Norman 1
Lecturer and Resident Fellow
Ridge View Residential College

Beyond academics: Educating the mind, body, heart and spirit

The noble intent of educating and nurturing the next generation of leaders certainly wasn’t quite high on Norman’s agenda when he decided to be a teacher back in 2005.  As he candidly admitted – “teaching was the only profession which would pay me and allow me to go for long trips during the school holidays” – which would satisfy his wanderlust.

It was a decision which Norman New, Lecturer and Resident Fellow at Ridge View Residential College (RVRC), never regretted. In the course of teaching, Norman discovered he had unearthed an invaluable gift – the natural ability to connect with young people, getting them to open up easily to him and helping them to see different perspectives.

His teaching journey took him across the entire spectrum of education from primary, secondary to tertiary level. His last teaching stint was at Singapore Polytechnic for eight years, first as Head for General Education where he started the GenEd programme, and subsequently as Senior Manager overseeing leadership and service learning programmes for the students.

The past three years at NUS have been extremely fulfilling for Norman, who teaches the Workplace Readiness module, which equips students with necessary skills and competencies to better prepare them for the complexities of today’s workplace. Together with his Resident Assistants, he provides pastoral care and support to close to 130 residents under their care. Trained as a Mindfulness coach, he also introduced the practice of mindfulness to the students to better cope with the current challenging COVID situation.

RVRCNorman with his Chelonia House residents at RVRC

Norman’s resonance with youths extends beyond Singapore. For the past 20 years, he had led many trips and community projects in China, India, Nepal and Bhutan. One regular place which he holds dear is Shangri-La (formerly called Zhongdian County) in Yunnan, China, an area inhabited by mostly Tibetans. ‘Project Shangri-La’  was Norman’s most recent trip to Yunnan in 2019, where he brought a group of students from RVRC to build waste-pits and toilets for the Tibetan villagers (View Project Shangri-La video).  Deeply immersed in Tibetan culture and Buddhism, Norman admits that each time he goes to Shangri-La, it is “like returning home to a familiar place”. 

“Back in 2001, I was involved in a Raleigh expedition to build a school in Tibet which was a truly unforgettable experience,” he shared.  “Being a Tibetan Buddhist, Tibet has always been my spiritual home and the Dalai Lama my inspiration and role model.” Norman fulfilled his lifelong aspiration of meeting the Dalai Lama as his student attending a programme in Dharamsala in 2007.

Norman’s strong interest in Buddhism spurred him to pursue a postgraduate diploma and a Masters in Buddhist Studies from the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. He was even ordained twice as a monk in Myanmar and in Thailand. “My whole life trajectory has been strongly influenced by Buddhism,” he mused.

Norman 2Norman (second from right) as a novice monk in a monastery in Yangon 20 years ago

To Norman, the most rewarding aspect of his job is the fact that he can contribute to the holistic development of students beyond academics. “Education is about educating the whole being – mind, body, heart and spirit,” said Norman. “I am very grateful that RVRC gives me the opportunity to do just that, besides providing me with possibilities to grow and explore my interests.”

Any parting words of advice for youths today?  “Life is full of happenstance. When one door closes, another opens… but you have to be ready and prime yourself to step through when that door opens. Trust that life will take you where you deserve to be.” Pragmatic and sagacious.


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