The quietly spoken but intensely passionate Aquila Underwood, from Paraparaumu College, has been awarded a scholarship to attend a United World College (UWC) school in Swaziland next year.
With 17 United World Colleges on four continents and students selected from 155 different countries, Aquila is about to embark on an eye-opening cultural and educational experience.
Seven students from New Zealand have been chosen with all seven going to different colleges around the world.
UWC teach the International Baccalaureate Diploma as their formal curriculum but also emphasises the importance of experimental learning, community service and outdoor activity.
UWC focus on the 16-19 year age group, seeing it as an important time 'when young people's energy and idealism can be guided towards empathy, responsibility and lifelong action'.
"It felt pretty unreal finding out I made it in, I'm still trying to process it," Aquila said.
"I also couldn't tell people for quite a while until it was all confirmed properly.
"People from tons of different countries apply and at some of the colleges they have up to 100 nationalities.
"The whole point is so that young people can come together, meet and learn about people from other countries and learn how to live sustainably together.
"It's a really good place to get involved with community service projects, but because there's so many people from different countries, just being around them you get to know so much more about the world.
"Because you have to do the same application process, everyone has the same goal — to create change."
Aquila hopes to learn more about the world, about how other people think, and explore different perspectives she has not been exposed to before.
She is looking forward to meeting like-minded people but also be challenged to think differently.
"I'm looking forward to meeting different but similar people.
"It is an amazing way to see different cultures.
"Nelson Mandela's kids and grandkids went there.
"I want to learn how to make the world a better place to live in and to have a greater understanding between people and their lives, to be challenged to explore perspectives I've never even thought of before just by being around culturally and ethnically different people."
Aquila will be the first New Zealander to attend the UWC in Swaziland and is excited about making global connections.