The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
Welcome to the third part of my blog series “GEM Trailblazer Summer in Singapore’s NTU”! If you haven’t read the previous parts, you can find them here and here. In this post I will talk about developing cultural intelligence, campus life in NTU, my visit to Sentosa Island and my participation in the “Prata Journey” cultural activity. This post will be a mixture of educational, touristic and cultural occurrences. Hope you enjoy it!
Second week of lessons: Developing Cultural Intelligence
Doing a module on cultural intelligence (CQ) may be the best unplanned decision I ever made. Not only because I’m learning new things that will power my career, but because I’m learning more about myself. On my first week of lessons I was asked to complete an online survey to get self-reports on my learning style, my personal cultural values and my cultural intelligence. I obtained the results the following week. Some were more surprising than others.
For my learning style (preferred ways to learn about cultures) I scored 67/100 for concrete experience (trying new experiences guided by my feelings) and for reflective observation (observing others interact, reflecting on my beliefs and assumptions), 45/100 for abstract conceptualisation (coming up with my own theories and concepts to understand things better) and 56/100 for active experimentation (testing understanding through practical actions). The most effective way to learn is by improving the 4 styles, still there is always one in which you are stronger. I’m not a brainy person, so I’m not surprised that abstract conceptualisation is my lowest style. I will try to improve it during the course.
When comes to personal cultural values I received scores on eight: collectivism (1/100, I’m 99% individualistic), power distance (18/100, I expect equal rights and I question authority), uncertainty avoidance (100/100, I prefer rules and structures, I’m uncomfortable with unpredictable situations), masculinity (51/100, I have a slightly more femininity orientation than masculinity), long-short term orientation (51/100, I focus on the present rather than on the future), context orientation (34/100, I’m in the middle between being explicit/direct and being implicit/indirect) and being-doing orientation (73/100, I care about actions, proactive behaviour and results more than reflections, quality of life and relationships). I would say that all results are quite accurate although I’m not sure how I scored so low for collectivism when my political beliefs are leftist. Yet, it makes sense because I’m don’t like to work in groups, I don’t have many strong relationship ties and I don’t have a sense of belonging to any community.
Lastly are the results about my CQ. CQ is measured by four factors:
- CQ Drive: “the energy and confidence to do things”. It helps to make efforts and persist when things get difficult. There are three components: self-efficacy (confidence), extrinsic motivation (benefits) and intrinsic motivation (satisfaction).
- CQ Knowledge: “understanding how cultures are similar and different”. It has two components: culture general (involves being aware of different social structures and value systems in the world) and culturally intelligent leadership (how to motivate and lead a multicultural team).
- CQ Strategy: “the capability to perceive yourself, the situation and dynamically adjust your response as the situation unfolds”. It has three components: planning (based on previous knowledge), awareness (paying attention to the present without judgement) and checking (reviewing assumptions and adjusting knowledge).
- CQ Action: “being flexible with your behaviour so you can adapt to different cultures”. There are three components to be adapted: non-verbal behaviour (e.g. gestures), verbal behaviour (e.g. tone) and speech acts (e.g. apologising).
Overall, my CQ is an average of 61. I have to improve a lot my culturally intelligent leadership, my planning and all the components of my CQ Action. I can do this while carrying out my curiosity conversations whilst in Singapore. Here is my full CQ report:
Campus Life: Living in NTU
While I sometimes miss Sussex (my university) and my room on campus, I got used to live in NTU’s campus quite quickly. In fact, there are aspects of it which I wish Sussex had, although there are others which I’m glad Sussex doesn’t have.
On the one hand, food here is much better. Singapore is a melting pot for cuisines from all over Asia, so it is unsurprising the cuisine variety you can find in NTU. For every two halls (more or less), there is a canteen. All the canteens have various stalls from which you can order food. I’m lucky that my hall has a canteen close to my room. In it, there are 6 stalls, one for drinks and snacks, and the rest for food. Two are Chinese food stalls, one is an Indian food stall, one is a Noodles stall and the last one is a Western food stall. When I eat in this canteen, I normally order from one of the Chinese food stalls, asking always for fried rice, either chicken based or vegetable based (one of my favourite dishes in Singapore). I also order normally lemon iced tea from the drink stall (one of my favourite drinks in Singapore).
