Part One: How I become a Global Citizen

The story starts as a young child in primary school, I was enamoured with martial arts, Kungfu films and ninjas. This is the birthplace of my love for Asia and what ended up being one of the most transformational experiences of my life. This interest in another culture and the amazing skills and abilities of a magical world, so different from my own, sparked the interest, intrigue and ultimately passion for exploration and discovery.

I am fortunate to have a multicultural background with family members living all over the world. My father’s side is Maltese in descent, my grandparents were born in Alexandria Egypt and came to England as refugees of the Suez Crisis; all spoke multiple languages and were crazy in their individual ways. My great-aunt travelled the world as a guide and visited over 200 countries, she was the original explorer and is remembered through my daughter’s middle name. She was loving, eclectic, eccentric and full of stories; a true inspiration.

My mother’s side is Scottish Jew, her mother and 2 brothers moved to Canada where my cousins were born. Some of my favourite times as a child were spent during summer in Canada. One of my first tastes of international adventure was a summer trip with my English cousin at the ages of 10 and 11. We flew to Canada just the two of us for a number of weeks with the grandparents, put on to a plane by my parents on one side and collected on the other, it was quite the adventure.

Due to my family background and regular interaction with different cultures and countries, from a young age it was fundamental to develop an open and inquisitive mind. This flame of curiosity was fanned once starting secondary school education.

On starting secondary school I got the chance to choose from 7/8 different languages. These options then became compulsory subjects for at least 3 years, and this I later discovered was the first blessing I received from my school.

I chose French, and to my delight, Mandarin Chinese – finally I was going to get first-hand training and insight into this magical place. In reflection this was truly a gift, to attend a school with a pioneering Headteacher, a dedicated Head of Languages and a committed language teacher. All of you deserve a shout out; Nigel Briars, Carol Austin and Lisa Wang, I thank all three of you for your hard work and dedication, without you I could not have found the real me.

It wasn’t until my 3rd year at the age of 15 did something truly spectacular and life-changing happen...I signed up for a 3-week immersive trip to China.

Thomas CamilleriGSA Founder & CEO

The first year we travelled to France for a couple of days. Being with friends on an adventure of food, sights and new experiences was fantastic. Meeting local children and practising our limited language ability was great. It wasn’t until my 3rd year at the age of 15 did something truly spectacular and life-changing happen…I signed up for a 3-week immersive trip to China.

This was very much one of the most transformational periods of time yet in my life, it allowed a group of young men the chance to meet other students at a university in Kunming Yunnan province China. We had structured language classes, cultural sessions, student exchanges and were looked after by local Chinese students.

Yunnan is a dream, one of the most beautiful places on the planet “the land of everlasting spring”. We were welcomed by our student hosts’ friendship groups, into their homes, we played sports, we ate food, engaged in local arts and crafts and explored. We may have even snuck out after dark on a few occasions (every night) to investigate the “real” Kunming. To my delight, it was even more enchanting and welcoming than the prearranged student immersion programme.

I was hooked, well and truly.

At that point I was given another gift, it was an enlightenment that I now had a sense of purpose and direction. I knew in my bones that whatever do in the future, had to do with China. Looking back and thinking about my friends (at the time aged 13) how many of them had a crystal clear direction in life? Even now 20 odd years later, not many can say they know where they are going.

On my return, I continued to complete my Mandarin Chinese GCSE and was part of only the second cohort of students doing it. Having successfully achieved a good grade (at a time when most takers of the exam were 1st and 2nd generation Chinese people), a further opportunity was presented.

My school, Calday Grange Grammar, we willing to gamble on offering an AS level (first year of UK college level exams) in Mandarin to our class, of which only Timmy Chan and myself committed to attempting. The offer came with strings attached, it included 6 additional hours of after-school tuition, 3 hours twice a week. Many of which were fuelled by tea and biscuit a la Mrs Wang’s intuition. We were studying Political Humour novels and War time stories, quite the undertaking for a couple of 16-year-old students – lucky for us, we both loved the subject and were dedicated. Passion and persistence are some of the most powerful tools I picked up in school, and they both came from extracurricular activities not part of the core curriculum.

Two years of intense study resulted in my becoming (un-verified) the first British Student to have successfully completed the Mandarin Chinese A-level (K11/12). The paper-cutting gift Mrs Wang gave to me that day still hangs on my office wall and reminds me daily of her tears of Joy (or relief that she would no longer need to teach me) when she presented our results. This was not just our success but her great triumph, not forgetting she had dedicated 7 years of her life to our learning and development. She had personally taken hundreds of students around the world and opened many doors of inspiration and opportunity, I will be forever grateful to her….

Part 2 coming soon!

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