I signed up for the GSL programme not really knowing what to expect from it. However I can confidently say that it was one of the best decisions of my life, and definitely one of the most impactful things to have happened to me. Before the trip we were given a basic itinerary, which included activities such as dragon boating, rock-climbing, Oxford/Cambridge field trip and a visit to Globe Theatre, all of which I was excited for and looking forward to. However, it did not mention much about what we would be learning, and all I knew was that there would be talks, as well as a big project at the end of the programme.
To prepare for the trip, I spent a lot of time writing and refining my essay (the topic I chose was the one on Globalisation), reflecting on what I expected to take home from the programme.
Finally, the day arrived when we would be leaving for London. I remember that we met the pair from Thailand at the airport itself, making them the first participants we met and made friends with. Throughout the programme, we constantly ate and chatted with them. After introducing ourselves on the bus ride, we got our first glance of Wellington College. My first thought at the moment was that it was huge, and extremely picturesque. The architecture was completely different from the high-rise buildings I was used to in Singapore, and such wide open spaces were practically unheard of except in books I read about England. We then got off the bus, and had our first experience of the weather. It was much colder than I was used to, though I gradually adapted to it over the course of the programme. We then stopped for a snack, and rested till lunch, our first taste of the English food. On the first day, we met the students from India, and together with the Thais, did our low-ropes activity. At night, we met the Jordanian and Chinese students, and really got to know more about the course, what it entailed and what would be expected of us. It was also the first time we got to see the amazing coaches in action, holding our attention and inspiring us since the start of the briefing.
Throughout the course, I really learnt a lot about the different aspects of being a leader, as well as what social action and entrepreneurship was all about. The speakers were all able to engage with us, and had many important things to share with us. They were generous with their knowledge, and patient with our questions and clarifications. The different activities they prepared enriched our learning and allowed us to put newfound skills to practice, and helped us better understand the lessons taught. Most importantly they were all extremely driven. It was very apparent from the lessons and sharing that they were passionate about what they did, and sincere about wanting change in the society. This helped to motivate us throughout the entire course, and also provided us with many role models to look up to.
However, what really helped to set this programme apart was the wide range of activities planned, and the way the coaches handled them. We had games, projects, presentations, tasks and reflections to work through, and all of them were relevant and beneficial to our learning. I especially remember all the times I had to present to the audience of over fifty people. At first, I was extremely reluctant to do so, but then I realised that this was a wonderful learning opportunity, to present to an ‘extremely supportive audience’ (Amy), and towards the end, I felt much more confident about speaking up in public.
Group tasks were equally meaningful, having to work with different people from different countries, with different cultures. I quickly learnt that all of us went about doing the tasks differently. Some were far more outspoken than others, but the quieter ones often had something really important or useful to say. It was up to the more confident ones to include and encourage the quieter ones. Working with a group of different people taught me a lot and also allowed me to practice many things I have learnt throughout the programme.
My team coach, Amy, was amazing. She was very experienced and knowledgeable, and would try to help the quieter ones to speak up, as well as remind the more confident ones about working as a team. Although at first we were finding working together as a bit of a challenge, with her help, we were soon comfortable with each other and working as a team. She was also very kind and understanding, and would help answer any of our questions, as well as listen attentively during our reflections period. She often motivated and encouraged us, and made sure everyone in the team was giving their best and getting the most they could out of the course.
All of the coaches were very friendly, and it was great feeling that these adults had time for me, and were very concerned with getting to know me and meeting my expectations for the course. To do so, they spend a lot of time with us, often eating, playing soccer and basketball, chatting, swimming with us, as well as regularly asking for our opinions and feedback. They also treated us as adults, talking with us calmly, asking questions and explaining to us, all the while staying very respectful. Not once did they lose their temper, or speak to us as if we were children. This encouraged me, and I made an effort to do the same, to treat everyone with respect and to listen carefully and attentively.
One of my strongest recollections was of Alex asking about what were some of our expectations of this course. Many of the participants wanted more time in London, to sightsee or do shopping. He said that that he would try to make it happen, and managed to give us time in London after our next trip. I think all of us were immensely surprised and grateful and very moved. From that, I could sense that the coaches were all doing whatever they could to make sure that we enjoyed ourselves, besides learning a lot. Even though they went to sleep after us, making sure everything was finished and they were prepared for the next day, there was always somebody up early, ready to conduct our Maniacs sessions. I was very impressed by their self-sacrifice, and hope that I would be able to do the same.
Lastly, the activities helped us participants to bond. One of the unique things about the programme was its international nature. The coaches made great use of it by introducing activities such as ice-breakers, Maniacs and games. These made it easier to get to know each other, especially those outside our groups. I am really glad for this opportunity to meet people from other countries, and to make friends and learn about their cultures. We are still keeping in touch in various ways! A Facebook group was set up for the coaches to relay news to us, and for us to keep in contact, but most of our chatting is done in the Whatsapp or Wechat groups. It is a great way to encourage and motivate each other, as well be able to have someone to talk to anytime.
Some instances where I feel I got to know the other participants most were during the London Factor, trip to the primary school, the dance on the last night, as well as the breaks throughout the whole course. May I suggest that for GSL 2014, the planning team considers having ‘group breaks’? It could entail giving the groups an hour after lunch which they spend together and choose from a list of activities.
The Singaporean team was the first to leave on Saturday, and I simply couldn’t bear to do so. The presentation of certificates and photo montage were an excellent way to bring closure, and the ‘Sugar Cubes’ and ‘Tunnel of Love’ made it impossible to forget the friends we made there. Although it was sad to leave Wellington College, I knew that I had learnt and experienced a lot, and thoroughly benefitted from the programme.
After we arrived back in Singapore, the first few days were unbearable. I experienced, for want of a better phrase, withdrawal symptoms. I really missed everything about GSL, the school, the food, the programme, and most especially, the people. Not only did I have lessons to return to, Alex was right when he warned us that ‘no one would understand what we have experienced’. No one around me could relate to how I felt, or what I did, or how amazing the last two weeks were. However, it got better after the setting up of the Whatsapp group. I also created a Wechat group to keep in touch with the Chinese. With people to talk about our experiences to, it was a little easier to cope with heading back to our normal schedules, and living our normal lives.
We decided that we couldn’t get back to leading our normal lives, and the Singaporean team met up a few times to discuss our social action project we planned in the last few days of the GSL programme. We planned and allocated roles, set a timeline and drafted a proposal and email to the school, to carry out the project. We wanted to use our new skills to help our community, and also create a legacy for GSL 2013. While waiting for the school’s approval we embarked on a side project, to compile a list of all bursaries in Singapore, along with their requirements, so that the financially needy students would be able to conveniently apply for them. The list is constantly expanding, and we are regularly receiving updates from our school and teacher-in-charge.
I wish that somehow I could go through the whole experience again, but I am grateful for the opportunity that the GSL team has created for us, and the wonderful two weeks they planned for us.
Again, it was one of the most impactful events in my life. I hope Future Foundations will continue this programme, so that more young people can benefit from it, and grow to be Global Social Leaders. Good luck for GSL 2014!