Selina Xu

In September 2014, Selina Xu was announced to be the Senior Runner-up of the Commonwealth Essay Competition. In November, she travelled to London for a week of activities that culminated in the Award Ceremony. Following Winners’ Week Selina wrote a blog about this once in a lifetime experience and the moments she shared with the other winners of the competition: 

“When I look at things in retrospect, it’s often with a mixture of gratification, thoughtful soul-searching and the unavoidable tinge of nostalgia. The Commonwealth Essay Competition uniquely lands itself in a league of its own — it is the best and most enjoyable decision I made in 2014.

That is largely due to the Winners’ Week in London, comprising four whirlwind days of seeing, absorbing, experiencing and lots and lots of laughing. The group of us got to learn for ourselves the history, heart and culture of London; made cross-cultural friendships across ages and generations; met with people who lived, breathed and reveled in words; and became ardent believers in the transformative potential of a young Commonwealth.

It’s interesting that for all the research and imagining I had done the true depth of Britain’s history and the flavors of London city life far surpassed any conjecture. The tours of the Houses of Parliament, the Evening Standard, the BBC Broadcasting House, Fitzwilliam College and Cambridge University Library provided me with an in-depth look into the spectacular structure that powers the vibrancy of UK’s civic and cultural landscape. Since it was my first time at all of these places, it was incredibly exciting, and all the while, revelatory. For me, the highlight was the Parliament, which was a window into the past and a sharp lens for the present. The stark contrast between the interiors of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the unorthodox tradition that the Queen is banned from the House of Commons and the opulent paintings of kings and queens of yore, all showed Britain to be a surprising nation that balanced both the remnants of history and modern-day democratic notions in shaping her present identity.

This fascinating balance is best embodied in the flourishing tradition of the British Monarchy, which has adapted and evolved through the ages. No other activity was more memorable than the Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Day 3 — on one hand was the awe-inspiring beauty and grandeur of the various rooms and the riveting stories behind every painting, furniture and arch in the doorway; on the other hand was the warmth of the Royal Family that was candidly felt when I met the Duchess of Cornwall. It was a magical experience that brought a seemingly distant symbol of historical tradition right before my eyes.

Yet, the best part of the four days was the people whom I had spent it with. It was a truly international gathering of young writers, thinkers and parents who offered their own humorous take on things. We shared on pop culture, our aspirations, writing styles and the places we came from — Jersey, Canada, Pakistan and Singapore; we debated passionately on the virtues of Socialism and Capitalism, the East versus the West and whether the Commonwealth could be revolutionary or not; there were also intense, provocative discussions on Malala, gender inequality, education and preeminent world issues that were perspective-changing. I count these interactions and verbal duels as some of my greatest takeaways from this trip. It’s rare for teenagers to have the chance to be able to meet with others from the other end of the globe and to connect and find in each other the strength and belief in the promise of a better world to come.

It is always incredibly exciting to write about world and life issues under the Commonwealth Essay Competition’s banner. It’s even more exciting when we realize that these issues matter to everyone, regardless of nationality, and the power of our pens can achieve great things beyond the paper.”

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.