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Musings

Why I Have Chosen To Further My Studies In Singapore

Fresh out from High School (or National Service), choosing a suitable college or university – staying local or going abroad – can be one of the most perplexing decisions for a young student. In my opinion, a generalised discussion on the disadvantages and merits of an education in Singapore or overseas is considerably meaningless: first, different schools and varying specialisations are extremely diverse across the board; second, individuals should make independent decisions based on their personal desires and expectations, instead of relying pedantically on the evaluations of others.

Financing a long-term overseas education is not as straightforward as it seems.

Through this piece, I hope to articulate some of the reasons for choosing to further my studies in Singapore; at the same time, share some of my struggles, arguments and justifications. As aforementioned, all my opinions are by no means representative; in fact, the point I wish to highlight is this: do not allow stereotypes to manifest, because you – yourself – should choose your own path of advancement.

Financing An Overseas Education

I come from a middle-income household, so financing a long-term overseas education is not as straightforward as it seems (besides tapping into the family’s savings and making sustainable plans, study loans would be necessary). Applying for a scholarship would appear to be the obvious option under these circumstances; unfortunately, beyond the rigour of the selection processes, one has to be mentally-prepared for the commitment and bond that comes with the awarding of the scholarship. I was not.

My performance during the last round of examinations was fair, so pragmatically it would have been an uphill endeavour to also gain entrance into an overseas institution.

The incontrovertible truth is that heading out of Singapore would present an assortment of benefits, including attainment of a prestigious degree and interactions with people, events. Sometimes, I do rue the missed opportunity to broaden my horizons in another country (anecdotally, my friends are having a great experience in their respective colleges, and have made great acquaintances). Nonetheless, sacrifices are imperative, and the entire decision-making journey inevitably involves a certain degree of give-and-take.

Strengthening Commitments In Singapore

Education should go further than the academic or scholastic dimension; naturally, it is my perspective that one’s college years should also be dedicated to activities and projects in the community. Other than continuing my personal commentaries here on this website (the rhetorical expression of change), I would love to sustain my involvements with the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) and United Nations Association of Singapore (UNAS). At AWARE, we will continue to run a body image-eating disorders campaign; at UNAS, we will work on Model United Nations (MUN).

“Some might desperately want to pursue an overseas education, in a bid to assuage self-doubt and notions of inferiority that they might have … but ultimately, the university degree is not the measure of the man”.

With Singapore’s fledging civil society, it would be constructive for individuals interested in making a difference to heighten their levels of holistic participation.

Above all, I believe that spending quality time with my family in Singapore – especially as a single child – is of utmost significance (which is why I am slightly apprehensive when it comes to staying at a school hostel). These moments are innately precious to me.

Some Last Words

In August later this year, I will be pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration and Masters of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Amongst my counterparts from my school (Hwa Chong Institution), there was this constant, immense pressure to pursue an overseas education regardless. Unsurprisingly, when I was contemplating my decision early on – in my relentless ambition to head to the “best” school for the “best” education to do my “best” – my eventual resolution to pursue my degree in a local university did imbue me with a mild sense of inferiority.

However, it is not about wanting the “best”; it is about what I wanted for myself.

My friend expressed it most succinctly when he said: “The inferiority complex can work both ways. Some might desperately want to pursue an overseas education, in a bid to assuage self-doubt and notions of inferiority that they might have … but ultimately, the university degree is not the measure of the man”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

Discussion

27 thoughts on “Why I Have Chosen To Further My Studies In Singapore

  1. “The inferiority complex can work both ways. Some might desperately want to pursue an overseas education, in a bid to assuage self-doubt and notions of inferiority that they might have … but ultimately, the university degree is not the measure of the man”.

    In more than one way. Except for the Ivy League and Oxbridge colleges, most of the overseas universities are easier to get into. In fact, for many well-to-do good-for-nothing scions of the elites, the overseas universities are the only choices because they are unable to gain entry to local universities.

    Posted by The | January 13, 2012, 4:04 pm
    • On overseas education is a long-term investment; the student and family must decide whether it is worth the huge amount of money to gain that global exposure and academic insights. I don’t wish to speak for others, but yes households should be more judicious in their decisions.

      “Good for nothing scions of the elites”; I don’t really see anything wrong with heading to an international college, especially if prospective undergraduates fail to gain entrance to our local universities. To each of his own, really.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 13, 2012, 11:00 pm
  2. This seems plenty like rationalizing to me.

    Regardless, there are indeed times when what seems inferior in the short term becomes superior in the long term. The path to achieving our eventual goals are often oblique.

    Guess all i want to say is that acknowledge that the institution you are entering is inferior. Accept the fact. (Of course don’t piss off fellow school mates). But because of that, understand that you have to be exceptional and unique in one way or another other to overcome the deep bias society has. Start thinking about that special aspect and build on it these 4 years to separate yourself from the cookie cutter overseas graduate.

    And like it or not, society loves university degrees and uses it as a measure of the man. The only way i see possible to overcome this would be relentless effort and plenty of luck. Good luck!

    Posted by Anon | January 14, 2012, 1:15 am
    • Positively so; of course, without extrapolating, I wrote the piece with the intention of explaining my choice and decision to stay in Singapore (the title of the post pretty much summarises my intent). As I expounded in the piece, my main perspective is that it is a give-and-take. I don’t think it is fair to generalise the institution as being “inferior” (academically and scholastically, I am presuming), but I am positive you have your justifications. Then again, varying circumstances present very different options for different prospective students.

      With regard to your advice: thanks, but no thanks 😉 Comedian Ellen Degeneres once jokingly said: “Don’t give advice. It will come back and bite you in the a**“. I don’t want to start school with unfair, preconceived notions (which may not even be true).

      The pressures everywhere are the same, regardless of where one decides to pursue his education. Individuals on either side might have a head-start, but as you asserted in the beginning “the path to achieving our eventual goals are often oblique“. I don’t wish to “separate [myself] from the cookie cutter overseas graduate” (what does this actually mean?); I just want to live my life on my own terms. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic? Maybe, but I’ll do my best, not the “best”-benchmark that has been set by our stakeholders.

      Pragmatically, I suppose your final statement holds a lot of truth, probably in the corporate sector where competition boils down to the finest of factors. But of course, if one wishes to entrench himself in the expectations of others (conveniently labelled as “society”, a premise which I disagree), it’s their prerogative. My experiences in civil society and with individuals in general have shown that even though people find it difficult not to take into account one’s education background during first impressions, substance and ability – some luck as well, possibly – matter in the long-run.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 14, 2012, 11:05 am
      • Well, perhaps i have been a little too harsh in my wording. What i meant to say was that the general society views it that way when compared to the top universities from overseas (which of course may not be true in terms of curriculum) and we have to accept it, unless we can change it.

        I’m not sure if your referring to the public/government sector when you mention that substance and ability matter in the long run.

        However, in the civil service all i want to say is that ability and substance are not skills that remain constant when you graduate from the university. Instead, they are skills that develop and grow through the various experiences and exposure you have in your jobs.

        In my limited and narrow view (admittedly) of the civil service, they view overseas graduates (with good results) as a tier higher from the start and groom them by sending them to “selected positions” where they are prime to have the best exposure and growth. It will be a vicious cycle, with those whom enter these “more meaningful jobs” developing the right perspectives that will inevitably impress the right superiors. From then on, they will enter the next “talent grooming appointment” and again, grow the “right way”.

        So yes, substance and ability matter in the long run. But from the very start, anyone who chooses to enter the civil service with a society perceived “inferior degree” will lose out in terms of growth and exposure due to the career planning of the organisation. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but not many.

