I had gone for GSL not really sure what to expect. Judging by the name and the preliminary timetable we had been given, I had sort of envisioned a workshop-styled course where the main focus lay in theories of leadership interspersed with outdoor activities. Yet it couldn’t have been more different.
I think the one thing that made GSL really stand out to me was the people. I came to realise that a large part of the programme was focused a lot on the interaction between people from different countries and backgrounds. I suppose this is in line with the whole idea of getting us to step out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves. It was hard at first. There was this general air of initial awkwardness that just sort of hung about, while some of the bolder ones among us would go and socialise with clusters of different nationalities, the majority of us would stay in our safe little circle of friends. Honestly, there was a curiosity in me to get to know some of the people, and to know what they were like.
Being from Singapore, where multi-racialism is part of our national policy, I expected myself to feel more natural in such a situation, but honestly it was quite daunting and it felt like every time I worked myself up to speak to someone, the conversation always ended in an awkward silence that both of us hoped the other would break. I think the one thing that changed everything, (and the more I think about it, the more brilliant it seems) was that one question asked by Alex, which was simply, who of us was here to meet new people. Nearly if not actually everyone raised their hands, and he confidently assured us that since everyone wants to meet new people, then there’s nothing to be shy about. After that getting to know everyone else was great. But I think no matter how friendly and dedicated to getting along everyone was, there will always be some cultural differences that can’t be reconciled. There was admittedly some friction in getting to know my group at first. Often, I found myself getting frustrated with working with my group. Though I wouldn’t consider myself a quiet person generally, I found myself more often than not, keeping silent in group discussions, mostly because I didn’t feel comfortable. It was something that really only got better towards the end, and I think I really started to feel comfortable and appreciate each person fully.
This was I think the one thing that I really gained from GSL, friendships. Looking past whatever minor external differences there are, whether be it cultural or ideological, I realised that actually wherever in the world we go, people are the same everywhere. After getting to know everyone better, I came to realise that everyone I met, while retaining their individual uniqueness, was really the same inside. It’s just that I kept harping and fixating on the small differences that I completely missed out how strikingly similar we all are actually. And the most beautiful thing about friendships I learned is that nothing brings people together, reconciles differences, and establishes lasting friendships like having the same heart.
As we headed towards various destinations during London Factor, you could feel the frustration and the disinterest radiating off different members, there was a feeling of “Why are we even doing this” and for others it was like “Let’s just get this over with”. Whilst sightseeing was fun and some of the objectives were fun, that sense of purpose and bonding was often lacking. Yet when we did the Saint Mungo’s objective as well as the Islington College visit, there was a single minded desire to work together and to work together well, not a spirit of “just getting it done”, but one where we aimed to create something brilliant because we saw what it meant and believed in why we were doing it, there was a whole different air and that’s what I think is really important about friendships, that true friendships thrive when we all believe in the same thing.
I also feel like I’ve gained a greater sense of “global perspective” in a way. Getting to know so many people and learning about their daily lives really was one of the most interesting things about GSL. I learned from the ground, the unofficial and honest personal view of people towards their lives in their own country, something which I think I could never get anywhere else. And beyond that, keeping in touch with my new friends after GSL is simply amazing. It’s like a constant reminder of the amazing times I had there and a reminder to look beyond myself and my little bubble of my world and remember that there are so many more people and places in the world to meet and to experience. I have actually been keeping the closest contact with my China friends; whilst being ethnically Chinese myself, living in globalised Singapore makes me very un-Chinese, and it’s been amazing getting to know that side of me all over again.
Beyond making friends and getting to feel part of a greater global whole, on a more serious, personal note, I feel that GSL has honestly changed me on a very fundamental level. I used to feel comfortable just coming home after school, spending some time watching TV with my family and then spend the rest of it on the computer, it felt normal, almost expected behavior of everyone my age. But yet a part of me kind of knew I was just wasting precious time and yet I always believed that because of my limitations of age, of school, of resources, there was no way I could spend my time better. I had read tons of stories online of people who’ve done amazing things as young people, or with so little, yet somehow it always felt to me like those were the special few that could do things like that – I didn’t feel like one of those.
In regards to plans for the future, there was a general idea, but it mostly revolved around the idea of being happy and while it didn’t specifically revolved around money, I thought I would be quite content working for money and really just spending whatever free time I have just relaxing and taking life slow. So I was quite content, though not particularly at ease, with my “just letting each day just sort of pass by”.
After being at GSL three big lessons changed me. The first was about dreams, the second about purpose, and the last about being a person.
