no, I wasn’t feeling deep when I decided to write this post.
something happened at work today that really made me think long and hard about how my academic journey has been so far, and the opportunities I’ve been beyond blessed to receive. let me start at the beginning…
so, my job: I currently work for a tuition agency cum private education centre (where students go to if they want to take their ‘O’ or ‘A’ Levels as a private candidate for a whole multitude of reasons be it they want to retake the exam or they didn’t meet the cut as MOE students, among other things…) and one of the private ‘O’ Level takers decided to withdraw from the course. wouldn’t have been much of a big deal, except…
…that the student’s grandfather was there to negotiate some terms and bring to light the situation at home, and the student’s habits and character/attitudes. and (with my minimal understanding of the chinese language) I managed to pick some things out, and it gave me quite a bit of culture shock.
now, I must admit, the huge culture I shock I received was mostly due to my lack of exposure to our Singaporean society in its entirety. here I was listening to a concerned grandfather go on a tirade about his stubborn grandchild having his head up in the clouds and spending all day playing video games and wanting to enlist in National Service immediately so he didn’t need to ‘fucking study for the ‘O’ Levels’ and waste all his parents’ money, and the only emotion I was feeling was shock— “people like that actually exist?”
so I tried to pay the old man no mind and continued doing my work, all with this dumbfounded look on my face, and once he finally left I addressed my bosses and remarked that “that definitely wasn’t how I expected to start the working day” and how it was a shock for me, and my boss gave me a reply that I spent the entire day pondering over:
“You went to JC (junior college)— you probably only hung around with the upper echelons of society… The truth is that you will hardly ever get to see those on the other end of the spectrum and you don’t really get to see those who are very much different from you.”
and that thought really stuck with me the whole day, along with the culture shock I received. I mean, despite having come from a neighbourhood primary school, I am fortunate enough to have parents who are above-average income earners and was only placed there because my mother wanted me to be more down-to-earth. I managed to get away from the ‘neighbourhood school’ system of things soon enough— I was fortunate enough to go to a secondary school where everyone was in the same stream and studied the same core curriculum and didn’t have any vocational stream and no one was fundamentally different. being in an environment like this already detaches one from the fabric of society, and going to junior college just detaches one further from the realities of our society– since only 25% or less of all ‘O’ Level takers actually move on to junior college. we don’t get to see what really goes on because we’re living in a bubble where we only meet others like ourselves. and it was with this flow of thought that I realised that there are real problems in the world; there are people with real financial struggles and here I am bitching about my choices further education when there are people who might not even get further education.
I’ve always been a judgmental person (no one is truly non-judgmental) and always thought the worst of the students that I encounter in my work, but this incident really made me rethink things. it made me realise how lucky I was to have a supportive (albeit barely there sometimes) family who didn’t find any need to excessively control me, how lucky I was to have received endless opportunities for a good high school education, and how lucky I was to be able to remain motivated throughout my education while there were others who dropped out halfway through high school just because they didn’t like studying. how I was lucky that I didn’t have excessively strict disciplinarians for parents (although they did have to draw a line sometimes); how I was lucky to get most of the things I wanted; how life has been smooth-sailing for me thus far. it made me realise that there are many others who do not get the same opportunities as I did and that I should be thankful— it’s good to pit oneself against those who are better, but do not ever forget those who have fallen behind. I realised then that I have to stop being such a bitchy judgmental asshole because I do not know the full story and I have been so, so lucky.
and it then led me to think and realise that my straight As and academic/leadership awards and high SAT scores mean absolutely nothing, because I have achieved them in comfort; because I have not experienced what it really means to be and persevere in a trying situation to achieve great things. I do not deserve to brag or criticise others because we aren’t all in the same situation.
it made me feel like a complete asshole, thinking about me, me, and me, but more often than not I forget that the world doesn’t revolve around me and my problems. it made me think of the opening quote from The Great Gatsby and how relevant it seemed.
I guess I’m going off tangent and starting to ramble again, but I just can’t help but feel terrible for all the wrongs I’ve committed and how my achievements feel like nothing. it has brought me back to my state of ‘what’s my purpose?’ and ‘what are the great things that I can truly accomplish in my life that is actually worth remarking?’
I know that I can’t save the world, but I feel like I want to try. the only question now is, can I really?
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
— The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald