////Learner’s Diary丨Thinking after breaking out of your comfort zone, starting with the environment

Learner’s Diary丨Thinking after breaking out of your comfort zone, starting with the environment


This is an article published on 11 October on the public website of Suzhou Middle School in Jiangsu Province. Xu Yunfei has participated in the Green Light-Year 2018 “Retracing the Path of Xuesen” Northwest Science and Technology Environmental Protection Summer Camp (check out Yunfei’s post-camp thoughts 👉 Retracing the Path of Xuesen | A 16-year-old girl’s shocking speech to a crowd of 1,000 people – her life was inspired by Qian and the reconstruction of Yushu) and the 2019 China Eco-Apprenticeship Program (project details poke link 👉 recruitment丨This summer holiday, go to Anji’s eco-enterprises with Green Light Year to make business cases! .

This time, Yunfei and Min Qiyang, another student from the 2019 China Eco-Apprenticeship Programme (check out Min’s reflections on the programme at the link on the right 👉 Participants’ Diary 丨Combating Climate Change: How to Tell China’s Story on the International Stage?) Together with our staff, we had the privilege of going to New York to attend the Youth Climate Summit held for the first time by the United Nations on 21 September. Now, let’s read Yunfei’s thoughts on her trip to New York!

In late September 2019, Xu Yunfei, a sophomore at Suzhou High School International Academy in Jiangsu Province, was invited to attend the Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and the second week of New York Climate Week to hear young people from around the world who are making a difference on climate share their understanding of climate action. Xu Yunfei was the only secondary school student from East China among the 13 young Chinese delegates invited to the summit, and was also one of the youngest delegates at the conference, so we’re more curious about what has brought her to this point than what she’s accomplished.


Q1: Everyone is curious about how you made it to such a big international stage.

The United Nations is an unattainable and sacred place that seems to belong only to the leaders of countries, and as an ordinary high school student from Suzhou, I used to think the same way. But after this activity, I feel more and more that the United Nations is just a gathering place for global citizens, where every ordinary individual who is willing to think about world issues, make a difference and seize opportunities has the chance to come here to get their thoughts uplifted. I was surprised to be given this opportunity, as I hadn’t received any news of my participation just three days before I travelled across the ocean. At that time, I was talking with my girlfriends about the four countries and regions I would like to visit the most – New York, France, Vienna and Australia. I had no idea that my dream and reality could be so close, and after many sleepless nights, I finally packed up and set off in the morning of 20 September. Looking back, the first time I came across the issue of environmental protection was when I was in the sixth grade. I was fortunate enough to participate in an ordinary and niche summer camp on water quality protection in Yushu, Qinghai, where I detected the deterioration of the water quality of the three sources of the Yushu River, and saw the layers of rubbish piled up on the mountain slopes, which gave me an initial impression of the deterioration of the environment, and laid the groundwork for the next course of action. However, from the beginning to the end, environmental degradation and climate change did not take root in my mind, perhaps related to the fact that I did not experience natural disasters.

However, environmental protection and I are related. During the “Retracing the Road of Learning and Sen” Northwest Science and Technology Environmental Protection Summer Camp in the Ngöbe Desert for the second time, I not only learnt about China’s initiatives to plant trees in the face of desertification and vigorously develop the sand industry, but also had the honour of meeting my excellent tutor of the University of Cambridge, who was deeply impressed by my pragmatic and hard-working performance in the course of the camp, as well as my wonderful insights and sharing after the camp. During the summer camp, she was deeply impressed by my down-to-earth performance and my wonderful insights and sharing after the camp.

Since then, my tutor has provided me with a wealth of resources in the field of sustainable development. These include the volunteer qualification for the environmental themed summer camp for university students at the beginning of the year; the 2019 China Eco-Internship Programme in the summer, where I wrote a corporate research report for a bamboo product company to help the company operate better and restore the ecology of the bamboo forests in Anji; and this time, the United Nations Youth Climate Summit. In addition, my mentor has invited me to share my gains and growth from this summit to the public at the end of October at the Chancellor Library, and I will do my best to do so.


Q2: When did you decide on this direction?

