Brian Mojica is a rising junior on the men's water polo team. He will be traveling to Singapore, Vietnam and China as part of a Dean's Scholars study tour May 20-June 5 and will be blogging about his experience.
While sitting on the plane on Monday, I realized the next two days would be spent traveling, so I've decided to write about the week leading up to the trip.
Last week, students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) visited D.C. and we showed them around the city. During our adventures I got my first taste of Singaporean culture. I thought that it was really funny that whenever we went to a place that had good lighting, was semi-quiet and had lots of chairs the students would always say, "This would be a good place to study." I was really curious as to why they always said that because studying is always the last thing on my mind when I am on vacation, and when I do study, I have to do it in the blandest room because any view of the outside world would distract me.
They explained to me that every one of their grades is based on the bell curve grading system. This means that students get graded compared to the others in the class. For example, if you got a 90%, in the normal grading scale you would have earned an A-; however in the bell curve there are chances you can get a C if over half of the class earned a grade that was 90% or higher. We discussed how in their culture they believe in the value of meritocracy, which means that people are awarded based on merit. Basically, hard work can allow you to move up in life. This cultural view aligns the way in which the schools are run in Singapore. Every student has to take three big examinations that help determine where they will be able to go to school; higher test scores will lead to better schools, and better schools mean a better job. With these tests and the bell curve system, the students are taught to value hard work at an early age, which explains why even during their vacation they thing about nice places to study.
Despite always looking for good study spots, the Singaporean students also take pleasure in relaxing and hanging out when they do not have to worry about tests and school. Much of our time was spent sitting in places with great views and just talking about how different our lives are. They started preparing me for Singapore and taught me some very important words, such as how to say, "let's hang out" or "you're really pretty," then taking it to the next step, "you are really pretty, let's hang out." I don't know if I will be able to use any of these phrases because of course I need to focus on school (...) but it is good to know for future reference.
They also taught me that they tend to call everyone auntie or uncle, even if they are not related. This was nice for me to hear because I was taught the same thing growing up, but it did not really translate because I grew up in California and most people gave me weird looks. However, the most important thing they taught me was how to ask for the restroom without the aunties embarrassing me about it. They made sure that I understood that when I ask for the restroom I should say toilet or the aunties will say in their naturally loud tone, broadcasting to everyone around, "Oh honey, you mean the toilet, it's over there." Hopefully I remember this and don't run into any embarrassment when nature calls.
All in all, last week was very fun and their visit got me very excited about my trip and I cannot wait to see them in Singapore. Each person gave me a little insight about what Singapore is like in their point of view, and it was nice to see how people my age live in another part of the world.
I could have been a very boring tour guide and just showed the students around, minding my own business and not interacting with them besides telling them what things are. However, if I did this I wouldn't have been able to learn all the things I did. I made an effort and almost forced them to talk to me, but by the end of their trip it was as if we had been friends for a while. To break the ice, I made a fool of myself and admitted I forgot their names (we had met earlier in the week), so we played the name game and I made an even bigger fool of myself, but after a few laughs the conversations just started flowing. You can learn a lot from people around you; each person has their own stories to tell and insight to give. All you need to do is break the ice and strike up a conversation. Compliment something they are wearing or talk about the weather; if you put yourself out there you can meet very interesting people and gain connections you may need one day. So be bold and strike up a conversation - I would love to hear some stories.
And remember, RAISE HIGH!
PHOTO TOP RIGHT: National Portrait Gallery - a nice place to study
PHOTO BOTTOM LEFT: Chillin' on the rooftop of the Kennedy Center
PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Tan