reflecting sunior year


I think it’s safe to say this year has seen me develop myself. Doing a 3 year program means that I’m cramming two years of experiences into one, alongside pursuing my passions and maintaining that tricky 3.8 GPA. Sometimes I’ve asked myself if I’m cheating myself of a proper undergraduate experience by giving up the fourth year to pursue a Master’s instead, but looking back at what I’ve done, I think I’ve done as much as I could to have the best damn time.

Freshman year was all about finding my place in this school; about finding my families and friends. This year was about finding my purpose. I naturally got drawn to work on communities, to see how to build them and make them more cohesive. My experience with The Hidden Good had exposed me to the power of community activism, and I was excited to get back into the fray of finding ways to improve the way some of our communities function. My work on IFC saw me vastly transform the notion of community and how we need to educate ourselves on topics related to it. Mayfest allowed me to be part of one of the biggest community building events of the year.  ISO gave me the platform to set the stage right for the international community as they entered into Northwestern. And there’s so much more – either in the works or under wraps – that I’ve been found myself working on, that I truly feel like I’ve identified my purpose on this campus.

The concept of purpose is a complex one. Most would identify purpose as a milestone i.e. my goal is to become a lawyer. In college, that’s all too common. Many are here to strive for the degree, and eventually get a job. But purpose in that form does very little for the soul. The soul is an engine, full of fiery powers that connect to adrenaline, lust and happiness among others.  Purpose is the fuel. Good fuel is purpose identified as a state of being i.e. my purpose is to build communities.  With that, there’s always some new way to achieve the purpose even as multiple milestones are hit. It’s also more connected to your daily habits and ultimately, your values and principles, effectively molding you into a better person. This past year helped me realize that.

I think this year also saw me vastly reconsider how I approach friendships. While I love meeting people and growing my circle, I’ve found myself developing multiple core friend groups that I’ve just wanted to stay strong and secure in. I’ve made an effort to appreciate the people in my life, and I’ve felt the love back. Through the work I’ve done talking to seniors and alumni, what I’ve learnt is that keeping those core groups precious is extremely important, because those are the people you’ll want to remember past college.

One of my few grievances of the past year has to be with how little I’ve seen my family and how much of a crucial year I’ve missed. My siblings are going through transformational stages of their lives and I’m limited to how much I can be a big brother to them because of distance and time. More than once now, I’ve not been able to make it to family gatherings around the world simply because of logistical frustrations. It’s difficult, seeing friends who are from the US, constantly go for dinners with their families, when I know I have wait a whole year before I can experience that.

My biggest joy for the year past though, is how much I’ve developed my photography skills. I started photography as a hobby to complement the videography I wanted to do for The Hidden Good. Yet, over time, I learnt I had a natural eye for settings and also a tendency to put myself in dangerous but prime positions for amazing shots.  I loved being able to capture a mix of emotion and reality in a single frame, and translate that into beauty that I could reflect on. I’ve gone out on multiple projects just to keep the trigger finger happy, but every time I’ve completely enjoyed being a witness to the world around us.

So much has happened this past year. And yet there’s so much more I want to do. Senior year is next. And you know I’m not going to let it rest.




romance is not dead

It’s my birthday in 4 days. I’m turning 22. There’s a lot of meaning to the number, most of them defined by ourselves. Someone told me it’s a year to think of second chances, to decide to make the decisions you never had the courage to make before. Someone else told me it’s the year to start cherishing your youth even more, because the road ahead is one that demands losing your youth. Honestly,I’m ambivalent about turning 22.

To a lot of my friends, they’ve hit the point where birthdays are just more days in their lives. Sure they’ll throw a party or invite friends over, but they care less about turning older, and just are happy to have an occasion to get drunk or spend time with friends.

Contrastingly, I love birthdays. Maybe it’s a product of my fear of mortality, but I cherish every year I’m alive – I use every birthday as a milestone to check where I am in my life, and to celebrate my friends’ and family’s importance in my life.  I look back on the year between my birthdays and attempt to distinguish if I’ve truly ‘grown up’. Have I made progress towards my goals in life? I also start deciding how I want to grow in the year ahead.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that I’m spending my 22nd birthday up in the air, on a plane between Chicago and Singapore. I gave myself the goal of seeing more of this world , of loving and getting hurt, and of creating beautiful things. I did all that and more probably, and have been reciprocatively cherished by many others. I have seen romance dance its way into my life, and terrorise me with its powers. I have had doors opened to me that remind me of how incredibly lucky and privileged I am in life. I am then presented with the fact that the world needs me and others to act, because it’s suffering – pain extinguishes any flame that it desires to light. It was on accident that I discovered this hurt. I was looking for beauty, and instead I found that beauty lays with despair.

The rose must come with its thorns, and the silver lining appears only on the dark clouds. Understanding this duality has brought to me to my goal for the year ahead. I mentioned this in my New Year Resolution post, but it took me a while longer to solidify what I wanted to do.

The truth this world is hurting. When I was in San Francisco recently, I saw so many people living in boom, but also so many homeless and drug addicts. It scared me to think that some of these people would die without the dignity  of having lived a healthy life. In Sabah, Singaporeans died following the tragic earthquake. Some of these were Primary School kids. It killed me that these kids lost their future , a promise so full with potential and yet something so easily gone. These are just recent observations. There’s so much more – so many problems that need people to put their heads to it and act.

I’ve become a much firmer believer in the idea of disruptive processes. The system doesn’t work. Open your eyes, look and observe. To play within the rules is to accept defeat before you even make your first move. Change the rules, and make power moves that will benefit society. Businesses are the best vehicles for these, but I’m starting to looking even beyond businesses to see what other mediums can help me make impact on the societies that exist.

I’m spending my 23rd year learning how to heal this world. I’ll start with smaller case studies, learn what approaches work, develop my own methodology and export that to hopefully mobilise others to devote their lives to solving the needs of this world.

I spent my 22nd year looking for beauty and find hurt along the way. I’m spending my 23rd birthday looking for hurt, and hope to find romance along the way. The kind of romance that makes you fall in love with people, that kind of romance that makes you feel alive, the kind of romance that inspires.

Because what it does it mean to live, if you don’t love.