People’s profiles: I

Image source: Brendan Murphy,

[Been There Done That – UniLife]

by Celeste Chia (UniLife Columnist)

While many Singaporean students are slogging half their lives away studying for an exam they don’t see any point studying for, I would like to introduce to you my exchange student from Canada. From her life experiences, you can see the distinct differences between students from the western part of the world and your own life as a student in Singapore. Some contextual knowledge: she’s a 20 years old Arab Muslim in her third year of university.

She wants to work for the UN in the future (she’s currently studying international relations) under the Commissioner for Refugees. She’s also very interested in Africa and wants to stay there in future. In order to achieve that, she actually went to Rwanda ALONE for 5 weeks to teach English at a junior level earlier this year. Hearing about her experiences was great: she told me stories about how one class had a wide age range of 10 years to over 20 years, and that one of her students who was older than her actually had a crush on her. Her experiences completely shattered any stereotypes I had of Rwanda, especially regarding foreigners’ safety and security.

Over dessert one day, she revealed to me that she wore her hijab by choice after graduating from high school. She had never worn one before growing up, but she decided to implement a change in her life by asserting her identity as a Muslim and covering herself up from head to toe from then on. She’s startlingly beautiful even with a scarf wrapped over her head, and I was pretty impressed by her determination to assert her religious identity over female vanity. Her case is very rare, and it seems that the reverse holds true in Singapore instead.

In her two-and-a-half months in Singapore, she has already travelled to Australia, Cambodia and Pulau Ubin. Just recently, she made a spontaneous trip to Boracay in the Philippines during the school term. Back in Canada, she went on a weekend trip to New York City with her friends, funded by savings from working. She probably has a wealth of experiences I have yet to discover. This strikes me hard, because in Singapore, we tend to treat studying as a full-time occupation, devoting everything to our school life. We need to broaden our horizons and experiences beyond school.

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