Growing through new experiences

  • Education
  • Sunday, 14 Jan 2018

Sook Wei (left) sharing a meal with her NUS friends.

The writer talks about starting life anew as a university student in Singapore.

IN 2017, I flew the nest on my 20th birthday. I travelled to Singapore, where I would be spending the next four years at university.

In one stroke, I left the suffix “-teen” behind, and leapt into the great unknown of independent life, starting from the moment my parents left for their return journey to Malaysia.

University life has been amazing – challenging but fantastic all the same. I have discovered so much more about myself than in the last 20 years of my life.

When I came to the National University of Singapore (NUS) last July, I wondered how I would define my time here.

Would I spend it chasing after a near-perfect grade point average? Or would I look for something beyond it – enjoyment of life in all aspects?

In my first semester here, I have experienced the widest spectrum of emotions in my life.

I have tasted the bitterness of not doing as well as I should have for some tests, the panic attack that came from being locked out of my hostel room after office hours, and the tired feeling of wanting to give up.

I have been struck by cravings for good old Malaysian food, crushed by rejections, and enjoyed chatting with friends under the moonlight while seated on our residential hall’s garden swing.

It would be impossible for me to write about all my milestones over the past half year – that’s how vast a scope my experiences have been.

From compressing my worldly belongings into large bags and suitcases to surviving the pressure-cooker environment that NUS is famous for, I have learnt so much that everything made an impression on me, no matter how small.

I have learnt how to make my own decisions, particularly when it comes to the selection of my academic modules for the semester, what to eat for lunch, and when to do my laundry.

I have learnt that sometimes, in order to get what I really want, I need to consolidate my efforts and make my intentions known, such as when I was eventually accepted into an academic programme I had initially been rejected for, after sending an appeal to the director.

By enrolling at an institution where no one from my previous alma mater is attending, I was forced to step out of my comfort zone and make new friends.

In this regard alone, I must count my blessings for being surrounded by people who have made my transition to university life easier.

I have been blessed with the generosity of the Malaysian seniors and the NUS Toastmasters Club members who helped me adjust to university life in Singapore by providing me with a fantastic social life outside of the classroom.

I have also been blessed with close friends who accompanied me during hall dinners and invited me out to lunches and shopping trips over the weekends, despite my habit of never leaving my books and assignments.

From volunteering with the physically-and intellectually-disabled to conducting observations for an assignment at a mosque, I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to study at NUS.

I know 2018 holds a lot of promise, given that I will be taking new modules and staying in new accommodation.

So I’ll say this: I want to do well in terms of grades, but I don’t want to be held back by a desire to secure stellar grades at the cost of learning beyond the classroom.

I want to continue getting lost in the Central Library, reading up on Tudor England.

I want to continue colouring with the friends I have made at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled, whose smiles remind me to be grateful for everything I have around me.

But most of all, I want to learn from my experiences, be it hugely disappointing rejections arising from trying out new things or the pride that comes with acing my prepared speech at a Toastmasters chapter meeting.

I want 2018 to be a year of learning, just as 2017 has been one for me.

Wong Sook Wei is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme. To read more articles written by BRATs participants, sign up for The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) pullout. It is published on Wednesdays and available only through school subscriptions. To subscribe, call the toll free number 1-300-88-7827 (Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm). For more information on Star-NiE’s BRATs programme, go to

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