As a matter of fact, I don’t think I have set a direction; I have tried countless directions so far and have never set a dedicated route. I’m a very curious person, and for me, determining a dedicated direction is difficult and amounts to ruling out all other possibilities. I have wondered in the past if I didn’t have enough clarity of purpose, but more and more now I feel that any possibility will do wonders for my life until it is fully matured. The temporary achievements of Eco Directions have made me realise that every ordinary attempt could make a big difference in my life. Therefore, to keep trying new things and to develop my interests more is the biggest rule in my student stage.


Q3: What were the most memorable experiences in New York?

During my five days in New York, I was alone for most of the day, and having no one to rely on forced me to learn to communicate and break out of my comfort zone. In the old NYC underground stations, the unclear signage, insensitive swipe machines, frequent navigation errors and vague station announcements put me at constant risk of getting the wrong direction and invalid swipe cards. When I encountered difficulties, I had the courage to ask the passers-by and the staff in my not-quite-familiar English many times, and solved a lot of problems.

In addition to the metro experience, I also began to be very proactive in communicating with the students and organisers of the conference, answering my own questions and giving others a better understanding of China and my feelings about the climate. I also try to show my concentration when I don’t understand what I’m saying, and I’m flexible enough to change the subject when someone else finishes. For an introvert like me, it is not easy to communicate with others in English. However, there are still many times when I am afraid to express myself. This trip to New York is the beginning of my courage to express myself, and I will have more progress in the future.


Q4: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since entering SU High School?

The way of learning in high school is very different from the past. In the past, all you had to do was to finish the homework assigned by the teacher and listen to the class attentively, but in high school, the teacher’s fill-in-the-blank style of education will be much less, and instead, it will be the students’ initiative to ask questions and explore, so the biggest change brought by high school to me is the initiative. In the process of preparing to study in university, we need to find and seize a lot of opportunities to participate in more meaningful social practice activities and enhance our influence. Any opportunity could have made a difference in my life, and I suddenly realised that taking chances and working hard for them had unexpectedly made a difference to me. Last summer, I joined the SU High School Dance Troupe with full confidence, but I didn’t expect that my weak basic skills and lack of expressiveness would be exposed, and coupled with my introverted personality, I seemed to be a little transparent in the dance troupe, and was always in a state of inferiority. However, during a meeting of the dance troupe in May this year, my sister introduced us to the public number of the dance troupe that she was running, and I was immediately struck by an idea and took the initiative to apply for editing with her, thinking at the time that it would enhance my editing skills. Since then, I have become an indispensable part of the dance troupe, and even if there are some small frictions between me and the members of the troupe, I will solve them sensibly. After my sister went to school at NYU, I took over all the work on the public website, and would later pass that work on to the next class of students. As I entered high school, stories like these happened more and more, and I became more and more convinced that initiative is a necessary ingredient for us as students to actively explore the world. In addition, as students, immediate academics and exams are only a part of life, and broader exposure and reflection are more important. Not calculating too much about immediate benefits before doing something, and exploring more with an inclusive mindset, without being impatient or utilitarian, are very important factors that have helped me reap small successes so far.


Q5: It’s hard to break out of your comfort zone, how did you overcome it?

I think first of all, you need to have a sense of curiosity, and be persistent in exploring anything new. Interest is the first driving force, and having a curious mind must be the driving force for us to break away from the normality of life and challenge ourselves to get something new. In addition, we need to set up a goal or set an example that we are very eager to achieve and always keep this goal in front of our eyes to hint ourselves. I will do my best to overcome obstacles in order to reach the goal that I desire so much. Going to an Ivy League college is a recent goal of mine, and even though it is not very realistic, I still keep a pencil bag, water bottle, and notebook from a prestigious school in front of me to encourage me to keep challenging myself and getting closer to my goal. Although the role models around us are equally inspiring, we also need to look at them optimistically. I myself was once lost, always comparing my own shortcomings with the strengths of others, and although I sometimes felt very sad, I never stopped trying to do a good job in front of me, and in retrospect, I still need to analyse the gaps rationally, and I can’t feel inferior because of the strengths of others, but rather, I think about how to get closer to my role models according to my own characteristics.