My immersive experience began from the moment I arrived in Singapore. What struck me most, aside from the heat and humidity, was the systematic layout of the environment; particularly the placement of trees and plants, as well as the prevalence of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats – a stark contrast to Australia. Immediately, I realised that, contrary to the sensationalisation of the prevalence of globalisation that I had been taught in classrooms, Singapore and Australia were still completely different countries, despite both being developed nations.
|Fig 1. Systematic placement of trees|
|Fig 2. HDB flats (Tanjong Pagar)|
The next formal encounter with Singapore’s cultural context was the ‘About Mr Lee’ tour, which focused on who Mr Lee (the first Prime Minister of Singapore) was as a person. This experience was particularly insightful for my way of ‘learning’ about significant historical figures. Whilst in the pre-departure classes, it was easy to think of Mr Lee as simply another leader in history, being able to personally witness the ‘fruits’ of his visionary ideals for Singapore – exhibited across the physical environment; from the greenery to the carefully planned neighbourhoods, has changed my perceptions of individuals within the context of societies. What I learnt was that the context of Singapore was inextricably tied to this one man’s vision of how Singapore should be – “a garden city…productive…taking the best ideas from different countries” as mentioned by our tour guide Iris (December 4, 2017).
Following this was the ‘Made in Singapore’ tour, which focused on the economic development of Singapore, and how it deals with its limited resource. This largely helped to deepen my understanding of the economic context of Singapore, with one of the most interesting insights being that despite Singapore’s relatively small size and population, the country takes a strong and proactive approach to economic development – with economic planning largely having a long-term focus. This was contrary to my previous perceptions of Singapore, where despite already knowing that Singapore was a strong commercial and business hub, I was taken aback by the innovative means by which this small country dealt with its economic limitations; notably the use of land reclamation (Urban Redevelopment Authority), and urban farming techniques (Edible Farms). This experience has helped me understand the importance of economic development in the Singaporean context, and this was a theme that recurred throughout the rest of the program.
|Fig 3. Layout of Singapore's island (Urban Redevelopment Authority)|
|Fig 4. Urban farming - in-door plantation shelves (Edible Farms)|
As a part of the immersion program, the cultural and language classes I attended enriched my understanding of Singapore as an ‘ethnic mosaic’. Prior to this program, I often perceived ‘multiculturalism’ as merely a ‘badge’, at least within the Australian context – one that the country flaunts, but does not practice substantially enough. Contrastingly, ‘multiculturalism’ in Singapore is a ‘practice’ and a way of life with Abdullah describing it as a form of ‘social control’ to direct people towards cultural tolerance and harmony. This enhanced my understanding of the Singaporean cultural and political context by highlighting not only the extent of ‘multiculturalism’ within Singapore, but also the large extent to which the government controls social behaviour to minimise issues related to ‘race’ – and this was seen directly from my visit to the HDB office where I saw how the allocation of HDB flat residences were determined by ethnic quotas.
|Fig 5. Screen showing HDB flat availabilities based on ethnic quotas (HDB office)|
To facilitate my understanding of ‘start-up culture’ within Singapore, I attended a presentation by ‘Onepip’ (a remittance start-up). Most relevant to my cultural immersion experience was the focus on issues the business faced in its initial stages. Notably, before Onepip could conduct its business in Singapore, it was required to hold a licence that demonstrated it had at least one year of operational experience. This allowed me to re-evaluate my perceptions of Singapore’s political context, from that of being a relatively laissez-faire economy, to one that is actually stringently regulated; and thus, demonstrated the strength and influence of Singaporean government.
My knowledge of ageing within the Singaporean context was both complemented and enriched by my visit to the Ministry of Health (MOH) where I learnt about the various initiatives the Singaporean government was implementing to support an ageing population. Of particular interest was the emphasis on ‘workplace longevity’, which I had previously perceived as merely an ideal, and not an option most of the elderly would follow. However, this was immediately subverted when I witnessed the number of elderly people working in menial labour tasks; particularly in cleaning food court areas, and as cashiers for food vendors. Thus, this solidified my understanding of how Singapore’s perceptions of ageing have changed from that of an ‘ageing tsunami’ to ‘opportunities’ – with the elderly still being encouraged to contribute to the economy.
|Fig 6. Elderly woman working at a market stall (China Town wet markets)|
Overall, this immersion program has exposed me to a new form of ‘learning’ – one that is not achievable within the classroom or an industry placement. Being able to immerse myself within the Singaporean culture has deepened and refined my perceptions of Singapore as a context, and I would encourage all future Business School students to consider applying for a New Colombo Plan Program in order to experience a truly unique and immersive learning opportunity.
Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies)