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Ms Melanie Lai Wai, 2012 Mauritius Laureate, one year back from the US
Thursday - July 18, 2013 1:34 pm
 Melanie, Can you first say some words about yourself,

i.      Your Name,

ii.     How old are you,

iii.    Your origin,

iv.    Your country of residence,

v.    Your parents,

vi.   Etc. etc.

 

My name is Melanie Lai Wai.  My Cantonese name is Lai Shoye Leng (黎瑞玲).  I am 20 years old and was born and raised in Mauritius and so were my parents. My paternal grandfather is from Guangdong, China and my paternal grandmother is Mauritian. My maternal grandparents are both from Meixian, China. Unfortunately, I cannot speak Cantonese or Hakka because I was never exposed to these languages. My parents, however, are able to understand simple conversations in their respective dialects.

I hold Mauritian citizenship but I am currently studying and residing at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

My father’s name is Bruno Lai Wai. He used to be a basketball player on the national team thirty years or so ago. He works as a principal technician at the University of Mauritius. He also devotes some of his time to the Chinese Middle School on Saturdays as a member of the school board of directors. My mother is a homemaker. She allocates her time between taking care of the family’s well-being and reading. I also have a younger brother, Jeffrey, who is fourteen years old. His favourite hobby is to play basketball.

 

Can you relate to us your prime feelings when you came to hear your name among the scholarship winners last year?

At that time, I was actually sitting with my school friends in a pizza parlour, eating lunch. We all knew that the HSC results would be out on that day and had planned to meet before going to school together to fetch our result slips. A good friend of mine was listening to the radio on her mobile phone.

 

To be honest, the scholarship announcement had already been on my mind for a long time, not because I had been sure I would be getting it but rather because it was what I was hoping for with all of my heart. Throughout the three months beginning from the end of the examinations in November up to February, I would frequently think about my teachers and friends at the Loreto College of Port Louis who had provided so much moral support for my academic endeavours. I sincerely wished for the scholarship as a symbol of gratitude towards them. To me, it would give meaning to the time and energy that they had spent on my education.

My name came out last among the science side winners. I think that it took me quite a while to grasp the significance of the moment. I could not believe my ears because at that point (after hearing a dozen other names), I had already given up. Then my phone began to ring. Call after call, people were congratulating me and all I could say was “thank you”. From that moment onwards, things happened really fast. My friends and I set out for school (I did not even finish eating lunch) where we were welcomed with loud cheers. My mother and my aunt Rose were there as well. That day I only felt numb. The joy and the tears came well after.

 What, according to you were the prime factors that contribute to your success?

 Now, in retrospect, the feeling that still remains is that of gratefulness. If it were not for my family, my friends and my teachers always propelling me forward, encouraging me in moments of doubt and feeding me good food, I would never have worked this hard. Their support added extra meaning to the learning process. Thanks to them, my dream of studying abroad has come true.

 Did studying steadily have any impact on your social life? How did you draw the right equilibrium between study and social?

Except for the last year of secondary school, I only studied while school was in session. During the holidays, my friends and I often went out to the movies or to do some shopping. Sometimes we spent time together in one of our homes. I was also a member of a swimming club where I usually met people of my age. I don’t think that I have missed out on a lot of things socially. As for finding the right equilibrium, I believe that it all comes down to time management. You have to set your priorities and stick to them.

 It is almost one year over now that you have been to a US university for your studies, what can you say about the educational framework both locally and abroad?

I cannot really compare the education that I am receiving right now to the one at the local university, simply because I have only experienced one of the two. However, I have to say that classes abroad tend to focus more on teacher-student interaction than the subject material itself. It is more important to be able to think critically about a topic than to just learn the facts. This is one big difference that I had to get accustomed to when I got to the US. As an international student, I am obviously at a disadvantage compared to my American peers in the sense that English is my second language and that I am much further from home. However, I am happy that I get to improve my speaking and writing skills.

 You have chosen to pursue in the field of mathematics. Why this option? Do you think that mastering yourself in this field will eventually provide you with opportunities here in Mauritius?

I have a deep and old relationship with Mathematics. When I was a child, my father used to play logic games with me; this is what got me on track. As I grew up, science subjects were the ones I felt most comfortable studying. They were challenging, yet enjoyable. After secondary school, I decided to pursue a degree in Mathematics because it is a field that pervades all others. I have many interests and I think that this subject will allow me to keep my options as wide as possible. Making such a choice was only the natural progression from my scientific background towards new discoveries. The study of mathematics prepares students for careers involving its applications in computer science, statistics and actuarial science.

For now, I have decided to follow my academic interests and though I should also consider future opportunities, I think that mathematics–being a field that has laid the foundation in many others–will take me to where I aspire to be.

 Just like as the youngsters going abroad for studies, there is a high tendency of not returning back despite the repeated appeals from the authority. What are, according to you, those factors that demotivate these professionals from coming back to help build a stronger nation?

The grass is always greener elsewhere. Young ambitious people want to be challenged and to push their limits. And then, once they have experienced the buzz of a new city, it can be hard to come back to what they have always known. In addition to that, we should not forget that wages and job opportunities are much higher and diverse in developed countries.

 If you were to advise youngsters from primary to secondary levels, what would you say as far as their personal development is concerned and also the role to be played in future?

As far as personal development is concerned, I think that students should, once in a while, try to get out of their comfort zone. It can be something as simple as approaching a classmate that you have never talked to before, or undertaking a new activity. People never stop learning from each other and the more we interact with others, the faster we mature. One very important thing that I have learned by being at a liberal university is to keep an open mind about the world that surrounds you. This is the key to living in harmony within a community.

 There is a gradual regression of values in our present society at all levels. We have all witnessed something that has been on the news for quite a while where there have been a mixed of flagrant corruption, denial of rules and regulations, the persistent attitude of being ‘above the laws’ by politicians.   What can you say about it?

Just as Cedric Ho Tiu stated in his interview, material gain has taken over moral values because modern society defines money as success. Who has never been tempted by money and power?  It is sad to observe that some people are unable to discern between wealth and success. There is a special quote that I would like to share:

            “Success on the outside means nothing unless you also have success within. There is a huge difference between well-being and being well-off. The person with a rich inner life is the richest of all.” ––Robin Sharma

 Were you aware of the existence of the NSFK? What can you say about this Cantonese society?

I have been aware of NSFK ever since my aunts Rose and Therese started to take line dancing lessons there. I think that the society provides a great platform for people to socialise while taking part in fun activities. It is also a way for the community to share their experiences, to create new ones and to connect with one another. NSFK is doing a great job of promoting the Chinese culture in the region of Port Louis. It is unfortunate, though, that there are no such activities for young people. I would have loved to take part in some of your classes with people of the same age group.

 You stated that following lectures at the University by a Mandarin lecturer, you have built up an interest in knowing the Chinese culture. What really have triggered this interest?

I initially decided to take Chinese language as an elective subject, one that was outside my main field of study, because this is a requirement at my university. I had taken some Chinese classes up to Form 3 level at the Chinese Middle School, so I thought that I might have an edge in class thanks to my previous experience. I was right. In the beginning, I was flying through the basics and I think that this allowed me to focus a little bit more on the cultural aspect of the subject. My professor often talks about features of the language that are specific to Chinese only, as well as the traditions and the lifestyle of people in China. I find it fascinating. Every day, going to class is exciting because I am learning more than just the syntax and semantics of a language. It is about the relationship between the language and its speakers.

 Presently, youngsters of Chinese origin in Mauritius are not interested in the Chinese culture. You have been among them before landing in the US, what in your views can help them to have an interest in their ancestors’ culture?

Personally, I was not interested in Chinese culture as a child because there were other popular things, like games, television shows and books that held my attention. But then, I do not think that most teenagers around the world are as enthusiastic about culture as they are about sports or music. Appreciation for culture comes with maturity and understanding. However, this does not mean that we should not try to instil a sense of it into youngsters. Modern China has a lot to offer in all fields; unfortunately young people in Mauritius are only exposed to the few aspects that are least appealing to them. What I would suggest is to trigger their interest through modern Chinese media like dramas, pop music and books. Activities like calligraphy workshops or cooking workshops could also help to attract attention. After a while, young people will begin to do their own research and eventually find their way to the rich, vibrant Chinese culture.

 Do you have any proposals in how NSFK can further enhance the Chinese Culture in Mauritius?

As I have just mentioned, organising small workshops for the general public once in a while (around the time for important Chinese festivals maybe?) could be a fun way for people to learn about history and culture. Since NSFK is centrally located in the heart of Port Louis, the society could also host movie showings and exhibitions. Lastly, I really hope that your next project will be to add a few basket-making or Chinese cooking activities for the young generation. Would it not be a fun way of bridging the gap between young people and culture?

 A special word to conclude this interview! Something that you would like to express, both for the youngsters and the community as a whole.

Special thoughts go to all the people who devote their time and energy to non-profit organisations like Nam Shun Fooy Koon in Mauritius. They are all doing a wonderful job given the resources and I hope that these associations will continue to expand in the future.  
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