Scholar Voices: Life as a student, intern and resident in Singapore
“Go chopethat table—it’s open lah!”
These are words I heard every day this past summer as I entered the Singaporean hawker centers in search of chicken and rice, like every other local during mealtime. Singaporeans flock to these large hawker cafeterias to fill up on delicious foods that cost about $4 a dish. These food stalls allow locals to not only eat out economically but offers them a selection of food such as Chinese, Indian and Malay. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the hawker centers not only exposed me to Singaporean food and culture, but it’s where I first encountered the official, cultural language of Singapore — Singlish.
Over the course of three months, I had the wonderful opportunity to take my studies from the University of California, Berkeley to Singapore, where I studied at the National University of Singapore and interned at St. Luke’s Hospital.
My first week in Singapore consisted of me being confused with Singlish slang, acting like a complete tourist at notable landmarks and rerouting myself multiple times on Singapore’s railway transportation system, the MRT. Throughout the weeks, I learned to balance my history and professional development classes at the National University of Singapore, my clinical operations internship at St. Luke’s Hospital, and find time to explore the city.
I was excited to spend a summer studying abroad and my enthusiasm doubled when my study abroad coordinator in Singapore helped me secure an internship. After hearing about my interest in healthcare administration, she connected me with St. Luke’s Hospital for a summer attachment. My role was to conduct a time-motion study that evaluated the effectiveness of a potential call center at the hospital.
For the first segment of my internship, I used Microsoft Excel to create a template for recording incoming call data, making sure to incorporate relevant data categories yet keep the template user-friendly. The second segment of my internship involved studying three different clinical centers and using my template to take notes of the centers’ calls, paying attention to trends, lengths, resolution times and more. The final segment of my internship was spent analyzing the data I had collected to form a conclusion about the effectiveness of a call center and its potential to increase the efficiency of the clinics’ operations.
I remember being intimidated on my first day of work being surrounded by working professionals who knew what they were doing and what they wanted from their jobs.
Yet, my internship proved to be a place of collaboration and friendship. My coworkers were willing to explain the workflows in the clinics and shared their past experiences and personal lives with me. During my lunch breaks, I cracked jokes with my co-interns as we ate duck noodles and shared stories of our crazy weekend adventures in Singapore or other countries in Asia.
On Fridays, I studied at the National University of Singapore and learned about Singapore’s narrative and modern-day culture. I took field trips to the national museum, gallery and Old Ford Factory where I slowly pieced together how colonialism has affected Singapore’s language and identity as a rising economic power. Although I understood Singapore’s culture by living as a Singaporean, my class helped me to see how that culture came to be.
By the time I bid a bittersweet farewell to my internship and host country, I could navigate the MRT system like the back of my hand and order food at hawker centers using Singlish. I know now that chope means reserve and lah dds emphasis to phrases. My summer in Singapore checked off a lot of firsts for me. I traveled abroad for the first time without my family and worked in a professional setting while navigating classes in a new country.
St. Luke’s Hospital gave me an opportunity to explore my career and reflect on my interests. I’m blessed to have met such determined individuals who have already accomplished so much and who have inspired me to work toward my future, one step at a time. Being in Singapore was a process of being confused by the new, learning from the environment and planning for the future. I may not know exactly what I want to do after college, but I know the person who I want to be. For the friends, experiences, and perspectives, I thank you Singapore.
Redefining what it means to be a champion.