As we walked through the gates at Ugyen Academy on our way to begin our student learning exchange, I could feel the nervous yet excited energy that hung in the air. The scent of the morning incense offering and the sound of songbirds set the scene as we rounded a corner and were greeted by Principal Norbu Gyaltshen with a warm and charming ‘Good Morning Students’. After introductions we took part in a brief tour of the campus which highlighted the many classrooms, sports facilities, gardens, dormitories, and beautiful views of the rolling Himalayan mountains that surrounded us.
We continued on to the conference room where Principal Norbu facilitated a presentation about the school’s history, vision, goals and values. As he shared the information proudly, moving through the slides and sprinkling in his own collection of stories, he landed on a slide that expressed the school motto; Be Your Best. As I looked around the room at all the students and teachers listening intently, they all seemed to connect with the words he was sharing. Principal Norbu went on to explain that it’s not about being THE best, but rather it’s about being YOUR best. The difference, he explained, is that we don’t need to be comparative, or be the captain, hold a title, or have the highest mark, but if you look intrinsically at yourself and bring your best self to life every day, that is what we are looking to achieve at Ugyen.
At ALIVE Outdoors, we believe that it is essential to spend time exploring your own inner landscape and deepening your understanding of who you are to uncover your inner potential and lead a purposeful path for yourself. In all our programs and with everyone we work with, both participants and instructors, we challenge the perspective that it’s not about the title or the role, but it’s about understanding who you are. Ugyen Academy and ALIVE share in the value of this self-exploration to understand your personal strengths and unique qualities to greet each day as your best authentic self.
As the day progressed, the Crescent and Havergal students met their dorm buddies who were their accommodation hosts and soon after their class buddies who they spent the day with participating in classes. It was apparent that everyone, both students and teachers at Ugyen Academy, weren’t just preaching this motto but that they were putting it into action. Following lunch, we met with 80 Gr.11 students where we facilitated several large group energizer games and a variety of team building initiatives. As the laughter began and the sun shone above as bright as the smiles on everyone’s face, it was clear that the authentic connections between all the students were blossoming.
As our session came to a close, the students broke into a round of applause, celebrating in the fun we all had participated in. Students returned to class with a newfound glow which they carried with them until we congregated at the soccer field later on to partake in a ‘Havergal & Crescent vs. Ugyen Academy’ game. The game drew students and teachers from a across the campus. As the students took to the field, the energy was electric. With rounds of applause, loud cheers, and encouragements the teams scored goal after goal keeping everyone on their toes.
After the game concluded, and the students shook hands congratulating one another, the time for us to see the students off for the evening was drawing close. The teachers and I checked-in with everyone to ensure they were all set for the night before slowly making our way back to our hotel close by. As I walked back to the hotel, I realized that my face hurt from the chronic smile I had from the moment we arrived. The collection of conversations and interactions with all the students, teachers, Principal, and staff were bouncing around in my mind as I reflected on the day.
I can honestly say that everyone at Ugyen Academy lives this motto every day. Whether they are a student, teacher or school staff, the level of kindness, generosity, empathy, authenticity, and engagement from everyone was something I have not experienced before. They brought a warm and engaging energy with them to every interaction that they had, not worrying about judgement, how to advance or how to get ahead. They were open and present.
Back home in Toronto, comparative thinking seems to be subtly woven into the default of interaction. In all facets, the focus always seems to lie on titles, achievements, goals, raises, roles, etc. instead of the focus being on deepening our understanding of who we are. If I’ve learned anything from the first day at Ugyen Academy it’s that we need to focus more on exploring our inner landscape, being gentle with ourselves along the way and greeting each day with intention rather than looking at getting ahead. Be present. It was all captured in the words that Principal Norbu expressed, it’s not about being THE best, but rather it’s about being YOUR best.