Adulting 101: Life Lessons I’ve Picked Up as a Student Leader

By the SMU Social Media Team

Learning doesn’t happen only in the classroom, especially when it comes to picking up useful life skills. You may be able to solve derivatives with ease, but if you’re stumped when it comes to juggling your time or delegating tasks effectively, then the experience of navigating university campus life as a student leader may just come in handy. Two current SMU students share how participating in extracurricular activities have shored up their confidence to enter the real world.

Yang Peiling, the 19th President of the SMU Students’ Association (SMUSA), had led the group in championing the rights and interests of the student body. The Business undergraduate says: “When I first joined the University, I didn’t expect to take up a leadership position as people here are quite outspoken and extroverted. As an introvert, I was afraid to put myself in too much of a spotlight.”


Peiling speaking at the 2019 Academic Year Opening Ceremony


But joining the SMU Freshmen Orientation programme as the Programmes Director helped kickstart Peiling’s leadership journey, and led to her role as President of SMUSA. Her responsibilities: taking care of the group’s branding and identity, setting the tone and goals for the year, acting as the liaison between the University and the student body, and working with external organisations such as the People’s Association and National Youth Council to identify student opportunities for the SMU community.

Through the challenges of the role, Peiling was able to strengthen her skills in people management, experience presenting to a large crowd (at SMU’s Academic Year Opening Ceremony where she had to address a crowd of 500 people), and even learnt how to adapt to unfavourable situations. She explains: “I learnt how to motivate individuals and teams even when things weren’t going our way, and it took a lot of different communication methods and styles to get through to different people. In the same way, I had to learn to manage my own expectations and adapt to various situations when I wasn’t immediately seeing the results we desired.”

Another life skill she picked up from her role was time management. During summer, Peiling extended herself more than ever before. She juggled an internship, her involvement in the Student Disciplinary Review Task and Finish Group, and her usual management of SMUSA’s summer events. She recalls: “It was quite a trying time for me because I had to work full-time during the week, then dedicate my evenings and weekends to meetings and catching up on my non-internship tasks. Because of this, I learnt how to manage my time and work efficiently and also how to transfer my skills or knowledge from one platform to another. For example, when I learnt something new at my internship, I could share that with the SMUSA team and use it for our activities as well.”

Second-year Accountancy student Timothy Tay, the chairperson for the 2019 SMU Patron’s Day Organising Committee, also developed his leadership and decision-making skills through his role. “It was rather challenging at the start. This is because I was quite used to taking specific instructions and then executing them. At SMU, however, we are accorded more autonomy and are allowed to make decisions based on relevant considerations, rather than being told exactly what to do at the outset. This has been a very useful, transferable skill for me.”


Timothy hosting Singapore President Mdm Halimah Yacob at SMU Patron’s Day 2019


Through working with his team to ensure that the Patron’s Day event flowed smoothly, Timothy also learnt how to delegate, and how to manage conflicts in a productive manner. He explains: “The event was far too large in scale for me to do everything by myself, and I had to delegate to others so I could manage the more critical tasks. It taught me to prioritise and to make sure that everyone felt essential to the process.”

Although Peiling and Timothy picked up different skills through their roles, they both agreed on one thing—that the opportunities to take up leadership roles, general independence, and autonomy afforded to students through extracurricular activities are great ways for them to learn how to “adult” before they are thrust into the real world.


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