Apart from the one in my hall, I also eat in other canteens: one close to the building where my lessons take place and one close to the supermarket near my hall. When I eat in any of those canteens, I normally order lemon chicken rice, which is my ultimate favourite meal here and costs around the same price as fried chicken rice. Two whole meals for just $3.60-$3.90 (£2.13) each! In Sussex, food is more expensive (meals are above +£4.50 without the drink) and there is not that much variety at all (the few bars serve the same junk food, while the two central restaurants serve various meals, yet not as many as the various canteens with various stalls in NTU!). NTU also has a big indoors plaza, North Spine, where you can get food from known outlets such as Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks etc. In it there is also a supermarket, a library, a hairdresser, a bank, a printing station and other services available. Yet, I rarely go there, and I rather eat proper meals while I can, before leaving back to England and getting not-so-excellent food again!
On the other hand, while I think NTU is a beautiful green campus, it is hard to move around without using the campus bus. This makes it difficult for me to get to my lessons on time since controlling the buses is hard and walking is a tricky option due to the distances and hot-humid weather. Sometimes I wish my classroom’s building was closer to my hall. Another inconvenience is that I have to share room. Don’t get me wrong: my flatmate is a very nice person and I like her a lot. But I’m not a sharing-room type of person: I did it a lot while I was young and now I want to have my own personal space. I value my privacy and I’m a person who needs to be left alone sometimes because of my mood swing issues. In addition, my room doesn’t have Wi-Fi, you can only get Internet using a cable for your laptop. I was lucky to be told by my roommate that I could create a Wi-Fi hotspot from my laptop to use internet on my phone! Still, the hotspot comes and go. I miss having constant access to the Internet from my phone whilst on campus. And the last issue is that there are no fully equipped kitchens in my hall. There is a pantry room with a microwave, hot water, cold water and a small induction cook. I used to cook my own meals in Sussex, and while I love food here, it would be nice to have at least a fridge to store milk and yoghurt for my breakfast/snacks.
A regular lesson day for me in NTU (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) elapses like this: waking up at 8 am, getting ready by 8:30, taking the bus to The Hive (my classroom’s building) and arriving by 8:50-9, having CQ lessons till 12:30 (with a 20 minutes break and a 5 minutes break in between), going to a canteen to eat with my classmates, getting back to my room around 14:00, resting because of tiredness, writing/studying, having dinner at 18-19 (I used to go out for this, but at some point I bought various cup noodles from the supermarket and had that for dinner in my room), having a shower, and going to bed between 22:00 and 24:00. During non-regular days (Tuesdays, Thursday and Weekends) I go out to explore Singapore, I join group outings with my pals or I participate in cultural activities.
Discovering Singapore: Sentosa Island
On Thursday the 14th of July I spent the day in Sentosa, a popular resort island in Singapore. You can get to it by taking a 5 minutes train from the MRT Station Harbour Front, it is an easy and short journey. While I travelled there with a group of students from NTU, including some of my pals, I decided to explore the Island while they went to Universal Studios (I didn’t want to spend the day in a theme park, I don’t find them that exciting). I alighted from the Sentosa express train in Beach Station, the last stop, and stepped out to have a good day sightseeing the island.
The first place I visited was Siloso beach. It looked like a tropical beach, yet sadly, the weather wasn’t good, it was actually drizzling, so I couldn’t stop much there. I took some pictures and went to a stall near it to order a snack: coconut ice cream with coconut water.
After eating, I walked down the beach to get to Fort Siloso, the only restored coastal fort in Singapore. To get there you need to go through a skywalk: you can walk upstairs or take the elevator (the beginning of the trail is on the top of a high tower, it is better to take the elevator). From the skywalk you get amazing views of Sentosa.
Going to Fort Siloso was a very interesting experience. While walking around the tunnels, chambers and guard recreations I learnt about Singaporean history I didn’t know about, mainly the Japanese invasion in the country during World War II. Singapore was a British colony back then, it served British strategical interests. Following the Battle of Singapore in February of 1942, when the Japanese started bombing and invading Singapore, the British colony admitted defeat. The Japanese occupation of Singapore ended in 1945 after Japan was bombed by USA with nuclear weapons. Singapore went back to British rule till 1965 when the country obtained independence.
