The start of our indescribably incredible journey to America. We - Kulinna, Maisie and I - had gone through thick and thin to get there - 4am study sessions, midnight quizzes, a few hundred pages of notes, just the usual. Really though, we were ecstatic when we found out that we had qualified.
On the plane ride to America, we couldn’t stop discussing what we’d do when we got there. We talked about all the things we’d see, all the things we’d try. We almost forgot to sleep. Well I didn’t but, then again, I can sleep anywhere. When we landed at JFK Airport in New York, we were humming the Alicia Keys tune under our breath, reminding ourselves that we were actually, truly in America. I guess that it’s a little overwhelming when you’d never even expected to qualify in the first place.
The day of our arrival in Yale, we went through the normal rituals: we got to our hotel room, took off our shoes, then immediately fell asleep. We promised we’d wake up in half an hour. We woke up 2 hours later. It just goes to show how reliable our time management is.
The next day, it was the opening ceremony in a nearby chapel. Walking there, we experienced the chilly, refreshing wind, the swirling autumn leaves and, most importantly, the yellow school buses. Yes, actual ‘yellow’ school buses. The day ensued, and I was sent off to my new group for the Scavengers Hunt - the activity where you’re expected to socialise and embarrass yourself in front of people you don’t know. The best part, I got to see two actual real-life alpacas - Trevor and Painted Warrior. That night was the most stressful one since the next day would be when we would have to do the Challenge, Collaborative Writing and Debates. That night, we were fast asleep with our unopened notes in our hands.
I ended up waking up at around 4:30am (blame the jet lag, I occasionally lapsed into some random time zone) and realised it would be a good idea to study. I pored over my notes until it was time to go to breakfast, and continued when we reached our destination. That was the toughest day, I can assure you. The moment we got there, I had barely sat down when they handed us lined papers with the essay topics on them. I was so panicked I couldn’t think properly or arrange my thoughts into any coherent order. So I just wrote and wrote and wrote, hoping that some kind examiner out there would be at least try to read my rushed handwriting (it never had been all that neat, but now it was a complete and utter horror to read). We had 15 minutes at the end where we were supposed to exchange essays and help correct our friends’ works. Reading everyone’s messed up syntax - I mean, use of hyperbaton - I stopped feeling so bad about my work. Maybe it hadn’t been as amazing as I would’ve wanted, but I tried my best and I was satisfied with that.
That is, until the 200-question challenge came around. At our school, we call it the ‘Circles of Doom’ because after you’ve filled a hundred neatly ordered, identical circles, your mind starts going a little fuzzy around the edges. I flicked back and forth between the question page and the answer page, keeping my finger on the row I was supposed to fill in, realising five rows later I had two coloured circles in the same row, going back to erase the answers and then forgetting in a frenzy what all the previously written answers were. I managed to get through it alive, but barely just. Thankfully, we had a lunch break and we got to eat some wrapped sandwiches.
Next up: the debates. It was possibly the best and worst part of the whole event. We weren’t bad at debating, in fact we were quite good, but in this round we knew we couldn’t expect anyone to be bad. If you make a mistake during your speech, you can practically see the points being drained from your total score, and that’s why it’s so terrifying. The first round, we were anxious and edgy, would we win? Would we lose? First debate - we won. It was really close, they said, by just a single point. We realised we had to up our game. The next round, we went against a new team - a team that had also won their last debate. This time, we declared everything with an air of irrefutable confidence. We fought facts with facts, drawing on the emotions of the people, weaving a poignant story that would sway them to our side. It worked. Once again, we were the victors. On the way to the next and final round, we were giddy with happiness and excitement.
Would we once again be unbeatable? Would this last team be the one to break our streak? We were already thinking ahead to the final judgement. Fifteen minutes later, we still couldn’t find the room. Turns out it was hidden behind an emergency door that said ‘Alarm will go off if opened’, and it did go off. We sat down, and soon enough heard the sound of the other team arriving (or more like the sound of the alarm going off). We sat down, smiled and greeted each other. Then the real fight began. It was an intense battle of elaborate reasoning, superfluous words, and heart wrenching tales. As we exchanged the last words, we waited in silence for the final verdict that would decide our fate. "The winning team is … The negative team." Those words made our hearts soar with joy, we had won all three yet again. We walked back to the hotel in a daze of happiness, conversing endlessly about how we had done and the speeches we had made. In that moment, I realised that everything we’d struggled through had been worth it, even if it was for just this single moment of glory.
We woke up the next morning elated, we were free for the day and we had booked a Boston tour to MIT and Harvard. We learned so many new things, though some were completely irrelevant but hilarious. I think that day really made me consider about my future decisions in life, what university I would apply to, what I would become to name a few.
The day finally arrived – the day of the awards ceremony. We went through hours and hours of eating, waiting, socialising, and dawdling, all for the sake of the awards ceremony. As we crowded in front of one of the smaller side screens, we gazed upon the shining medals that came with a free dose of victory and pride. We wanted to win something, but we were too afraid to hope, save we didn’t win anything at all. They started the announcements, and we casually tried to pretend we were listening for a while until we gave up, rushing to read the names appearing on the screen. The first time any of us won something, we were so thrilled we were practically floating in our clouds of ecstasy. Then we won another medal, then another. By the end, we’d won almost 10 medals for various topics, received a 3rd place trophy for Best Debate Team, and managed to place in the top 20 overall teams in the entire world. Nothing could dampen our mood after that.
On behalf of Kulinna and Maisie, I would like to once again reiterate that we are sincerely and extremely grateful for the support of everyone who has helped us in this journey, Mr. Joe for chaperoning us, the PTG for supporting us, and you, for sticking with us until the very end.
Thank you so, so much!