Life at the Intellectual’s Challenge- The Asian Age

The display screen turned blank and so did our minds. All of it had boiled up to this moment. Emotions of excitement, thrill, expectancy and strong desire flooded our senses. Then it appeared: 1st place, Owly (15-18category); team ‘LIFE’. Yes, we, the Bangladesh team, had succeeded in securing the first place in an international competition “Owlypia-The Intellectuals’ Challenge” held at the Monroe C. Gutman Library in the prestigious Harvard University. But that’s not where the journey starts…

We have been hearing stories about the Ivy League Universities in the US. Andlike many we had a preconceived notion that it might be beyond us to ever be around there. So when we first came across posters about “Owlypia-The Intellectuals’ Challenge”, I, Fuwaz Iqbal and my friends, Habibul Bashar and Debjyoti Bala Bivu formed a team and registered. That was the beginning of the local round in Bangladesh to be held at our school, International Hope School Bangladesh.  

Our School Olympiad coordinator, Shohan sir, gave us a reassuring nod. We started our full-fledged preparations going through the study resources which included books, articles, movies and educational videos on this year’s theme ‘Creativity beyond the borders’. Yet quite a lot remained and we found ourselves giving speeches, writing creative stories, debating and taking challenging knowledge tests. Then the results arrived. We won this interesting looking quaint trophy stating “Overall first place- Bangladesh”. And that meant one thing for sure: we were going to Harvard for the international round!  

We stuffed our suitcases with clothes and our minds with all sorts of information starting from the formalities of US Visa and Immigration to researching about creativity and how it shapes our world. The three of us set out to travel alone to meet my elder brother, Ferdous Iqbal, who was to join us from the UK and accompany us during our stay. “Owlypia-The Intellectuals’ Challenge” is a four day event. It comprises of five different challenges: Pen Down, Knowledge, Impromptu, Speech Craft and Team Spirit.These are designed to inspire one’s intellectual curiosity, encourage creative thinking, develop analytical skills,and at the same time improve one’s debating competency. All of these mixed into one makes this competition challenging and unique. At the end, the team with the highest number of collective medals and achievements gets to take the champions title. The competition started on the 2nd of July this year early in the morning and we were amidst students from all across the globe. There were a total of around 60 teams from over 20 countries, including teams from USA, UK, Canada, Russia and China.The first session, introducing oneself to the others, broke the ice in this multicultural environment.  

What is very interesting is the fact that this competition delves deep into anything that is unconventional, and challenges the mind to come up with answers to questions never been thought of before.In the Impromptu Challenge the topic that I had to speak about was ‘What three things would you take with you on a deserted island?’ to which I mentioned the names of my family members. And Bashar was asked ‘Which point in time would you go back to in human history?’ and he talked about the industrial revolution. Bala spoke about corruption in his speech in reply to the question ‘What one thing would you want to eradicate?’As a team we confronted creative questions from extracts of articles and books in the Team Spirit Challenge. All these events took place over three days. It was the night before the award ceremony.We three along with my brother were gazing into the horizon amidst a huge crowd for it was the 4th of July, the American Independence day.Fireworks enlightened the night sky in Boston, glimmering over the Charles River. This festive mood did little to console our worried anticipation of the award ceremony the day after, though. The next day came a moment that I can probably never forget. We were inside the Monroe C. Gutman Library’s conference center. The awards were announced one after the other. The three of us won a total of 14 medals in the five categories. We were anxiously gazing nearby wondering if the other teams have won more medals.  

Then the third place was announced: Albania. The second place held by Canada. The drum roll began for the final countdown. Bashar, my teammate, buried his head deep into his hands, and Bala was looking elsewhere. My eyes were transfixed on the screen. The hype was real. Heartbeat increased by ten folds. Although we were confident and optimistic from the start, the first place announcement did shake our minds. Being able to represent Bangladesh and winning in such a global platform was a great honor for us. Our trip wasn’t over yet. We still had places to visit! In Boston, we walked the freedom trail, which is the historic road outlining stories of bravery and sacrifice of American Independence. Tours of the Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were intriguing. It was fascinating to know that the vast Widener Library extended underneath the Harvard Yard. The Stata Center and the Nuclear Research Reactor at MIT blew my mind.We took a cruise on the Charles River which runs through the city. Back in New York, we gave our first ever live television interview, which was aired on an American channel, Time Television.We stared up high at the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center that touched the sky.Times Square gave the sense of fast placed life with people walking, dancing, singing, juggling and the ever changing giant flashy billboards.While walking around Central Park we made new friends and played a game of football with them. We walked the Brooklyn Bridge. The bustling Wall Street with the iconic Charging Bull and the Stock Exchange is quite something. Visiting the 9/11 memorial was a humbling experience. As we approached the Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty brought to our minds the universal message of freedom and equality.  

These fourteen days have changed my outlook on life in ways I could not possibly have imagined. At the end of our trip, looking out the window at the clouds that stretched endlessly into forever, I realized one thing: with belief, perspiration and consistency anything is attainable.  

Written by Fuwaz Iqbal, Student