You might have begun to hear the call of numbers that will eventually become way too familiar: ten-weeks internship, that elusive 3.8 GPA, and the cries of how much to bid. But, somewhere in the distance, there’s a cry that stands out amongst the crowd: 80 hours. In SMU, community service is more than just a singular day where the whole school gets together and head out to the streets, visiting old folk’s home or hospitals. 80 hours might seem quite little, but it helps in extending the service into more than just a day’s work, where you can pack up and little impact is left.
Like many others, I had decided to fulfill my hours through an overseas community service project, more commonly known as OCSP. There’s no shortage of them in our school, with names that intrigue and destinations that span across the globe. From Agape to Light Years, there’s a project for everyone. Whether you are interested in flying around the world or to a neighbouring country, whether you are looking to enter with your friends or alone, and whether you’re maintaining infrastructure or teaching kids— search around, and you will probably find one (or many!) that piques your interest.
Personally, I went to Kampong Chhnang in Cambodia for 16 days, working with Sangkhim Canaan School to add values to their curriculum activities. But— over the course of our project, through the days of planning and the actual execution, I had begun to learn a lot and had left with experiences that will accompany me. To succinctly summarise it all, here are a list of things I have learnt from my journey.
1. You’ll form friendships.
This can be said for both overseas and local community projects but, when you’re working with a group of people for long, forming friendships is inevitable. I had entered into the project alone, with little expectations of expanding my social circle, but had left with friends that (I hope) will be by my side for a long time. When you are in a foreign country and situations turn unfavourable, it’s instinctive to lean on the people closest to you for a sense of familiarity— and that was what happened. People who barely spoke during the days leading up became close, and members who were already close became even closer. In fact, you tend to get too attached, often meeting up way too much once you land back in Singapore: your wallets have been warned.
2. You’ll need a lot of preparation.
Seriously, this cannot be emphasised enough. Contingency plans should be made because plans tend to go south, and contingency plans for the contingency plans should be made in case the aforementioned goes south as well. This means you’ll have to spend more than a few days planning and preparing, from trying out activities to buying the logistics. After all, the last thing you want is to be standing up in front of a class doing nothing, having ran out of the list of things you have aimed to do.
3. Like, a lot of preparation.
Preparation is important in all aspects of life, but more so when you have to leave the comforts of your home. Bring your inhaler (yes, even if your last attack was when you were a child— just in the off-chance) and prepare the necessities, check it again and then prepare once more. A friend of mine found out the hard way that 12 am the day of our flight was not the best time to start prepping, causing him to be late when it came to meeting at the airport. More than that, prepare for new experiences and to learn and adapt.
4. You will be dragged out of your comfort zone.
As someone who has led a relatively cushy life, I was not expecting the difference in living standards. Yes, it sounds incredibly silly, but it was an eye-opening experience that has changed my perspective and view on many aspects of life. For example, the schools and hostel would randomly have power outages. The first time it happened, I was mildly concerned, but the students looked unfazed and had continued their work without care or concern.
5. It gets expensive.
While it may be more expensive than local CSP, both has their own advantages and disadvantages you should consider in determining which is more value for money for you. On top of that, you will usually need to spend many days planning for the trip, as well as actually going on the trip. This means that your pockets might be stretched, and internships might be pushed back. Depending on your preference, calculate which is better and more worth-it for your set of circumstances!
Being at SMU equips you with a variety of experience, and your community service project (local or overseas) has a way of sticking with you. No matter which you pick, just remember to enjoy what you are doing and try your absolute best to make a difference, no matter how small it may seem to you. Go with more than the intention of fulfilling hours, and you will have an enjoyable time that will leave you wanting more, trust me!