Class of 2014
Calgary, Canada/Hong Kong
It was after eight months of preparation that Meike Sydney Radler found herself in a room full of people who rarely spoke to each other, much less shared deep-seated and painful memories.
The room was filled with Filipinos and residents of the contested Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao — two warring peoples. As a leader of Initiative for Peace, a student-run conflict resolution group at her high school in Hong Kong, Meike's job was to organize the annual conference that sought to increase understanding amid war-torn regions.
"About halfway through the conference, there was this wonderful moment at the sharing circle," she says. "People were sharing these traumatic incidents and memories. That's when I knew it was all worth it. We had achieved something."
Beyond simply organizing the conference, the student members of Initiative for Peace had to raise more than $12,000 to host the event and subsidize travel for participants who couldn't afford to make the trip. All this was taking place while Meike captained the basketball team, wrote for the student newspaper, and ran cross-country.
The conference was the zenith in a school career of trying to make sense of the clashes and violence among ethnicities and nations. The way to create a more peaceful coexistence, Meike says, "is not to try and adopt another culture but to understand where they come from and where their views are rooted."
Born to German parents in Australia, living most of her life in Canada, and attending school in both Canada and Hong Kong, Meike has had a rich experience living in foreign cultures. At the Li Po Chun United World College where she spent two years of high school, she came face to face with a completely new society. "There were 82 nationalities in my school of 200 people," she says. "I learned quickly to listen first so that I could understand where someone was coming from."
Impassioned debates were a regular occurrence at a weekly Global Issues Forum at the school, where "hot issues" were discussed.
The wealth of knowledge she developed was used to build up Initiative for Peace, as well as in the Model United Nations club. At a Harvard conference earlier this year, she won an honorable mention award in the social, humanitarian, and cultural category.
After these experiences, Meike says NYU Abu Dhabi was her first choice because of the international mix of students. "I love the conversations and projects that come from working with people from different countries," she says. The experience fits in with her aspiration to work in nongovernment organizations after she graduates."I want to travel," she says. "I want to be a part of very effective projects in the world."
In her life abroad, Meike has found that she can feel at home anywhere, as long as she brings along memories of where she comes from. "I create an environment to make myself comfortable," she says.
Cosmopolitanism, she has discovered, is one of the most pressing and complex issues in the world today. It lies at the heart of conflicts between different societies, religions, and countries. "We don't want the world to become a mush, with no distinctive cultures anymore," she says. "But I think there should be a greater effort to understand each other. This is very important in the Middle East."