By Ashecia Sam. Updated 3:13 p.m., Sunday, June 7, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Feature: She left the shores of St. Vincent and the Grenadines five years ago in her pursuit to higher education, leaving behind the “most important part of herself”- her baby daughter Lola- Morae St. John.
It was the hardest decision she had to make.
But it later turned out to be the most rewarding.
Zuleika Lewis, a former Vincentian Broadcaster was awarded a scholarship in 2015 from the Republic of China on Taiwan to pursue studies in Journalism.
It was a bitter-sweet moment for her.
“It was definitely one for the books. It has been both bitter and sweet at the same time. I think that is mainly due to the fact that I am very family oriented and having to leave behind some of the most important part of myself and journeying to not only a place and culture that was quite different but also in terms of the distance”, Lewis said.
At that time her daughter Lola-Morae was only two years old and Zuleika displayed the typical motherly behaviour.
She said her first year in Taiwan was “tears, tears and more tears. That is exactly how my first year went. She was around two and a half when I left, and it was absolutely devastating for me. Persons around me would tell you that it was a very, very hard decision for me and how many times I threatened to come back home”.
Lewis said she was always worried about her daughter and feared that no one will be able to take care of her child like she can. While she may be right about that, Lewis realised that her daughter was surrounded by the most loving and caring people and that was in safe hands.
“It is your daughter; you don’t think anybody can love her the way you can so if she falls you would think they are not taking care of your child and you would want to come home. I had to snap out of that mentality that she is going to need me because she was doing fine. I was the one who wasn’t. She was okay with my mom, with my other half and with my friends and I am glad that they didn’t make her feel like I was so far away and that is not something she feels. I ensured that over the last five years that I called her every single day”.
Lewis said “as she got older, I was able to converse with her and I stated to her what I am doing, why I am doing it and how I am doing it. As she grows older, it got better”
While having to deal with missing her family back home, Lewis had to also adjust to her new life in Taiwan.
“I think it is pretty balanced, There were quite a few culture shocks. For example, some of the foods were different. I would try what I want and leave what I don’t. Some of their everyday behaviours, for example, something as simple as going to the bathroom. There is a hole in the ground that you do whatever you need to do. That was literally the first culture shock because when I got to the airport and when we got to the bus stop, I needed to use the bathroom. I remember going into the stall and I saw the hole and I didn’t know what to do. I think it is called a squatting toilet, so you have to squat. It is not like what we are accustomed to so that was my first culture shock”, Lewis recounted.
She said “I was fortunate to have others around me who lived and studied in Taiwan, so I was briefed before I got here. A lot of things I was quite aware of before.”
After spending her first year in Taiwan learning Mandarin, Lewis had a change of heart. Following some introspection, she realized that she was no longer fond of Journalism, so she decided on a new area of study.
“I know a lot of persons would know me from Journalism and initially I took my scholarship to pursue Journalism in Taiwan but then when I got here and I spent a year doing the Chinese Language and then I really sat done and did some self-reflection and decided maybe I need to make a change in my career path and so I decided on Travel and Tourism. I was falling out of love with Journalism,” Lewis said.
She said that she felt stagnant in Journalism and she had absolutely no desire to return home to work with anyone. She wants to be an entrepreneur and International Travel and Tourism presented that opportunity.
“ I have done Journalism for an umpteen number of years and I’ve already gained that experience. There were instances where I felt that where I wasn’t able to grow how I wanted to grow so I really thought maybe it wasn’t best for me to get a degree to go back to stay the same place again”, she said.
As much as Lewis is convinced that she has fallen out of love with Journalism, she has been writing while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International Travel and Tourism.
“I still write. For example, I have a good relationship with Kenton and throughout my years in school, he would review my pieces and he would allow me a space to write human interest stories. I would miss news. It is not that I was completely out of it. Almost every year I still produce some human-interest stories and most of them were about Vincentians-celebrating their achievements in Taiwan”, the former broadcaster said.
This young Vincentian woman and mother left with one goal in mind and that was to achieve a 90% average for every semester, and she did just that.
She said it was by no means easy but with determination and with the support of friends and family she was able to be outstanding.