Following my visit to Fort Siloso, I took a bus to Imbiah lookout and from there I walked down to The Merlion, a 37 metre concrete statue that represents the icon of Singapore with the same name. I bought a ticket to go inside the statue and I learnt about the story of the Merlion as a national symbol. It is believed a prince discovered the island (Singapore) from far away while exploring in Bintan (an Indonesian island close to Singapore) and travelled by sea to the place. When him and his crew arrived, he reportedly saw a beast he identified as a lion (although lions aren’t native to this part of the world, hence some believe this isn’t true). Because of that occurrence, he named the island Singapura, which means “Lion city” in Malay. The Merlion is actually a half-lion and half-fish creature and it is known as the guardian of prosperity in Singapore.
Next, I took the train and alighted in Waterfront station. There wasn’t much to explore or see there: it is mainly a shopping and eating area, some attractions such as Universal Studios are located there. I just walked around the place for a few minutes and then went to have lunch to the Malaysian Food Streets, an indoors food court. I order Nasi Lemak, a Malay dish normally eaten for breakfast and one of the signature dishes in Singapore. It was delicious although a bit spicy for my palate.
Afterwards, I headed back to Beach station again and decided to walk around one of the other beaches in Sentosa, Palawan beach. It was similar to Siloso even though the weather around that time was much better and there were people in it playing around. From there I went to the Southernmost Point of Asia, a very small island attached to Sentosa by a suspension bridge. It takes just a few minutes to get there walking and there are two tall wooden stands from which you can enjoy amazing views of the beaches in Sentosa and of the sea.
Later, I took the train and went back to Waterfront to have dinner. I was craving pancakes and fortunately I found a place: Slappy Cakes. It wasn’t just a usual restaurant where they serve pancakes: you ordered the dough and toppings you wanted, and then made the pancakes by yourself! At the beginning, I didn’t really know how it worked so I ended up ordering too much. Still, it was a delicious dinner.
By the time I finished my dinner, the group of students with whom I travelled to Sentosa were leaving Universal Studios. I met with them and accompanied them while they had dinner in the Malaysian Food Street. Then, we took the train back to mainland Singapore and our day trip was done!
Cultural activity: Prata Journey
On Saturday the 16th I took part in a cultural activity organised by NTU: Prata Journey, learning about Roti Prata, a signature Indian dish in Singapore. A bus took me and other participants to a café called Big Street where the workshop took place. Roti Prata is a flat bread made up of fat (butter/oil), egg white, wheat flour, water, salt, sugar and condensed milk. It can have additional ingredients added to it, from fruit to egg and cheese. Prata has its origins in Chennai, India. There are others versions of it in the South Asian country: Paratha (North India) and Parotta (South India). There is also a Malaysian version known as Canai. It is believed it was brought to Singapore in 1819 when the founder of British Singapore, Stamford Raffles, arrived to the island with Indian troops, laundrymen, milkmen, traders and political prisoners. Early Indian immigrants in Singapore settled in what today is known as Chinatown.
During the workshop we saw how a chef made Prata dough and flipped it. Then, we tried to learn to flip the dough using fake dough. I didn’t manage to do it, but it was an interesting and fun experience! Afterwards, we were given plain Prata and chocolate prata to eat, accompanied by teh tarik, a hot milk tea commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore. Its name comes from the process of making the beverage, which involves pulling. Overall, I enjoyed the activity a lot and I left with a good taste in my mouth!
(Waitress making teh tarik)
(Chef flipping fake Prata dough)
(For more pictures of my time in Singapore, click here)
Last Tuesday I made a visit to Southend YMCA, for the current Team v campaign, “Beyond a Tin of Food”. Southend YMCA is a charity that works in Southend, Essex, to help homeless young people. Apart from providing with housing, they also offer other type of support, such as food aid. Due to this, I believed it would be a good idea to work with them for this campaign, since they deal with food poverty.
