learned will further their academic, professional and personal development.
In her award-winning essay, Limpo wrote: “I have been incredibly fortunate to encounter many opportunities for global interaction, and each has allowed me to see the world with ‘new eyes.’ If I were to express in one word what global exposure offers me, that word would be ‘relevance’… I believe that this journey toward relevance comes in three stages.
“First is the awareness of other cultures… The human race is made up not of one culture but many, each one beautiful in its own context.
“I attend King’s College London, a global institute that boasts 8,000 international students from 150 different countries. I study philosophies and religions other than my own and in so doing, experience challenging and reinforcing my belief systems and thinking patterns.
“Exposure to different cultures through these global experiences allows me to nurture cultural sensitivity. I am convinced that this skill is fundamental when engaging people in our globalized economy. The transition from cultural awareness to cultural sensitivity occurs when stock knowledge is transmitted effectively because of ample knowledge of the heart. Many specific situations have proven to me that what I know is enhanced and broadened with the knowledge, wisdom and experience of other people. How I engage these people to share their knowledge with me, and to accommodate mine to expand theirs depends on my ability to keep an open mind and a sensitive heart that welcome diversity.
“I am a living example of someone shaped by constant change and diversity, and fueled by the wisdom and generosity of a multitude of people other than my own race. Internship experience enriches my theoretical knowledge. In today’s increasingly interconnected and globalized world, tremendous opportunities abound, as do the cultural landmines that lead to catastrophic failures. Cultural exposure and international collaboration during our formative years facilitate the development of more relevant individuals. As we pursue academic excellence at King’s, we must seek this relevance through experiences that build cultural awareness, sensitivity and competence with ‘new eyes.’”
Limpo outlined examples for each of the stages toward relevance she mentioned.
“The photographs and her essay impress upon the reader that learning begins at a young age, and requires an open mind and heart that accommodate the help and feedback of other people—made possible with the help of healthy parenting and even ‘grandparenting,’” said her mother, Geraldine Limpo.
“Sofia aspires for a career in international relations. Diplomacy is a peaceful alternative to war or hostility in resolving conflict,” said Mrs. Limpo.
Indeed, the biggest reward would be if Sofia Limpo’s ardent message for greater empathy and acceptance between different cultures, creeds and religions can ultimately change mind-sets and lead to lasting world peace.
Limpo is taking a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, and is set to graduate from King’s College London in June/July 2017.