Dear future self,
Starting A Journey of Rediscovery, Renewal, and Revival
Ever since I took my gap year, I grew accustomed to traveling solo, finding peace in the unknown. Therefore, I have always believed in is in discovering new experiences. I made the decision to study abroad in the United States when I was in high school, and chose to go to a school I knew nobody at. Everything was fresh, everything was new. For me, it was easy to challenge myself in new environments, simply because they’re new. However, once I got comfortable at UVA, I knew I had to leave for yet another new environment. We talk so much about leaving our comfort zone, which can be solved easily by experiencing a new environment, but the true challenge is leaving our comfort zone in familiar environments. It is so difficult to pull away from what we already know, or think we do, and get lost in the past.
To this point, I look forward to rediscovering Singapore, not the skyscrapers, but the little shophouses, the little villages or “kampung”, that are losing its significance in the newer generation; renewing my mindset towards an area I so desperately want to depart from; and reviving my balanced and active lifestyle that I pursued before I left for college.
The Changing Landscape of Business in Southeast Asia
The business landscape in Asia moves fast. When I left, Singapore was an attractive market for VC, but just a few days ago, I caught up with my ex-colleague in Corporate Finance, and she shared with me about her recent deal flow mostly stemming from Jakarta. I’m incredibly excited to learn about the current tech landscape here, and will be making sure to gain some firsthand knowledge about it. Just a stone’s throw from the NUS campus lies the new Dyson Singapore Technology Center, which focuses on R&D in AI and software. It is fascinating how Singapore is slowly being recognized as a tech hub of Southeast Asia, and I can’t wait to explore it.
Living Like a Local with Singlish
History was never my favorite subject at school, but I have come to appreciate it. Singapore was one of the ports back then in Malaya (which were Malacca, Penang, and Singapore), and therefore the mixed culture from visitors had a large influence on the language we use today. While the official language in Singapore is Malay, many Singaporeans are up speaking Singlish (Singaporean English) and Chinese (Mandarin). Singlish is a fascinating mixed language, derived from English and Hokkien (a common Chinese dialect). Locals love to tease the fortunate ones who go study abroad, and who come back with an American or Australian accent pretending that they’ve adopted a different lifestyle. Even though I did lose my Malaysian accent in America, I fully intend to learn to speak like the locals, with Singlish. While Manglish (Malaysian English) is very similar, I grew up speaking Mandarin and not Hokkien. Thus, in 4 months, I believe my Mandarin and also my Hokkien would be improved.
Integrating Myself Into a Mixed Culture
Just like Malaysia, Singapore has a mixed demographic, comprising mostly of Chinese, Malay and Indians. Apart from celebrating 4 different New Years every year, everyone grew up eating, playing, and studying together. While everyone is proud of their own unique heritage, everyone also learns to respect that of others not just in the classroom, but outside of the classroom as well. For me, this means learning to adjust in a different classroom setting, where the relationship between your lecturer is very different than that of back in the States. Respect for different cultures also shows in the little things you do, such as being aware of pork dishes at a restaurant when dining with a Muslim.
Opening My Eyes to Set Myself Free from Stereotypes
Growing up in Malaysia, there were many stereotypes about Singaporeans that we were taught of. We constantly competed with Singaporeans, right down to even who has the best food. We were told that Singaporeans were “kiasu”, Hokkien for scared to lose. Perhaps some of these notions were true, but that shouldn’t matter, or better, this is a great opportunity for me to correct these ill notions. What may be perceived as “kiasu”, may just be diligence.
Change for the Better
I think all change is for the better. There is only one direction, and that is forward. This moment is life will be another point of change, through widening my mindset by learning different cultures, beliefs, and subjects. After this study abroad in Singapore, I hope to become more open, cultured, and spontaneous.