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For this year’s review, I reflected on my personal and educational experiences, focusing on living abroad, and finding my own path in education.

Living and working abroad

This year starts off with me returning from Australia. I had been living in Sydney for around 8 months as I was there for a tech internship. These few months have undoubtedly been the most transformative period in my life so far.

Knowing when to speak up

As the sole tech intern of a small fintech startup, I was very suddenly given ownership of many critical functions of the product. Reporting directly to the CEO daily meant that I had to learn how to communicate efficiently across different domains, and I had to very quickly pick up on social skills as well— before this, I considered myself to be an overly-reserved and relatively shy person. Whether it’s talking to clients, or hashing issues out with coworkers, the role has definitely forced me out of my comfort zone and made me more comfortable with my own voice.

I learned the importance of knowing when to speak up— to ignore the internal resistance and listen to my voice of reason instead. You, and only you, are responsible for making things happen for yourself. I’m sure this seems very obvious to most people, but I learned this through some pretty hard times at my job.

Expectations vs reality

I realised that, coming into this experience, I set high expectations for myself— I thought that I was gonna do lots of networking and work intensely to better myself. The harder you try to search for meaning, the likelier you’ll end up forcing narratives onto yourself, and the further away you will land from what is truly meaningful.

This made me kinda miserable for the first few months or so. Once I started to open my mind to this mistake, I started to enjoy myself a lot more. Outside of my dayjob as a tech intern, I had limited freedom due to time and financial constraints. Traveling and eating out around Sydney was NOT cheap, and I definitely had to manage my spending carefully.

Going outside

Being around Sydney during autumn to spring meant that going outside was actually pleasant, and I enjoyed exploring the city on foot and going out for hikes at nearby national parks during my free time. While I did kinda miss the humidity from back home, it was nice to not be sweating every time I’m outside 😅.

More importantly, going outside to see/experience/do things made me realise that there are so many other ways of living than I thought that I knew. Singapore is so so small, and breaking out of that bubble was truly perspective-altering.

Graduating from school

Officially finished my journey from primary to tertiary education, so I feel like im “qualified” and ready to form a full opinion.

One very common question people ask me whenever I tell them I studied at a Polytechnic (poly) is if I regret the decision to study at a poly (instead of junior college, which is just this other educational path). I dislike this question because it frames the decision of educational pathway as a sort of long-term investment decision. This line of reasoning presumes that all students decide what is the best next step for them on the basis of a set of technical tradeoffs— people who think like this are more likely to think of their choices as them “settling”. People who think like this are likely to pursue the thing that they think is the “best use of their exam results”.

My advice for people who are stuck with this mode of thinking is to look beyond the numbers, to realise that these metrics were created to implicitly tell you what someone on top decided was more instrumental.

I’m not a straight-A gifted-program student, but I do know that if I really put my mind to something, I can master it. What’s difficult to undo are virtues that years of being in the education system has drilled into my pscyhe (self-comparison, along with the fear of falling behind are still very much second-nature to me), especially as a student who can’t perform consistently for exams/tests.

I’m speaking my mind, fully-aware that this might sound like woke-speak to some people, not for the sake of being contrarian, but because as someone who has never done well enough at school for my whole life, I felt like I finally had purpose and motivation to do things once I took academics less seriously and instead turned my attention to things that interested me.

Ironically, I feel like it was precisely this mindset shift that enabled me to be better in exams and tests generally.


Onwards to univeristy for me!

I once read a quote from some engineering book, it went something like “both the science and engineering you will need for your future will more and more often be created after you left school”.

Take control of your own education, think very carefully about how you’re gonna fulfill your interests and passions, and let that guide your education. School is only the bare minimum.