“Here is where I think you really cannot and should not do it by yourself. There were some courses that I felt I needed to ask persons who I know are within this field or who should have knowledge about it. For example, Statistics. For some love of God, I could not get statistics. I could not get it. I said I am going to get the lowest possible grade for this, 60% and I am fine. I was tired of it, but I had my family and my other half who would stay up with me when I am frustrated and would just say you know what take a breather. Look at it from another angle, rest yourself, wake up, look at it again”.
She was always willing to ask for assistance when she didn’t know “There were also Vincies at home who I know had a lot of Math skills and I remember contacting some of my old co-workers who did accounting. Can you teach me from your way how you understand this? How I overcome these challenges is when I don’t know I ask. It was imperative for me to learn so that I can be able to pass what I was doing am I am grateful to the persons I was able to harass and bug to help me understand whatever concept I needed to understand”, the outstanding Vincentian student said.
While many women the world over lament about not finding supportive partners and partners of like mind, Lewis doesn’t have this issue.
“ I think I am fortunate to be blessed with someone who has been very supportive from the get-go. I remember when we started dating and I said I want to go study so maybe it isn’t a good idea for you to pursue me. He said well you are in luck because I studied in Taiwan and I’ll support you in whatever you need to do. He kept his word for the last five years and I am very appreciative of that”, Lewis said cheerfully.
She is extremely happy that he kept his end of the bargain in her pursuit for a higher education. “ He was one of my driving forces because I can say to him I just need to talk to Lola for five minutes. Sometimes, he would send me pictures or videos of her to cheer me up. He did his part and I am very, very grateful for that”, Lewis said.
Lewis graduated yesterday from the Ming Chaun University in Taiwan with a Bachelor of Science Degree in International Travel and Tourism. She was also the most outstanding student in her program, and she said this is the most rewarding experience from her Taiwan journey.
“I think it would be the 2020 Outstanding Scholarship Student. To be recognised by the people who gave me the scholarship it means that they have been looking at my work over the years. I had a goal and my goal was to keep my average above 90% for every semester for my four years and I achieved that”, the outstanding Vincentian Student said.
Although she was doing extremely well, she was pleasantly surprised.
“It was quite a surprise when I got the email from MOFA (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan) stating that I was chosen as the 2020 outstanding scholarship student. It wasn’t something I expected, I didn’t even know such an award existed. I was just doing my best for me. My goal was not to come first person every semester. My goal was just to keep my average above 90% for every semester. That’s all I wanted to achieve. And it so happened that at the end I received this email and I was shocked. I didn’t know people were looking into me and they even asked my school about me. Then, they had interviews and recommended me stating all the things that I was doing at the school and they interviewed me for an article which will come out later”, she expressed.
Lewis delivered the graduation speech at her school’s 2020 graduation ceremony.
The outstanding Vincentian student said she was the only Vincentian in her program. But she was not the only one who graduated yesterday.
“I am not the only Vincentian in my school, and I am not the only graduate of this year. Also, Jamari Prince, he graduated this year with me. He did International Information Management”.
Lewis acknowledged that she didn’t achieve this alone and she is filled with gratitude.
“I am very, very grateful to the Government and people of Taiwan, the Embassy in St. Vincent and of course the Government of SVG for providing these opportunities for persons like myself. I always believe in the quote that talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Being given this opportunity I decided that I am going to make the most of it. I didn’t wish to spend one extra day, one extra semester, one extra course. It was out of the question I would come here to do what I needed to do then go home to my Lola boo.”
Lewis is satisfied that she not only did that, but she did it with distinction.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1981 and SVG has benefitted from a number of initiatives from Taiwan including the scholarship program.
Vincentians have maintained an excellent reputation on academic performances in Taiwan and Zuleika Lewis now join that cohort of excellent Vincentian students who studied in Taiwan.
Lewis has her eyes set on graduate studies but not anytime soon.
“I did consider a route of masters. I actually applied to three universities in the UK of which I was successful in all of them but Covid hit. I also applied for Commonwealth Scholarship, but I was unsuccessful at that. For now, I just want to go home eat some Bread Fruit and Smoke Herring, cuddle with my Lola and rest my brain for a bit. But it is definitely not the end of my academic journey. It is just a pause”, she expressed.
Lewis is uncertain when she will get to see her “Lola-boo” as she affectionately calls her daughter because of the global pandemic. But, she is happy that her studies in Taiwan has ended and she is optimistic that seeing her daughter can be any minute now.