Reminiscing about studying in a polytechnic, and some words of advice

By FalseAgent

I was from Ngee Ann Polytechnic (Business Studies). It was a constant struggle for me. You'll see that people tend to form cliques over time, and to really not be left out of one, you have to make a serious effort to connect with at least one group. The line between professional and social interaction is really blurred - if you don't have a clique, you're basically relegated to strangers who may be slackers with spotty attendance; essentially people you don't know you can trust. It also works vice-versa, cliques that you are friendly with and/or are part of will also expect you to join all of their project groups to work together. That being said, while they may be friends, they could also turn out to be bums that you don't really want to be working on projects with.

By the end of year 2, pretty much no one was mixing around much anymore, most friendships have been established firmly, and everyone in your batch would have gotten all cozy and settled down in their cliques/inner circles. If you aren't part of anyone's circle, you'll find yourself floating around with different people you don't really connect with. A lot. Which, sadly, was the case for me.

I had to work part time to earn money to support myself, and sadly much of what I made from work was spent on attending social gatherings because I felt I would be left out if I didn't hang out with them folks. I just saw no other way around this honestly. Most students in NP are rich kids who basically live life without a single care in the world. So while splurging $20 on a meal was no big deal to them, for me it was equivalent to 4 hours worth of pay. I was always so torn about it and looking back I wished I had held my ground more often.

I did enjoy hanging out with people while it lasted, but I also learnt that you'll meet lots of superficial people and perhaps even make some friends you don't really care about. You'll even meet people who are so competitive that they're willing to backstab their own group mates to gain an advantage in their course work. I did meet many nice people, but for some reason, none of these friendships really "stuck" with me. Perhaps more importantly, no one could properly empathize and relate to my struggles with juggling both part-time work and school concurrently.

Truth be told, I don't even keep in touch with any of my course mates presently.

I experienced a small "awakening" of sorts in year 3 when I managed to participate in a trip to Thailand, and that was one of the best things that ever happened to me whilst studying in a polytechnic. It was a faculty wide trip, so there were people from other business courses, some even from year 1. It was a community service-focused project, so I assumed they picked like-minded people with either leadership skills or extensive community service experience. I didn't know what to expect at first, but it ended up to be rather amazing, everyone was so nice and the trip was an unexpected absolute blast. By the last day, some of us started sobbing on our way back to Singapore because we were so going to miss staying at the village and witnessing the smiles on the faces of kids living there. The trip really lit a fire in me, it felt like for the very first time I made a real difference in the world. It was a journey of self-discovery which made me realize what I truly wanted to do. Before the trip, I happened to be at a really low point in my school life. The trip showed me that sometimes you do need to be able to adequately endure stretches of bad luck, because a turnaround could come any time. Even though I was close to graduating by then, I continued the remaining part of my third year with renewed enthusiasm.

Generally speaking, overseas trips organized by polytechnics are a one-of-a-kind experience and possibly an opportunity that will never come around again. So if you do get the chance to participate in one, sign up and have a shot at it. Some trips require you to possess good academic results, others require you to ace an interview. Whatever it is, it will be worth it. You might encounter crushing failures along the way, but always try your best. I cried when I failed to qualify for a trip to Beijing, but then my luck turned around when I was accepted for a trip to Hong Kong and the above-mentioned one to Thailand.

Final tip: Focus on your studies. Don't worry about leading an exciting social life. NP business school has a curricula structured rather heavily around examinations fyi. Projects will take up at most 15-20% of the overall grade, compared to the much more enormous 60-80% for examinations.

This first appeared as a response on Reddit Singapore. Do join in the discussion over there if you have thoughts to share.


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