Charles McLaurin

Major: Business Administration

Hometown: Albemarle, NC

Study Abroad Program: National University of Singapore Business School

I have been back in the States for nearly three weeks after having spent just over four months studying abroad in Southeast Asia.  As a student at the National University of Singapore, I was able to not only study at one of the world’s leading educational institutions, but also to explore so many new and intriguing cultures.  From going out on the town with my American friends in Singapore, to wandering through the Malaysian jungle, to exploring temples in Cambodia, my experience abroad was dynamic and life-changing.

I am forever grateful to the Phillips Ambassadors program because it allowed me the opportunity to take full advantage of my time in Asia – I took every long weekend I could to travel throughout the region (as far north as Hong Kong – my favorite city in the world – and nearly to the equator on the island of Bintan, Indonesia), and I went on as many local outings with my Singaporean friends as my schedule would allow (which, as an exchange student, were many!)  What has proven to be an even greater blessing, however, is the fact that as a Phillips Ambassador, I was challenged to go beyond the standard boundaries of tourist, exchange student, and even traveler.  My fellow ambassadors and I were asked to thoughtfully consider the people and institutions of Asia by reading about and discussing myriad aspects of the place before we embarked on our respective journeys.  The trip was my first beyond North America and I know that by thinking about Asia pre-departure (and about the ways my experience in a new culture and with a new people could impact my ideas, opinions and beliefs) I was able jump into every part of my journey with an open and realistic point of view.  With this outlook I questioned every new encounter for what it honestly was; I strove to disregard pre-conceived notions about what I should see and how I should feel, and to constantly consider the emotions with which I was actually responding to my new surroundings.  These ranged from exasperation and anger at getting lost countless times on Singapore’s  public transportation system, to joy and contentment while eating a bowl of late-night pho on a street corner in Saigon.  I realized that the fact that my experience was neither a bed of roses, nor a disastrous episode of culture shock, was OK, and in fact, looking back on my time abroad, I believe that in coming to terms with this reality, I made a sincerely genuine connection with my temporary home.  As a Phillips Ambassador I attempted to live as a TR (temporary resident) of Singapore; though the acronym is my own and potentially vague, I defined it as living as best I could like a local.  The fact that Singaporean “hawker” food is truly some of the most delicious I have ever eaten made this part of the gig a walk in the park!

After my time abroad, it is hard for me to believe that I nearly decided not to apply to the program due to the load of unfulfilled academic requirements over which I worried during the first semester of my junior year.  In the end, however, my classes translated smoothly back to UNC, I am on track to avoid the infamous 5th year victory lap, and (what is so much more) I am certain that I learned an invaluable lesson in living.  As an occasional creature of habit, my time in a totally foreign place amongst an entirely different culture forced me to adapt in a process that wasn’t always painless (i.e. the aforementioned public transportation fiascos augmented by a working folk that spoke very little English).  What I hope to have taken away from my experience, then, was this: the ability to accept change and newness for what it is; to celebrate and enjoy the good, and to laugh at the bad.  I think if there is a trick to life, this might be it, and so, it’s something I plan to keep working on.  I think I’ll begin directly by succumbing to my travel bug and hopping on-board every opportunity for adventure I encounter!