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Xue-En Chuang Headshot

Where Are You?

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Something niggles within me as I flick through Facebook photos and see how the people I once knew have grown, changed and achieved great things. Well, greater things than the ones I think I have achieved. Maybe it's admiration and joy, but more likely than not, it's likely to be envy.

I see the things that they have begun to embark on. I see how they have developed in their artistic skills. I see their graduation photos. I read their articles on online magazines. I read their journal entries. I see the trips that they have taken. They have blossomed. They have grown. And it just beckons the question: Have I grown, blossomed or changed in the same way?

This thought first crept into my mind while I was in my college library, overlooking the bridge, on which stood hordes of tourists, and my instinctive answer was: Nahhh, I haven't really changed. I haven't really grown. Time spent with my family over last summer revealed to me that my bad habits still persisted even though I have managed to conceal them in university. Pride and stubbornness still infiltrated my relationships. If I have grown in any way, no one has mentioned anything to me.

But this thought stuck with me throughout the day as I reflected on the two and one-sixth years I've now spent away from home. As I reviewed my Facebook notifications for updates on my Jailbreak fundraising group page, it dawned upon me that how coming abroad for university has allowed me to challenge myself.

Three undergraduate years, three crazy things. Well, maybe you wouldn't call it downright crazy, but each of these things posed a challenge for me.

In my first year, it was plucking up the guts to run for office as the president of Cumsa (Cambridge University Malaysia and Singapore Association). Not only did I have to stand up in front of intellectuals and 'promote' myself as a worthy candidate, I had to campaign with the knowledge that Cumsa might dominate my life for the next 365 days.

In my second year, it was committing to cycle all 90km from Cambridge to London to raise funds for an autistic charity back home in Singapore. I was never, and probably will never be, sufficiently fit. (We did make it in the end and even surpassed our initial fundraising target.)

This year, it will be Jailbreak. (If you haven't heard about Jailbreak before, you can read about it here - Cambridge Jailbreak.) It has been four weeks since my partner and I submitted our forms and cheques to confirm our participation, but up till now, I still wonder what possessed me to do such a thing. This sense of surreality was not just my own; I got this text from a friend after adding her to the Facebook group: I can't decide whether to be in horror/disbelief or give you a thumbs up.

Attempting these things would seem to friends back home to be rather out of character for me; someone who is usually practical, reserved and rarely adventurous. But there's something about being overseas that just makes these things so much more appealing. Maybe it's the opportunity I've been given to reinvent myself, or the impetus to try new things since I already am in a new environment. Two (and one-sixth) years on, I still feel the spirit of adventure coursing through me. It's as if my eyes have been opened to the great big world out there and I am constantly being challenged by what I see and encounter to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. It would never have happened back in Singapore where I was comfortable, so easily contented, and possibly, just lazy.

These experiences have put me through trials, frustrations, joy and laughter. I have learnt many things too. I have come to be more familiar with how people think, feel and behave, how their cultures and upbringing have moulded them to be the way they are and more importantly, I've come to learn and understand more about how I think, feel and behave, freed from the veils and disillusions that once clouded my vision. I cannot be more thankful to have this opportunity to be studying overseas; thankful to be able to learn so much from so many different experiences; thankful that there are so many avenues to explore and discover who I am and who I am made to be. The experiences may not be equivalent to those of friends back home, but they have definitely shaped me.

Now when I come to know of the successes of my friends back home, I no longer feel (as) jealous. Instead, I am assured and contented with knowing that we walk different paths that will develop, grow and shape us as unique individuals; mine has led me to be here in Cambridge to bring me out of my comfort zone, to challenge me and grow me. Where are you?