“When you do something that you love, you will always find self fulfillment”, says Victoria Puglia, an ASH alum from the Class of 2017, sharing her personal perspectives and reflections with us on what contributes a meaningful learning experience. Her insights are built on a rich foundation that branches across her time at ASH, her post secondary education at Lafayette College, and her own drive for personal growth and fulfillment. It is this combination of elements that has led her to be recently awarded with the coveted Rhodes Scholarship, a distinction that has only 100 recipients out of a pool of 2,300 (global) applicants. This international fellowship award is one of the oldest in the world.
Let's wind back and look at the path Victoria took to achieve these accolades, starting with her high school education, which she began at ASH. A native Barcelonian, she moved to the Netherlands with her family at the start of grade 9 year - a difficult time, she reflects, to transition into the friendships and school life that was already formed from the years before. She managed this transition by following her passions and joining clubs that both caught her current interests and love of learning new things, with the dual purpose of settling into a new school and a way to make friends. This included a wide range of activities: speech and debate/NESDA, Pratham, photography, dance team, swimming, and CAS for service learning. Each of these endeavors brought a new skill set or built upon one that Victoria was already cultivating: for example, speech and debate helped her develop critical thinking, putting issues together in the intersection of theory and practice. It was thinking on her feet - refuting arguments in the moment and crafting eloquent and relevant rebuttals; a useful skill that transcends beyond the classroom walls.
Working with the ASH Pratham chapter planted a seed in Victoria which has blossomed over the years to learning about global development challenges. While at ASH, she organized two Color Runs that fundraised nearly 4000 euros for Pratham in India, collaborating with the local municipality and surrounding schools for an attendance of over 200 participants. Large scale event planning is something that she continues to do today; at her current university - Lafayette College, she is the president of the International Student Association where she has successfully organized and executed student orientation programs and international educational weeks - skills that are rooted in her time here at ASH.
Her participation in CAS and service learning brought forth a passion for travel and immersion in other cultures, which was always present but in this arena flourished. Working with local refugees in Wassenaar, Victoria started a small club with the teenage refugees that focused around social activities: cooking, games, reading - things to help bring them closer to the Dutch culture. Her involvement with this club created an enduring interest in refugees, their lives, their hardships, and the social and legal process of integration.
This interest and desire to help have continued during her time at Lafayette, where she joined a similar club devoted to helping refugees, and became intrigued with refugee rights around the world. Victoria also spent a semester abroad in Uganda, where she was able to carry out her own field research in northern Uganda in various refugee settlements. Throughout her time at Lafayette, she prioritized traveling and learning by immersion: she travelled to Senegal her freshman year for a study exchange, which she says was “extremely transformative” with local lectures and field visits; she spent her sophomore year winter break in a university in India; and during her junior year she went to Peru, living in a home stay to learn about climate change and how it affects the Andean farmers - experiencing all she learned in the classroom first hand in the field. Victoria also embarked upon a trip to Sri Lanka during the summer of her freshman year to volunteer in a Buddhist temple, introducing her to the concepts of Western aid and development, all of which contributed to her understanding of international relations; the field of study she is currently pursuing.
The creative arts and respect for physical wellbeing and health also have a place in Victorias rich and diverse learning foundation. Her creative outlets at ASH included photography and dance, and a healthy Dutch lifestyle focused on movement, fresh air and cycling which she will forever treasure about her time living in the Netherlands. Her learning experiences in the arts taught her to think about issues with creativity as a solution, for example, where creative activities are used by NGOs in international development as a tool to promote peace. The interdisciplinary approach was something she always appreciated at ASH, where she says, “ASH creates this environment that motivates and encourages learning, and helps you grow into being a good student. The IB program gives you the structure and tools for self discipline, which can be applied in university to find study patterns that work for you. ASH does well at offering a range of courses to produce a well rounded person in studies and interdisciplinary course connections”.
Victoria’s path has never been straightforward, with many twists and turns and she relied on following her passions to keep herself moving forward. She reflects: “for a long time I was under the impression that once you get to college you will find your place, find your passion and your way; but during my first bit of time at Lafayette, that didn't happen for me. I was confused, so I started joining clubs like I did when I was at ASH, to find my passions, change courses to find interest and happiness; I embraced the confusion and immersed myself again in things I enjoyed doing. After returning from Uganda, things started to fall in place for me; this somewhat disjointed way has helped me grow into the person who I am, the person I want to be.” Her hard work ethic attributes to her motivation to keep learning: once she commits herself to something she gives it her all. In fact, one of her former teachers at ASH says, “Victoria leads with her head and heart. She has been an active voice of change for years and her dedication to making the world better is a testament to her spirit. We need a world filled with Victorias.” Alongside a full course of studies, club participation, independent research projects, and student leadership at Lafayette, she has also worked various jobs in her spare time to save money to enable herself to study abroad when the opportunity presents itself - learning at its best in the global classroom.
To our current students and in parting, Victoria ends with these words of reflection and inspiration; “When it's possible again, take the opportunity to travel - even if that just means going to a city that's new (to you). The discomforting situations when navigating a new environment are when you are reduced to your rawest self; the moments in life where you are forced to rely on yourself the most; where you find the most ample space for self growth and developing your own self worth. Be at home, and focus on yourself and your own projects. This pandemic can be a blessing in disguise, where you can use time at home to learn or teach yourself something new. I used the free time I had this summer to teach myself how to code; reducing the busyness of your life allows you time to embark upon something new, that you never did before. And no matter what, see everything as a learning experience. There is always room for growth and improvement; even in these times where things can feel overwhelmingly negative, you can ground yourself in the concept that there are always moments to do something new.”
Victoria emphasizes that no matter what she embarks upon, she is always following her passion - which never guaranteed success but always guaranteed personal goal fulfillment. Internal fulfillment is the most important concept to Victoria, something we see echoed in all of her learning experiences at ASH, Lafayette and beyond - something she will keep on pursuing as she journeys forward in her path - parts unknown and parts defined - the perfect combination for fostering meaningful learning experiences.