‘What is philosophy?’
With my lack of knowledge about philosophy, I didn’t expect to be able to write a whole essay in 2 hours about the broad subject ‘War & Peace’. I had entered the competition for fun, how big was the chance that I would be chosen out of all the 650 participants. Imagine my shock when I heard that I got through the national preselection.
After receiving the certificate for the Belgian preselection, the Belgian organizers decided to help us to get to know philosophy better. Every Wednesday afternoon, the 9 Belgian contestants and I would gather at the university where a teacher would guide us through the philosophical world. We would have discussions about everything and the one thing that I really won’t forget is the infamous question ‘what is a chair?’.
Before anyone could realise it, the 12th of May arrived and it was time for us to meet the other 84 students that flew to Belgium from all over the world just to participate in the IPO. To say I was nervous would be a huge understatement. I had a million and one questions; ‘what will my roommate be like?’, ‘will I be accepted?’, ‘what if they treat me different because I wear a hijab?’. You see, I was the only person, out of all the participants, teachers and coaches that wore a hijab. And because of recent events, I was afraid I’d be treated differently. But that didn’t happen. On the contrary, they treated me like we were long lost best friends.
We met some people when we arrived at the hotel and decided to get to know each other while eating pizza, because let’s face it, pizza makes every conversation easier and worthwhile. During the opening ceremony, people from 45 different countries were gathered together in Ghent’s city hall where everyone and the IPO was introduced. To say it wasn’t awesome would be a lie. Getting to know all the 93 participants was one of the most thrilling things I’d ever done.
After wishing everyone good luck, we entered the massive and frightening room to write the essay. 4 hours later, we gathered together and new discussions about the 4 quotes that were given to us were held. Late night conversations were what kept us up. Pyjama parties were thrown and discussions that went from feminism, to religion, to transgender people, to abortion, etc. found place and we talked about all the different things until we saw the first rays of sunlight.
Before anyone, or at least I, could realise it, it was the last day that we would spend together during the IPO. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that my two Korean babies both won gold medals; it was the first time in the history of the IPO that a country won two gold medals.
After the award ceremony, we were offered food and a friend found her new found love for macarons. People started to leave to catch their flights, leaving everyone heartbroken. Common interests were found and purple puke was shared. Voices were lost and songs were sung. Tears were shed and hugs were given. Phone numbers were exchanged and pictures were taken. All in all, it was a moment that I most certainly won’t forget and a moment that I’ll cherish forever. I still can’t believe that it happened, it feels like a dream come true, and the feeling I had when I returned to my normal life, it’s a feeling I never want to have again.
To finish I would like to thank some people. Firstly, I would like to thank miss Maes, miss De Vreese and miss Everaert for supporting me, believing in me, helping me get through it and for being there the day of the award ceremony. I would also like to thank my best friend Meliha Çakir for believing in me, listening to me, pushing me into taking risks and into getting to know new things and for supporting me all the way through. Danny Praet & Pascal Vanhoecke & co for making everything possible and for guiding and helping us. Erika and the other 8 Belgian contestants for the laughter, the friendship, the fun and the memories. Daniel Jungho Choi (Korea) and Kim Euiyoung (Korea) for being Korean, for the memories and for the laughter we shared and tears we cried. And finally, I would like to thank Aisté (Lithuania), Tomas (Argentina), Marcos (Mexico) and all the other participants for all the beautiful moments we shared, for the laughter, the memories, the jokes, the discussions, the knowledge, etc. Wish we could turn back time and freeze it so that we would be able to talk and get to know each other better and I hope we all stay in touch through all the social media that exists.