One Internship, Many Life Lessons

By Tang Yi Qian, Undergraduate, SMU School of Economics

During my first semester break, I was offered an internship opportunity through a friend, to work alongside Mr Kelvin Hong who is the Director and Principal Tutor of The Economics Tutor, which provides economics tuition in Singapore.

I was tasked to develop study materials such as economics mindmaps and infographics in line with the A-Level and IB syllabuses.


One of my recent work on ‘Theory of Contestability’


I went into this job thinking of just earning some pocket money in between the semesters, but, looking back, I thought this was one of the best experiences in my life as there are many lessons I have learnt in that short period of time. Here are four key lessons this internship experience had thought me:


1. Always strive for excellence.

As a result of my lack of work readiness and enthusiasm, my work often fell short of my boss’s standards. I felt demoralised each time I received many corrections and having to redo each piece of work many times over. I even entertained toxic thoughts of quitting and blaming my boss for “overly high” standards. I failed to see how all those were opportunities to develop my skills and to build character qualities to become a better person and worker.

The turning point was when I saw how my boss was really patient and tolerant towards me, even trying to counsel me over lunches he would pay for. Gradually, I sought to do my best in every single aspect of the work.

For example, when I had to generate a mindmap on “Income Elasticity and Cross-price Elasticity of Demand”, I often submitted drafts that were either lacking in substantial content or of poor designs. I used to tell him this: “This is my weakest topic when I was studying in junior college and I would skip doing this topic for my essay questions.” However, he encouraged me to use the opportunity to understand those economic concepts instead of giving up on learning them. Through many discussions with him, it finally struck me that:

  • If I believe I can’t do it, then I would not even bother finding out how to do it, and I would certainly fail.
  • If I find something difficult to do, I should work even harder at it.

On hindsight, it is funny how I am using this foundational concept of elasticities (which I used to deem too difficult) for almost all my Economics modules now.


2. Feedback is really good!

Initially, I did not receive the feedback well. I took it negatively and was offended. Sounds crazy? I guess it is. For sure, we all fumble at some point in work or life. However, as I have learnt, it is then up to us to see the feedback for what it is. Feedback given to me was just an indication that I can do much better and that I have the potential to reach a higher standard.

Being able to finally see things in this perspective has helped me achieve and improve much more. On the other hand, if I were to continue wallowing in toxic thoughts and emotions, there is no way I could climb higher.


3. A learning and do-better attitude

“How can I improve? How can this be better?“ is an attitude I learnt from my boss. I have always wondered how my boss is able to achieve excellent quality in his work. And one thing I realised is that he sets his mind to seek for constant improvements.

He also thought me to see things from a “customer viewpoint”. “How will this benefit the student?” “How can this be made more effective and creative?” This has motivated me to work harder and correct all of my deficiencies. I was inspired by his determination to seek higher standards. The constant searching for room for improvement and to deliver an even more effective presentation and design is such an important quality. Eventually, I gained a mentor in the process. Somehow, I ended up being his ‘student’ as well. Learning from his professional work attitude and his creativity is indeed one of my biggest takeaways I can bring into my next internship.


4. Take charge

Finally, I realised I have to take charge of my own destiny. Well, I have a choice. If I were to wallow in all that self-pity, then I would never succeed. I look back now, thankful that I have chosen to listen to that quiet voice inside of me to learn from my mistakes and to learn from someone who has far more experience in life and work than I. As the saying goes, “The teacher will appear when the student is ready.” If I had never taken that step forward, even when he was there to coach and teach me, I would have never learnt.

I look back now, grateful for this internship opportunity. I have gained not only “some pocket money”, but a mentor and many valuable life lessons. My academic grades have also improved tremendously since! I am sure those lessons will also help me succeed in my career.


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