        Of course, all these refers to the public service since i’m not particularly enlightened of human resource planning in the private sector. Life is complex so there may be paths not yet traversed which can bring you to your eventual goal. Deciding not to entrench oneself in others expectations and living a life of self fulfillment is perhaps the more suitable path to happiness. All the best!

        Posted by Anon | January 14, 2012, 3:46 pm
      • Don’t worry! Our opinions differ, but I get a little wary when individuals contend that a certain institution – local or overseas – is “inferior”. I think these comparisons can be very convenient and pedantic, and I suppose distract from the true purpose of a higher education.

        But you are right on the point about the civil service (at least, as we all understand anecdotally). In the army for instance, I feel like it is an open secret that glass ceiling is present; a benchmark that separates employees with scholarships, and those without these awards. And yes, most of the time the receipt of these scholarships correspond directly to the colleges attended (SAFOS and SMS scholars make their mark in Ivy League universities, or prestigious schools in the United Kingdom). Paths have been drawn up for these elites, and late-bloomers in particular rue the unfair distribution of opportunities, and the purported absence of meritocracy later in their careers. I am presuming this applies to PSC recipients and the rest of the public service.

        This is the way the system works, and in retrospect the rigidity (taking into account the bond, and associated responsibilities over the years) might have influenced my decision a couple of years ago. I don’t think I am entirely comfortable with the concept of a bond, and am of course in disagreement with some of the restrictions – especially in terms of the articulation of public perspectives and opinions (I experienced it first hand during National Service) – so scholarships were not very enticing. But of course, maybe I’m not good enough to even be considered, who knows 😉

        To each of his own! I am sure with your abilities you would go very far in the future, with a local or overseas education, scholarship or not. Bonne chance!

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | January 14, 2012, 9:59 pm
  3. Greetings fellow HCian,

    My experience has been that degrees are a means to an end. IMHO many undergrads place too much emphasis on the wheres and hows of obtaining their degrees, as compared to what they will do with them after graduation.

    Care to share your plans for the future?

    Regarding finances: could you provide a ballpark figure of you would deem affordable? You may be pleasantly surprised.

    Posted by Melbourne | January 14, 2012, 11:59 am
    • Hello; nice way of corresponding here 😉

      I am quite interested in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and have a very keen interest in civil society affairs (still making some basic in-roads, at the present moment). Of course, I remain tremendously open-minded, so would use the years in university to pursue my passions. These inclincations pretty much explain my choices. The business degree would probably be quite functionally, but I am looking at the public policy option with keen academic interest. Besides my main career I hope to be involved in different aspects of community service and volunteerism as well.

      Are you referring to the estimated figure for an overseas education?

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 14, 2012, 3:38 pm
      • If you’re that interested in CSR, perhaps you should have pursued a double degree in Social Sciences and Business. And perhaps not in NUS, for NUS is known for its academic rigour and not too much for its connections with the businesses and ngos. Well i’m not for NUS and i await your post on how you find NUS and their CSR scene, especially in how NUS engages businesses to conduct CSR.

        It’s too early to say that you’ll do a Masters (unless you’re under a certain program). I’m in my penultimate year and it’s not uncommon to be jaded by the reach of the half-way mark. I come from Singapore Management University and i have a couple of HC friends, who are also not spared by the university fatigue. I am not to say that NUS will be the same and i wish you all the best in the endeavors.

        Posted by Desiree | March 11, 2013, 6:06 pm
      • Yup I’m doing a concurrent degree (bachelor in business and masters in public policy), which was the main reason why I chose the school (besides the scholarship). I’ve heard great things about the course in the LKYSPP, so I’m more excited for that really. As to whether NUS has strong connections or not, I would think that it’s pretty hard to gauge, especially when you are looking at it vis-a-vis the other institutions. Our perceptions are – more often than not – going to be biased – and unless we quantify and qualify every single “connection” (even so, the proposition is quite a stretch), a lot of it is going to be premised upon anecdotal evidence, which I am slightly sceptical of.