Fortunately, I got to speak with an enthusiastic staff member in their offices, and I must admit it was a quite enlightening conversation. I walked out of that meeting knowing more than I thought I would. I asked about the organisation and their general services. Southend YMCA has 30 supported housing units. Their main focus is homeless teenagers between 16 and 18 years old, though they provide housing for homeless young people between 16 and 25. Service users are normally referred to the charity. Many of them are victims of neglect and abuse. Others have parents that can’t look after them, due to reasons such as unemployment. In most cases, these teenagers and young people are very vulnerable: many of them don’t have a penny, others have mental health problems and addictions, others are young offenders, and others have disabilities. Situations differ from person to person.
When they arrive to the organisation, these vulnerable people are provided with an emergency food aid parcel, which also includes toiletries. Here is a list of the donations they accept, so you can have an idea of what can the emergency parcel contain, more or less:
Food & Drink
Coffee, teabags, sugar, long life milk / powdered milk
1 litre long life fruit juices (orange and apple preferred)
Individually wrapped chocolate biscuits (e.g. Kit Kats, Penguins)
Tinned hot dogs, ham and corned beef
Tins of chilli, meatballs, meat curry, minced beef, chicken in white sauce, stewed steak
Traditional tinned vegetables
Tins of tuna pasta (spaghetti or shapes)
Tins of baked beans, spaghetti, ravioli, spaghetti Bolognese, beans with sausages
Tins of fruit
Tins of steamed sponge puddings
Tins of custard and rice pudding
SMASH instant mash
Jars of cooking sauces
Orange, lemon, summer fruit squash
Tins of soup
Washing up liquid
Single bedding and duvets
High street vouchers
Without doubt, the aspect I liked most about Southend YMCA’s work is their holistic approach to people in need: they give individual and complete support to their service users, not just housing, food and material goods. They go beyond food and beyond housing: they provide people with training, education and more opportunities to improve their situations. Every young person in their housing units has a key support worker assigned to them, with whom they have regular 1:1 sessions. During these meetings, the improvements of the young person are measured through the “Outcomes Star” system. This a method to assess and support the progress of service users towards self-reliance or other goals, like good mental health, quitting from an addiction, finding employment… Here is a picture and explanation of a “Outcomes Start”:
“An Outcomes Star reading is taken by the worker and service user at or near the beginning of their time with the project. Using the ladders or other scale descriptions, they identify together where on their ladder of change the service user is for each outcome area. Each step on the ladder is associated with a numerical score so at the end of the process the scores can be plotted onto the service user’s Star. The process is then repeated at regular intervals (every three, six or 12 months depending on the project) to track progress. The data can be used to track the progress of an individual service user, to measure the outcomes achieved by a whole project and to benchmark with a national average for similar projects and client groups.
In the mental health version of the Star (called the Recovery Star) shown above, the green line represents the service user’s initial scores, the blue line is their most recent score.”
During the visit, I also had time to ask about statistics and trends of poverty in the area. The figures I was told were quite shocking. Southend is in the top 10% of UK’s most deprived areas. The current need for affordable housing is very high, and this is not only an issue in Southend. Currently, England is suffering from a lack of available, adequate and reasonably priced houses. The lack of availability of houses has lead to hundreds of people sleeping on streets, where their wellbeing, health and safety are threatened. There is not enough social housing for everyone, and families often have to wait years in temporary accommodation, while their name is kept in list. A great number of these families include dependants such as children and teens below the age of 18. The number of families is increasing, while the number of houses available is decreasing.
The lack of adequate housing has lead to people living in bad, harmful and harsh conditions. Thousands of houses are overcrowded; in 2008/9, around 654,000 houses in England were deemed as overcrowded. Bad housing includes houses in need of several repairs (e.g. cracked doors, broken walls, floors with holes), and houses that lack of needs such as water, gas, heat, and electricity. Harsh conditions include excessive coldness or hotness, poor sanitary conditions, low food availability etc. Also, a lack of adequate housing is also conditioned by insecure and problematic neighbourhoods with constant crimes and health issues going on. All this affects the physical health, emotional wellbeing, mental health, social life, education, employment and future opportunities of individuals, mainly of children and teenagers which are very vulnerable to these situations.
