Major: Physics and Mathematics
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Study Abroad Program: National University of Singapore: Science
If you were to ask my wide-eyed, overly-excited, college first year counterpart what his plans were for the next four years, the long list of typical college experiences he would include in his response would most certainly not have included studying abroad. Starting out as a college first, year I was thrilled to be starting on what many people told me was going to be the most exciting time of my life. I was excited about the freedom, the opportunities for self-exploration, and of course the wondrous new social atmosphere. I knew that college offered many opportunities for study abroad and after having travelled to London to visit some family, I longed for a means to return to Europe. Ultimately though, I chucked the idea of study abroad aside as an expensive and fruitless dream.
During the summer after my sophomore year virtually all my friends travelled abroad. One of my friends, Annie Kimberley, travelled to China through the Phillips Ambassadors Scholarship and several more travelled to Europe. This peak in overseas activity among my friends made me reevaluate my earlier conclusions about the cost of study abroad. After extensive research and many talks with past study abroad students and the Asia study abroad advisor, I concluded that I could study abroad. I have to say that my decision to apply to study abroad and to apply for the Phillips Ambassadors Scholarship was by far one of the top ten best decisions I’ve made as a university student.
Thanks to Ambassador Phillips, his wife, and the coordinators of the Phillips Ambassadors Scholarship, I was not only given the financial support to study abroad in Asia but I was challenged to actually learn about my surroundings while there. So while I did have the stereotypical study abroad adventures of island hoping on the weekends, window shopping at expensive megamalls, eating EVERYTHING in sight, racing a moped through uncharted lands, and almost getting my precious few hairs singed off by Thai fire dancers, with the encouragement of the Phillips Ambassadors Scholarship I was able to leave Southeast Asia with even more valuable lessons. I learned that Singapore, with its incredible development in a relatively short time, is much more than just “Asia Lite” as many called it. From the small shop owners I befriended in my quaint little neighborhood of Commonwealth to the many lovely International and Singaporean students I befriended during my time there, I discovered a commonality that bonded us all. I discovered that the greatest lesson one can learn from study abroad is that by being accepting and open to other cultures and perspectives, one learns just how similar we all are. From my Singaporean friend Krystelle, I learned that love of cuisine is one shared worldwide! From my Dutch friend Alies, I learned that being a student of the sciences is equal parts joy and pain. From my Canadian friend Nicole, I learned how difficult it can be to search for love. From my Singaporean friend Sonia, I learned that no matter how perfect one’s world may seem there will always be the reality of inequality and discrimination and how government is ultimately not doing enough to address these issues. This same truth became clearer to me upon visiting Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia. From these places I learned that, even when surrounded by seemingly insurmountable odds, we as humans want to do nothing more than survive and be happy. I learned that there is an innate human trait which allows us to smile in the face of adversity not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Ultimately I learned, as the popular Southeast Asian saying goes, we are all the “same same, but different”.
I often reflect on my time abroad and find myself missing Singapore and Southeast Asia deeply. My experiences there have influenced my interactions here at home and have deeply affected how I see people and the world. Aside from this, the experiences really helped me learn more about myself. Being put in a completely different environment for such a long period of time really helped me evaluate which of my personality traits needed to be improved on and which ones were fine. I learned how to be more independent and how to be more outgoing and more willing to share my ideas and opinions. In addition to that, I was forced to re-evaluate my belief and value system and determine which beliefs I still strongly believe and which ones needed a worldly upgrade. So ultimately, the study abroad experience has helped me gain a broader perspective and an appreciation for humanity as a whole. In addition, it served to help both strengthen some of my beliefs and restructure others and I can’t thank the Phillips Ambassador Scholarship enough for such a valuable life experience!