Tuesday 31 January 2012

Reflections by Singaporean students living abroad

Get out of comfort bubble, see the world
By Ethan Lou, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2012

DAZED, I awoke, my eyes crusted from slumber, and my mouth reeking with the previous night's alcohol. I was pretty sure I was still drunk.

I found myself on a bus full of Europeans, all of whom were relieved that I did not vomit. They told me that the bus was going to Cambodia, and I, glad that I was on the right bus, drifted quickly back to sleep.

I had been on the road for two weeks, and I went on to spend two more months in five more countries.

Last May, I embarked on a three-month journey through the Asia-Pacific. I was alone and carried little more than my rock-climbing equipment and two T-shirts. Besides a vague direction to head for, I made absolutely no plans.

It was the period between the end of national service and the start of university. I had seven months, and I wanted to do something interesting with my time.

I wanted something exciting. I longed for travel and adventure. I wanted to be alone and far away, with no itinerary or even knowledge of the local language. To me, that was freedom in its most absolute sense.

I had intended to head north, through the Malay peninsula, Indochina, and East Asia, and then fly east to North America, making my way to Toronto where I was due to begin university in August. I did not plan to return to Singapore until the December holidays.

But the journey ended prematurely two months later, in July, when an expiring visa left me nine hours to buy a desperate ticket out of China before I became an illegal immigrant.

I narrowly missed a flight to Seoul and the only other available destination - as fate would have it - was Singapore. That was where my journey ended.

A fellow traveller once asked me if I would ever miss my time spent backpacking.

I gave an inconclusive answer. I was barely two weeks into my travels and could not really appreciate that question.

But now - yes. I do miss it.

I had an amazing time. I experienced many things for the first time and forged bonds that will never be broken. Every ounce of resourcefulness I had was put to the test, but I emerged stronger. I opened my eyes to the world, and the world opened itself to me.

It was something I will never forget and I believe everyone should have a similar experience.

As Singaporeans, we live in a big bubble. The children grow up with maids and iPhones, whereas many elsewhere grow up without even shoes. Our entire country is a city and many of us have never seen vast, majestic landscapes.

We do not have the pleasure of beholding breath-taking historical sites either, simply because our country is so young.

We can always see the world through media, but seeing is not enough. A picture might paint a thousand words, but it is only a mere thousand. An experience writes volumes.

We need to go out into the world, not just to see it, but to touch it, and interact with it. The world is an amazing place, and it is unfortunate that so many of us have experienced so little of it.

The writer, 21, is a first-year journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Getting my hands dirty - and proud of it
By Kristie Michelle Chiew, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2012

'HELLO, housekeeping!'

I make A$20 (S$27) an hour, thank you very much.

In between juggling the usual university course load and requisite hours at the library, I work as a housekeeper in a small motel.

I make beds, clean bathrooms, change linen sheets, wash dishes, replenish complimentary coffee packets and vacuum what I think are the never-ending hallways.

When I left Singapore to begin my university education in Perth three years ago, I was excited and ready to tackle anything life was going to throw at me.

After the first six months, I was sufficiently settled in my new home. So when a friend asked if I wanted to earn some extra cash doing housekeeping, I thought: 'Hey, it's just cleaning, why not?'

As it turned out, it was not quite as straightforward.

It is a whole new ball game when you have to wade through someone else's junk; and making a single bed and a double are two very different processes.

Glasses have to be dried the moment you are done washing them lest there be water stains. Refrigerators have to be disinfected before a guest checks in and after he checks out.

But I kept at it because it felt good to be earning my own money, and even better that I had to work hard for it. While I am by no means supporting my own university education, like so many of my peers, it felt good not to have to ask my parents for money for frivolous dates.

However, I really felt a sense of achievement when I returned home that first Christmas after starting work. My mum was impressed with the speed I changed the bedsheets, and my long-time helper was ecstatic when I shooed her out of the kitchen and cleaned up after dinner.

I even started to feel uncomfortable when she tidied my dressing table, and felt even worse if I left my bed unmade.

Our domestic helper has been with us since I was eight and has been taking care of me all this time.

But it felt amazing that what started off as good pay for a few hours' work has taught me to change my self-centred attitude and behaviour at home.

And while I still gleefully hand over a basketful of laundry to my helper to put into the machine with the rest of the clothes, I now appreciate that it is a luxury I am fortunate enough to enjoy. I would even try to help, especially on linen washing day.

Yes, I have had to deal with disgusting bathrooms. Yes, there have been crazy guests and their just-as-absurd demands. Yes, there have been rooms that have been impossible to stay in, let alone clean, but those are stories for another day.

For now, I am happy to be working as a housekeeper in Perth... if only because now I can get the beds done faster than my helper!

The writer, 22, is a final-year political science and history major at the University of Western Australia.

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