The lack of reasonable priced houses has lead severe consequences. More than two million of people have serious difficulties to pay their rent and/or mortgage, and have debts with banks, state agencies, and landlords. In addition, the number of forced evictions in the last years have grown scarily, as more homeowners fail to pay their mortgage and debts contracts with banks and other organisations. On the other hand, families and individuals with low income decide to rent privately and they manage to pay their rent; however, after paying their rent, they struggle to afford good living conditions and vital needs such as food, security, good sanity conditions, education, transport, heat, and water. Therefore, despite having a roof, they still living on bad conditions. All these has a very negative effect on the physical health, emotional wellbeing, mental health, social life, education, employment and future opportunities of individuals, mainly of children and teenagers which are very vulnerable to these situations.
All this may sound dramatic and heart breaking, but it is the truth. And it is not improving: it is actually going worse. The Southend YMCA’s staff member I spoke to told me that they have experienced an increase in the number of people using their services in the last years. Sadly, the waiting lists are very high and they have to reject people due to lack of units. However, the council has created a set of housing strategies for the next years, in order to tackle this issue. And Southend YMCA has also decided to develop their services and open two more houses. Hopefully, these solutions will work out and more people can be helped.
At the end of my visit, I was very pleased with the information I found out. Southend YMCA’s staff members were very helpful and they seemed passionate about their jobs. The person I got to spoke to in particular started in the charity as a volunteer, and then he was offered a job. He also spoke about how involved he is in fundraising activities such as “Sleep Easy”, a national initiative through which people raise money by sleeping rough one night, in order to show empathy with homeless people. And what is more, he highlighted how important my role as a Team v Leader is, saying “volunteering is golden and it will help you a lot in the future”.
On conclusion, I left Southend YMCA’s offices very pleased. Now, I’m looking forward to collect a lot of food for them, in order to support their amazing work.
Sharing my journey through my first Team v campaign,
Emilie H. Featherington 🙂 ❤
So today my ‘Team v’ program started officially and I can’t wait to share what happened! Firstly, I would like to say I will use this blog (my personal blog) to share my Team v journey with you all, from the beginning (September 2014) to the end (May 2015). Stay tuned!
To begin with, I suppose that many of you wonder what does ‘Team v’ mean, don’t you? I better explain it! ‘Team v’ is a leadership program ran by the British charity ‘Vinspired’, through which young volunteers are able to carry out a social action campaigns/projects in their communities, with the help of mentors and coordinators. As a Team v Leader, you get:
- The skills and confidence to design, lead and deliver social action projects
- To develop your ability to engage, educate and support local communities
- To reach your leadership potential
- Support to develop a network of peers and professionals, as well as gain essential skills for work
- The chance to develop your confidence, leaving you ready to tackle your next challenge – whatever that may be
- Training, residentials, campaign budgets and expenses paid for
I applied to become a ‘Team v’ leader in the summer, after reading various tweets about the ‘Team v’ program and checking a few videos about it. I thought that it would be a great way of learning to be a leader within group, since I have always been a follower. Moreover, I believed that my confidence would be enhanced because of the program, as well as my personal and professional skills. And lastly, the main reason why I wanted to be a ‘Team v’ leader is because I like to be involved within a community and make a difference. I have volunteered quite a lot of times, I like to be involved in social action projects to help others and I’m very devoted to activist/philanthropic topics (something noticeable by one of my other blogs, Chronicles of a Rhacei Soul). I believe in a better world and I think that you need to move and act in order to achieve improvement withing society. And ‘Team v’ looked like a great opportunity to do all this!
As you can imagine, my application was successful and so was my interview. I was BUZZING when I received this email (I have to admit that I was terrified too, because I realised I was part of a very big project and its success would rely a lot on me!)
Apart from getting an email confirming my successful interview, I also got a email about attending a ‘Warm Up’ day, which is what happened today, 13th of September!
I woke up quite early in the morning and I got on a train towards London from the town near where I live. During the journey, I was feeling very restless and thrilled about what was going to happen in the following hours (I have issues sleeping whenever I’m starting a new adventure, I don’t know why). Travelling to and moving around London was easier than I thought and I arrived to the place much earlier than planned (I could have slept for more minutes, but oh well. Better early than late!). I found the venue for the ‘Warm Up’ day quite easily, it was just within a few meters of the tube station exit!