There are a lot of things I enjoy doing, but unfortunately none of them convertible into easy direct profit. Some of them are possible careers, but all of them are not easy to be financially successful or even stable in. The first thing I learned about dreams was that they were important. I had never really given much thought to it before but I realise it’s actually quite true that when you lack a passion for something, you will also lack the drive to do it well. Yet that still didn’t resolve the issue of being financially stable. While it sounds amazing to follow your dreams no matter what hardships you face, it’s hard to forget that money is required to live. While I would like to believe I would be okay with tightening my belt and pursuing my dreams, I think it would be unfair to my family and loved ones to expect them to do the same. This also comes in line with the idea of the Vision Board. While having done similar activities before, perhaps in the whole atmosphere of GSL, I began to think more about what it meant, and I realised I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I believed that this was something important to know. Then came the talk with Mr. Jon Harper, that made me understand a certain amount of ambiguity is okay, but yet dreams are what guide you in the end. So there was this sense of importance that came to me about dreams and in a broader sense, what I wanted to achieve in my life.
Towards the end, there was the talk with the guy who was the ex-minister for policy for David Cameron and he presented me with this idea that whatever career you take up doesn’t have to be your passion directly, but it can be one that supports your passion, such as him doing policy for education, his real passion. I also had my one-on-one talk with my mentor, Andy, which honestly inspired me quite a lot. He told me that your career isn’t your life. You can be a designer by career and daredevil by passion (not verbatim but this was the actual example). Dreams, I had come to realise, were really important and even though at this moment I may not be sure of what they are exactly, I know that knowing my dreams is something, that while I may not actively search for, I will definitely keep an eye out for.
The second lesson was on purpose. Specifically, the purpose behind what we do. My understanding and summary of the main objectives of this course (which may be incorrect, but it is my personal experience) is that it is meant to infuse us with an understanding of what we can and want to do. I never really thought I was particularly outstanding; I knew I was unique as an individual, but I thought my personal legend would be one that whilst not identical was quite similar to many others. But what GSL has thought me is that really my destiny is up for grabs. What I am meant to be is not set in stone, but starts getting “carved” when I take action towards it. Daily active steps. I was particularly inspired by the meeting with the Enactors, the things they achieved were simply amazing and yet they had that humility and sincerity despite all they had done. Alex also spoke to me personally and I told him that the things these Enactors were doing were things no one in Singapore did, and he then asked me what was stopping me from doing it. And I understood his point immediately! Suddenly, sitting in front of a desktop playing games, surfing the web, waiting for something to pique my interest or engage me, seemed utterly stupid.
There were so many more things that required my attention. Apathy, as Ms Lim (our teacher) said, was the greatest fault of Singaporean students. And I realised that was so true in me. I was suddenly filled with a zeal to do something meaningful for the people in Singapore who honestly needed help, something that wasn’t a touch and go, but something that was sustainable, that would make a lasting impact. I realised that I want that to be the purpose to drive me. Not self-seeking, self-fulfilling entertainment, but something that honestly benefitted others.
And lastly, about being a person. The thing about the first two lessons is that while they sound great in my head, they’re so difficult to put into practice. One of my greatest fears on the return trip home was that I would be the complete same person I was before the course the moment life resumed its monotonous flow. As the headmaster of Wellington College said, “What makes you different after you have done this course, between you and someone who has not?” These words really spoke to me. Setting up a visual reminder seemed like a great idea, but honestly I knew that in time I would get so used to looking at it that I would grow numb to it and my gaze would just pass it by altogether. And after returning home and normal life resuming, I realised it was really so tempting, so easy to fall back into my old patterns. And honestly I did and am, in some ways. But yet, there’s something that drives me to resist.
The two projects my group has undertaken are always at the back of my head whenever I boot up my computer. And though more often than not I succumb to the seductive lures of senseless entertainment the internet provides, there’s a sense of guilt that comes with it. And I think (or at least I would like to believe) that at the very core of who I am, I know and I want to work on these projects, I want to do something purposeful with my life and I want to be a different person.
In other ways, I am different. I have resolved to learn from the Enactors and also the coaches in GSL. The way they treat people, with an honest and earnest desire to listen and to understand as well as freely giving out affirmations and praises, is something that I strive to emulate. In line with what I mentioned earlier about people being similar at the core, I also strive to be more accepting of people and to always give first impressions a second chance.
All in all, I think GSL has truly been amazing. While my reflection has been terribly long, I thank you for bearing with me as I just type out my flow of ideas and thoughts peppered with inane comments. If it could ever be passed on to them, I would like to thank all the coaches and staff at GSL again for making it such a wonderful and life-changing experience. In particular, I would like to thank Andy, for being so insightful in his sharing with me and Alex, for really affirming me and challenging me to make a change, a challenge I hope I can live up to. While there are things I think I could have done better if I had the chance to do GSL all over again, I realise that there is nothing to regret, because wishing away anything would be wishing away who I have become and who I will become in the future.
Thanks for the great programme, the official bits were great! But honestly it was the unofficial, unplanned moments that really defined it and made it brilliant. Thank you all for everything, it’s been an amazing journey to have walked, and honestly, I think the start of a whole new journey for me.