Hindsight is 2020 (#HI2020) is a ground up initiative founded and led by SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business Class of 2020 graduate Jessica Lee Yi Ling. In this series, she uncovers personal stories of resilience, courage and love amidst the crazy year that was 2020. Through the reflections and learnings shared in #HI2020, she hopes to empower internship and job seekers to improve their status quos and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and volunteers to pursue their passions in 2021.
By Jessica Lee, Alumna, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business
Meet Melvin Ng, SMU School of Social Sciences (SoSS) graduate. When his internship was rescinded as a result of the pandemic, this student chose to stay true to his goals in an unexpected way—by returning to the Singapore Police Force where he served his national service. Let’s find out how this SMU Track and Field long distance team member quite literally went the extra mile and contributed by playing his part in to help Singapore tide over the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 summer.
Here are three key takeaways from Melvin:
- Those who keep learning will keep rising in life.
- Do one thing every day that scares you.
- If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal.
What is one thing people wouldn’t know about you when they look at you?
Based on first impression, people wouldn’t know that I am a friendly person. When I was serving my full-time national service with the Singapore Police Force (SPF), squad mates and colleagues commented that I look stern, which made people hesitate to approach me.
However, those who know me would describe me as an outgoing and friendly individual.
Could you share with us a little of your national service experience?
I remembered vividly an experience working as a Person In-Custody (PIC) police officer at the Tanglin Police Division, where I met a suspect who was arrested as a loan shark runner and brought back to the division headquarter for further investigations.
Loan shark runners are often seen as gangsters who behaved in uncivilised manners. This suspect, however, piqued my interest due to his young age and big family (with three children and one unborn child). He shared that he needed this “job” as a runner simply because he needed money to improve his family situation and put food on the table. He mentioned that because of his poor education background, he constantly struggled to make ends meet with his full-time job as a cashier. That was when I realised how cruel reality can be and how lucky most Singaporeans are to not have to constantly worry about our next meals or having a roof over our heads.
How did that encounter shape your outlook on life?
This incident taught me to be self-contented and to be compassionate towards others. It also made me realised that I want to do my best to contribute to the society in a more meaningful way, to reduce the chances of people having to suffer because of certain societal conditions. After completing my national service stint with the Police, I decided to make a switch from pursuing a business career to take up a degree in Social Science, specifically majoring in Political Science.
For my penultimate internship, I was happy that I was offered an internship as a policy analyst at the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS), a statutory board under Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). Unfortunately, the internship was rescinded when the pandemic hit.
How did you feel and react to the news?
I was understandably frustrated and sad.
However, things took a turn in April. With the number of Covid-19 cases increasing in workers’ dormitories in Singapore, the SPF required assistance in the dormitory operations. I made the decision to return to SPF as an NSmen to assist the force as a Forward Assurance and Support Team (FAST) officer.
What did your family and girlfriend have to say about your decision? Did that change your mind?
Like every concerned parent and loving girlfriend, they were quite concerned and were unsure about my decision. The operations required me to be deployed to the dormitory for an extended period of time, and I would need to stay at a designated hotel to avoid bringing the virus back to my loved ones in case I was infected during the operations.
But since the start of the FAST operations, a handful of my own men had volunteered their services despite holding full-time jobs. I was extremely touched by their commitment and unwavering dedication to safeguard Singapore. Seeing how others stepped out of their comfort zone, I felt even more motivated to do my part and be a part of the operations.
What did the job entail?
In the FAST operations, the work entailed overseeing the welfare of the dormitory workers and ensuring that safe distancing measures were properly implemented to contain the spread of the virus. Additionally, we supported the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) personnel in the operations by monitoring the workers for signs of Acute Respiratory Symptoms (ARS).
Initially, I had thought that the operations would be a short and simple because the main role assigned to us was to ensure the welfare of the dormitory workers. The team morale was high at first given that everyone was motivated to serve. However, as time passed, fatigue kicked in.
Please share with us your personal struggles.
Honestly, I felt fear because I was deployed to one of Singapore’s largest Covid-19 clusters at the Tuas View Dormitory which had over 1,400 confirmed cases. Chances of getting infected were high and the worry took a mental toll on me. It definitely added stress to the already depressing situation.
There were moments where I was quite overwhelmed by anger; while my comrades and I committed to curbing the spread of the virus despite being fully aware of the high risks, it was disappointing to read about people who behaved irresponsibly, flouting safe distancing measures and not wearing masks in public. Many times I wondered, “Why am I risking myself and my family when other people are taking our sacrifices for granted?
Given that you were experiencing these negative emotions, were there times you wanted to call it quits? What kept you going?
Of course, I thought of calling it quits and heading back to the comfort of my home. Returning to my hotel room after every shift, only to face the four walls without the support of my family and loved ones, made it especially hard.
But I persevered by reminding myself that the workers also have families back home waiting for their return. Given that I was in a position where I could make a difference in their lives, I wanted to do my part to prevent the virus from spreading within the dormitories so that they can eventually return to their families safely.
I was also extremely touched by one of my men who extended his participation in the operations for an additional month beyond his term. His main motivation was also to make a difference to the society through serving in the operations. This made me reflect on my initial intention of pursuing a political science degree and helped me to endure the remaining operational exercises.
Having weathered both physically exhausting and mentally draining work, how have your perspectives changed?
My stint as a FAST officer helped my get over my initial disappointment at the cancellation of my internship. I am happy to have contributed to the country’s efforts to contain the virus, and I am delighted that I was able to do something that aligned with my goal and purpose in life. While I know that participating in such operations may not be as helpful on my resume as a structured internship, it mattered more to me that I was able to look beyond my own needs and help others, especially in times of a pandemic.
What’s next for you then, now that you have graduated?
I have secured a full-time career with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) as a Rehabilitation Officer (RO1). I look forward to continue serving the country in this role.
Any advice to juniors who may be struggling to find an internship or may experience getting their internship cancelled?
1. Stay hungry, keep learning. In this climate, it may be more difficult to land your dream job at your desired company. I encourage you to keep a willingness to learn and have the mentality that you will make use of all opportunities to hone your craft and develop your skills. Gain all the experience and knowledge possible. As a fresh graduate, your attitude matters a lot more than your altitude.
2. Dare to step out beyond your comfort zone and try something different. As former professional footballer Jerry Rice said, “Today I will do what others won’t, so that tomorrow I can do what others can’t”. When you take a chance on yourself and go the extra mile or venture into unchartered territories, you will learn unique skillsets that ultimately give you a competitive advantage in the workplace. Find ways to set yourself apart from the rest.
3. Finally, have a goal in mind. One should develop clear goals he or she wants to pursue upon graduation. Failure to plan is planning to fail—you want to avoid being in a situation where you find yourself aimlessly searching once you graduate. Once you gain clarity on your goals, your passions will automatically guide you and things will slowly fall into place, just like it did for me!
This article has been adapted from LinkedIn for republishing on The SMU Blog with permission. Learn more about Hindsight is 2020 here.
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