Before I start this section, I wish to add a disclaimer that my experience is mine alone. Different scholars would have had different experiences, and as a result vastly different feelings toward their choice of taking up this scholarship. By no means am I representing the story of another person.
I absolutely loved my experience in Singapore. And if Hermione Granger slipped up one day and turned back time on me to return me to my 12 year old self, I would definitely still choose the same path that I did. Of course, Hermione Granger doesn't slip up, and so what I am left with are very fond memories of the six years I spent in Singapore. That, and also I don't want to go through examination stress twice all over again.
Coming in alone at sec 1 was both nerve-wrecking and super exciting at the same time. I was only twelve when I arrived in Singapore and I didn't know a single person. I did have two cousins studying in Singapore then, but they cared more about football and DoTA than they did their little cousin. It didn't help that my parents dropped me off at my school's "scholar briefing" one day after I arrived and went on their merry ways back to my hometown, leaving me to my own. I remember having to return back to hostel on my own, not having a single clue which stop was my stop. I ended up stopping two bus stops away and had to walk all the way back (not before flipping a coin to see if I should walk left, or right because I didn't know my bearings). I arrived late for lunch, and the hostel caterer had packed up the canteen. I was famished, and so after tearing up a little and putting on my best puppy begging eyes, the uncle agreed to get a plate of spaghetti carbonara for me.
That was how I started my journey as an ASEAN scholar. I was lost. I was confused. I was scared I wouldn't find my way back. I left it completely up to the fate of a coin-flip to decide which way to walk. Each step I took would have either led me one step closer to home, or one step further away. I don't know what would have happened if I had walked in the wrong direction. But this I know for sure - each step I took was a step of growing courage, wisdom and confidence.
Extrapolating the microcosm to the macrocosm, the best takeaway I have from my scholarship years would be the immensely rich personal growth I had experienced. Living and studying away from home taught me so many valuable lessons that I would otherwise probably not have been able to experience should I have stayed at in the comforts of home.
I learned to be responsible for the choices I make in life. Be it tangible choices such as what subjects I should take for O Levels, what JC I should apply for or intangible choices such as choosing to lie to teachers or not, I was going to be held responsible for my actions. And like it or not, there was no one by myself to save my own ass should I slip up. My parents weren't around to chide me for bad decisions; they weren't there to clean up my mess. Along my way, I made some very silly mistakes, but in the process of taking responsibility, I got to know myself a little better each time.
Academically, I also had the privilege to take some of the best courses in the world. I took the Singapore-Cambridge O Levels and the International Baccalaureate. Without the scholarship, I probably would not have been able to afford both courses. This applies to the travelling I did as a student as well. Some trips were school-organized/MOE-initiated, and as a result I was able to go on a subsidized rate. In school, I was also stretched repeatedly beyond my limits. Opportunities were abundant for me to grab in my schools. I managed to represent my school for athletics (even serving as team captain in JC), to be part of the student leadership in schools and organize various school events, to rough it out in Outward Bound Singapore, to visit the Land of the Rising Sun on a school trip, to be a member Singapore delegation to Shanghai for a regional youth leadership event, to build houses in Cambodia for community service, to engage in an independent science research (which has convinced me that the lab and I can't be friends), to organize a nationwide carnival for charity, to play various competitions (of the sport I was in) in various countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, and so so much more.
Beyond school, I also had the chance to dabble in many miscellaneous interests. Because Singapore is so small, yet so extremely cosmopolitan, you can virtually find anything within two or three bus rides away. In my six years there, I dabbled (with varying degrees of success) in cross-stitching, pole vaulting, kayaking, comic-drawing (I actually collaborated with two classmates to draw a comic book with our teachers as characters for teachers' day), story writing, playing the flute, fencing, learning kendo (japanese sword fighting), volunteering at hospices and childcare centers etc.
The second best takeaway would be the friendships I have made during my time in Singapore. Living in a hostel, it is inevitable that you see certain people all the time. You go to school with them, you eat breakfast and dinner with them, you have late-night chats with them. It's like a perpetual sleepover plus the added ability to kick your friend back to his/her room should you want some alone time. You will be able to form special close friendships that is really quite different from friendships you form at school. At hostel, you see the person at his/her best and worst and he/she sees yours as well. I have be fortunate enough to make a few close friends at hostel that I am quite sure will last a lifetime. When all are equally far from home, and you only have each other to rely upon, you tend to form a special bond that can't be broken easily. Hostel friends aside, I have also managed to meet a few wonderful Singaporeans that have eventually gone on to become some of my closest friends. These are people who offer me their house to stay in when I come back visiting and have no room in hostel; these are the friends whose parents voluntarily fetch me to and from from school; these are the friends I can SOS to when the hostel printer konks out (which is very common). Friends are the same everywhere, I guess. And while I probably would have found equally good friends if I had stayed back home, I am extremely glad and grateful for those I met during my time in Singapore.
Maybe one day I will head back to stormy (for it is more stormy than sunny) Singapore for further education or work. But maybe I will not. Whatever the future brings, as of now, the memories I made as an ASEAN scholar will be treasured dearly and kept close to heart. And by writing this post, I hope that you too will be able to etch your own memories that you will fondly look back upon when it passes.