        Ah, university fatigue… I’m taking it pretty easy now actually, in terms of caring less about the grades / results, and spending time continuing with my other external commitments. But, what do I know? Maybe things will change after the first year.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | March 11, 2013, 6:17 pm
  4. 1) Perhaps I should have been clearer… I can see how your choices broadly tie in with your interests, but have you given any thought as to the specifics of how you are going to translate your degree into a tangible goal/position in the future?

    For example, a position at an NGO etc. Apart from the Civil Service, what are the options for MPP graduates? Academia?

    As Anon | January 14, 2012, 3:46 pm has pointed out, choices you make at this stage in your life will open some doors and close others – often permanently. We’re not here to judge your choices. What is important is that you fully understand the implications of those choices – and are prepared for them. Hence the emphasis on specifics.

    2) Just to be clear again, I’m not asking what an overseas education costs, but rather, in your opinion, what figure would your “middle-class family” deem “affordable”?

    Posted by Melbourne | January 15, 2012, 10:07 am
    • 1. No worries, I understand. CSR is a key interest, so specifically a position in a MNC focusing on this aspect (many of them have departments concentrating on this, though the concept itself is still slowly gaining traction). I don’t think the MPP is pedantically limited to careers in the civil service or academia.

      In a broader sense, I am also pursuing the MPP for academic-scholastic purposes, to heighten my understanding of issues and raise general cognisance as well.

      2. I don’t reckon I could give you a good estimate, but I should make it clear that my family has the financial ability to send me overseas; it is just not as “straightforward”, as aforementioned (gathering savings together with some necessary loans). As opposed to a local education with a bond-free, university-based scholarship, I think it made the decision for us a lot simpler too.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 15, 2012, 10:58 am
  5. to be perfectly honest, this seems like blatant rationalisation after the decision. to be blunt, i mean self-consolation, in the form of self-enhancement: Self-enhancement is a type of motivation that works to make people feel good about themselves and to maintain self-esteem.[1] This motive becomes especially prominent in situations of threat, failure or blows to one’s self-esteem. from Wikipedia. sorry.

    Posted by ytilear | January 20, 2012, 1:08 am
    • I can understand where you’re coming from, but cannot exactly justify or explain why you perceive the decision to be a “situation of threat, failure, or [blow] to one’s self-esteem”. I do concede (as mentioned in the original piece and in some of my comments) that I was initially disappointed and a little uncertain with my decision; however, I am contented with my present decision. Regardless, I’m equally comfortable with how others choose to perceive my choice(s).

      Perhaps but your lofty standards, haha, a local education is a far cry from an overseas one; but, to each of his own.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 20, 2012, 10:50 am
    • Even if the post were a blatant rationalisation after the decision (it may not be), it doesn’t mean that the points made in the post hold any less truth.

      Financing, scholarship-bonds, family, commitments–these are definitely valid considerations.

      It’s not like the Universities here in Singapore have poor international standing. True, the top Universities worldwide are better than Singapore’s. But still we do have decent options within our own country, options which many others in other countries do not have.

      Plus, I like Singapore. I like my countrymen. I like our culture. I embrace Singlish. Studying here in our own nation is an experience that we wouldn’t get studying overseas.

      Prestige, results, income, status–go ahead and pursue them relentlessly if you wish.

      Some of us are confident of attaining a certain level of those here in Singapore while also fulfilling other intangible wants that we have.

      Posted by Quanxiang | March 4, 2012, 9:27 pm
  6. Wow, my sentiments exact again… I’m choosing a local uni not because I cannot get into the IVY league or Oxbridge…. but somehow i’m still feeling some sort of inferiority when people talk about their overseas unis… :S Occasionally I doubt my choice… and wonder if I’ve made the right one.

    Posted by wow | April 9, 2013, 11:30 pm
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