When I entered the building of the venue, I was directed to a ground floor, in which, after being introduced to my coordinator and receiving a goodies bag, I socialised with another ‘Team v’ leaders through a bingo styled game. I didn’t manage to complete it, but it was fun and interesting talking to others and knowing more about the people who would share the same journey as me during the following months (and that was the aim of the game, so actually, I kinda did complete it)!
After some minutes of chatting, we were all guided into a big room in which we were shown a presentation about what is the ‘Team v’ program, who were going to be our coordinators and mentors, and another useful information related to the project. The mentors and coordinators managed to make the presentation easygoing, amusing and enlightening, something that made me feel comfortable and less anxious. In contrary, my excitement grew as I heard about the mentors stories and about the program itself (below you can find a picture of the mentors while they were answering our queries about the program; hopefully, after seeing it, you understand why I felt less tense).
After the presentation, it was lunch time. The food in the venue was so nice! Just have a look at these delicious pictures…
(My lunch: I tried a bit of different things because everything looked so tasty, I couldn’t decide a single dinner!)
(My dessert! The taste was as good as it actually looks!)
I must point that the ‘Warm Up’ venue was very cozy, elegant and beautiful, with a state-of-art touch. I didn’t expect such a superb building to be honest: the place seemed of very good quality and it did have a very good service. I liked it a lot and I couldn’t stop taking pictures (here are some shots).
In spite of the amazingly furbished dinner place, my favourite aspect of the venue was actually the toilets (yes, you read well!), because of THIS!:
For some weird reason, these mirrors typical of artists’s dressing room amazed and captivated me! I obviously tried to take a few ‘Beyonce-type’ selfies, but it didn’t worked out that well… I mean…
(Probably because I’m not Beyonce)
Anyway, let’s go back to the important aspects of ‘Warm Up’ day! After lunch, ‘Team v’ leaders we were divided in groups (depending on the place of England in which we lived eg. Midlands, North London, The East…) and we had two training sessions with our designated youth network coordinators: a public narrative session and a volunteering recruitment session. Both of them were very useful and informative.
Personally, I enjoyed the public narrative training the most because I’m a person who struggles and hates talking in front of people, but at the same time, has a lot of things to say and a wide range of opinions to be heard. Therefore, the public narrative session not only gave me some guidance on how to speak to others and engage them in my stories: it also gave me confidence and a sense of security to talk in front of an audience and getting my ideas across. Now, I just need to try out doing this.
On the other hand, I also liked the volunteering recruitment training session, because it gave me some advice and ideas about how to recruit my own group of volunteers to deliver campaigns in my community,something I will do later on this year. I think that recruiting and leading volunteers are going to be the hardest parts of the whole ‘Team V’ program, due to my confidence issues and my lack of experience leading and managing others. However, I can’t just step back and give up: I have to try and do my best. If not, I will never overcome my confidence issues and I will never get experience leading and managing others.
I will begin recruiting volunteers in my social circles through Facebook. If that doesn’t work, I will have to promote the project in my college and in other suitable places of my area that may be visited and used frequently by young people. Anyway, there is a wide range of ways of doing it, so I should be fine.
The ‘Warm Up’ day concluded after these two training sessions, with a brief goodbye talk from ‘Team v’s’ staff members! At the end of the whole day, I did no longer feel scared about the program, because I had received a bit of guidance on how to do it and I knew I wouldn’t be left on my own. However, I still felt excited. Now I’m anxious about the first residential on October, in which I will receive more training before delivering the first campaign of the year! I can’t wait to meet other Team v leaders again and to know the campaigns I will be running. By the moment, I have to focus on recruiting volunteers and mapping my area, two things I will be doing in the following weeks. Don’t worry, I will keep you updated of all my steps through this blog, so keep and eye if you want to know more (add this site to your bookmarks or/and follow me in twitter, @BitxiBitxina,for live updates of my progress).
On conclusion, this is the beginning of an exciting journey and I can’t wait for more! Meeting new people, learning new skills, strengthening my networks, delivering campaigns, making a change in my community… So many things are happening in the following months. It is going to require a lot of enthusiasm and hard work from my part, but I’m ready to take this challenge. The only thing certain right now is that I won’t be the same person (intellectually, socially and emotionally wise) when I finish the Team v program. And that is scary risk… but a intriguing challenge.
Hugs and love,
Emilie H. Featherington 🙂 ❤