Other Campus Life Stories:
University Scholars Programme and Psychology Major
Class of 2006
Matriculation at the Exams Schools.
Formal Hall at Christ Church College-Better Known as the Dining Hall of Harry Potter. With excitement and trepidation, I left for a year-long Masters programme at Oxford-a place I saw too much of in Harry Potter.
Even though I was warned, the chilly weather was a shock as I negotiated it with plenty of borrowed and oversized winter clothing. The greater shock came when snow wafted past my eyes on a typical autumn day in October!
Mundane things probably shocked me the most. One of them was the dual taps that represented two temperature extremes. It was tough getting used to it, to say the least. As I shudder at these uncompromising taps, my heart went straight out to executives and diplomats who have to cross several cultures to earn their keep. If I found one new culture challenging, how about these groups who have to face multiple cultures? How do we increase one's cultural intelligence? It was my pseudo-Eureka moment.
Motivated, I resolved to research cultural intelligence for my dissertation. The initial phase of this work was awarded the Neville Butler Memorial Prize for Longitudinal Studies (runner-up) by UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). I was pleasantly surprised because the award was meant for early career researchers who were within five years of PhD completion. I was even more elated when the ceremony was to be held at the Houses of Parliament!
More commonly known as the "Big Ben", it is an epitome of Victorian architecture that is very much representative of many British treasures that has stood the test of time. Growing up in a country with a relatively short history and where buildings have an even shorter life-span, Oxford's ancient architecture is a refreshing change. Every now and then, I find myself brushing my intrigued fingers across the walls of the 400-year-old Bodleian Library, and stopping amidst the sea of dreamy spires-awe-struck in history's bosoms. The creases and cracks remind me of the wrinkles on my grandmother's gentle face. It is an uncanny reminder of home.
The mention of home brings my yearnings to Singapore food-something I always took for granted. When I first arrived, I was struck by the contrast of British food- ordinary and bland. It has neither the sophistication of French cuisine nor the tantalizing effect of Thai food. Surprisingly, after delving deeper, I appreciated the noble simplicity of English food and its culture. It could be simple scones and cream teas but the practice of having it with good friends in the late afternoon is noble and embodies the enjoyment of life.
I was also struck by the British's sense of responsibility towards society. Be it care for the environment by reusing plastic bags, making clothing donations, or the mere politeness of holding the door for another, this social consciousness seem to permeate British society, and presented an alluring way of life for me. Increasingly, I am bringing my own shopping bags and shopping only at charity stores. It is not about saving money or face, it is about saving humanity from the perils of today's apathy. Slowly but surely, I am reawakening to the realisation that at the individual level, I can make a difference.
At Oxford, the Said Business School leads the push towards social entrepreneurship-creating societal value through creative means. It prides itself on having a different take and tact to management issues. As a result, most of my professors are from other disciplines: anthropology, sociology, even physics and music. Market research is done ethnographically; innovation is seen through the lenses of complex systems; significant resources are poured into researching emerging economies.
Oxford is also the place for curious oxymorons. Some of the world's most powerful supercomputers are housed in laboratories built over six centuries ago. Though we have some of the most progressive and bold research agendas, every official ceremony- such as matriculation and prayers-before-meals-is still proudly conducted in Latin. My all time favourite is wearing the sub fusc-a suit with white bow tie and academic dress-for exams! We always emerge from the exam schools to delightful squeals, peals of laughter and vivacious camera clicks of tourists, eager to catch a glimpse of wizards-in-training!
As I leave the exams, ready to return home, I am grateful to have studied at a seat of learning that produced 12 Saints, 25 British Prime Ministers, 47 Nobel Prize Winners and counting.