“Thank you, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust and Chevening, for giving me the chance to break out of my comfort zone”
My name is Aditta. I am from Laos and honoured to be the first Weidenfeld-Hoffmann-Chevening Scholar from my country. I also have the peculiar title of being the first person from my country to have a Facebook account. It should come as no surprise that, for almost a decade now, I’ve been working in the marketing and media sector in Laos, inevitably requiring a frequent and intimate use of Facebook. In my role as an observer and participant to the platform since December 2004, I have witnessed its evolution from an obscure social networking site to an all-encompassing media powerhouse that has taken my country, and many others, by storm.
I believed early on that the ‘Facebook phenom’, especially in many emerging markets, would have serious implications in the future of the Internet: I knew that I had to understand it. While searching for the best place to study the Internet, every search engine query led me to The Oxford Internet Institute.
Frankly-speaking, after ten years of intense but stable corporate life, I also wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn new things, to meet new people and believe me, I got what I wished. Allow me to share a little anecdote – which brings the point home nicely.
At a college “formal” dinner one evening, I was remarking on the intensity and lengths of Oxford readings during a conversation with another student and I was comparing it to the readings from other universities in the UK – one of my friends at another university said that his readings for the entire term for one course was approximately 10 pages. I said: “my reading list itself is 10 pages.”, to which a college advisor (not mine) replied, “If you had wanted an easy time, you should have gone to Harvard.”
(That’s how we, Lao netizens, express laughter. The Lao word for the number five is translated as “HA.” Three “HA’s” make HAHAHA. Therefore, 555 was essentially the Lao version of LOL (laugh out loud)).
But I digress.
Back to comfort zones. My country and I have one thing in common – we are too complacent in the way we manage our life and our nation and we are beginning to witness and experience things that we are not prepared for, namely, the digital revolution and all that this entails. Social media and other internet platforms have a tendency to show us what we want to see, but it does not show us what we should be seeing. I was afraid of living in a filter bubble – an echo chamber of my very own making.
I knew that we as a people needed to better understand the rest of the world to prepare us for its coming challenges. To do that, we need to step out of our comfort zones, break our echo chambers and expose ourselves to new ways of thinking so that we don’t get left behind.
This is what the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann-Chevening Scholarship has done for me; it has given me the chance to voluntarily expose myself to new concepts, to challenge some of my deepest internal biases, to consider the stark inconsistencies in some of my thought processes and to question my implicit moral foundations. I would have expected nothing less from Oxford.
Among those that have contributed to opening my eyes, have been my WHT cohort which consists of some of the most fascinating, talented and ambitious scholars of this generation. For example; the ‘astute Antonio’, a conscientious policymaker from Argentina who traces his roots and heritage to Korea and who challenged my views on national identity; the ‘doughty Dana’, an education expert who is passionate for social change and committed to sharing only the most constructive criticism; ‘learned Lizaveta’, who is well-versed in legal affairs and whose reflections on her own moral positions inspired me to revisit mine; ‘kinetic Kapil’, with a kind heart for the environment, who speaks his mind while entertaining us all and teaching us to remember that we are all young at heart; ‘zealous Zamiyat’, a champion of women’s rights, who gives voice to the unheard females of her country and beyond; ‘sophisticated Saadia’, whose empathy and compassion for her people inspires us all to think about our very common ancestry and humanity (Saadia also heads a non-profit called Project Daastan, an Urdu word meaning story, which bears a striking resemblance to the Lao word for story, Nitan); ‘ambitious Alfredo’, who valiantly fights for human rights and against abuses of power; ‘benevolent Busan’ who is equal parts brilliant and spirited about grass-roots participation and good governance; ‘mindful Mohsin’, a doctor-cum-entrepreneur who is as caring of people as he is careful with words; and ‘legendary Laura’, a lawyer who showed me that famous internet celebrities like herself are in no way self-serving or vain, but in fact quick-witted, thought-provoking, and honest.
I’m incredibly glad to call these amazing souls and others, my friends. And yes, not only on Facebook.
I would like to convey my greatest appreciation to the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann-Chevening Scholarship for helping me to step out of my comfort zone, to expose me to some of the richest and most challenging ideas, to meet the best of the new generation’s talent – an experience we all need to have if we are to become stronger, better and build a future that is inclusive, tolerant and just; for all.