After a brutal 17-hour journey from Singapore and through Tokyo, Japan, I am finally here in Los Angeles, California. Not quite as taxing as the 24-hour flight to the city of New York, but it has been nice to settle down and to acquaint myself with the community. The next steps would be to get prepared for the school and the graduate curriculum, before easing into more familiar routines.
There is some trepidation over what is to come, and thoughts of the imposter syndrome and doubts that I am not good enough will inevitably seep in, though the (academic) excitement for what is to come overshadows much of the apprehension. The two years in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) were a productive segue. Six months of exchange studies in Helsinki, Finland, furthermore – in 2014 – prepared me well for extended and independent stints abroad, and the concerns over homesickness throughout this four-year PhD journey is probably eased by the plans to visit the family back in Singapore, every winter- and summer-break.
Yet plans are plans, and as the Steinbeck cliché goes the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Years in the classroom and at the workplace may have made the prospects of disruptions and surprises a little less daunting, and moreover the privilege of not having financial or family constraints presents advantages too, though some things will go wrong. After all, how this PhD opportunity came so nicely together – which I describe as a neat convergence of my past and ongoing work in the community, the research methods I honed in LKYSPP, and a growing national interest in the social service sector – can only be attributed to a ridiculous amount of luck.
The long-term goal is to be a productive (research) asset in the philanthropic and non-profit sector in Singapore (and in Asia), and I am probably also at a stage of my life through which I should amass as much expertise, knowledge, and research rigour as possible. That would also mean maintaining that connection with Singapore throughout this period, by writing, by connecting, and by working.
But all these can wait (at last for another week or two, as I tend to the administrative and orientation requirements). Still jetlagged, though I have walked around the stunning UCLA campus, enjoyed some good weather and food, and started seeing to my personal affairs. I may remain more than 14,000 kilometres away from Singapore – a distance which I traversed, across that 17-hour flight journey – yet in the years to come my heart (and my work) must remain rooted in my country.