My Polyforum experience: Da Vinci trying to paint Mona Lisa!
This will not be a typical article about the wonderful and enriching experiences at the Polytechnic Forum 2013 with 60 other students from the 5 polytechnics. It is rather, a story about how camaraderie and trust was built amongst 60 strangers from various diverse backgrounds. These 60 strangers were no more than acquaintances when they had first met at Outward Bound Singapore: East Coast (OBSEC). However, these 60 individuals concluded the Polytechnic Forum 2013 without lingering doubt about one another and more importantly, left as friends.
I still vividly remember how on a beautiful Wednesday morning, the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, phalanxes of 300 participants were assembled at OBSEC. The objective of this day was to get acquainted with other students whom they would work together with over the next month or so to accomplish a Project to benefit the community. I have close friends from Junior Colleges and Polytechnics but had never worked with them previously. Ambivalence overcame me. On one part, I felt surges of excitement and zest to have such an opportunity to meet and work with like-minded comrades. On the other, I was rather intimidated and the idea seemed inconceivable to me. Till today, I still wonder whether anyone had felt the same way as I had on that brightly lit Wednesday morning.
The day mostly revolved around introductions and games to bring each and every one of us a little closer to each other. After going through interviews at the Department of Student Development, I had been placed in Sub-theme 4: Arts, a way of life. Even as a Diploma in Financial Informatics (DFI) student, I still feel extremely strongly for the Arts. Although I am placed in an environment which requires more logical and analytical thinking, I still retain my love for the creative arts. This characteristic has helped me to flourish in my 3 years of diploma study.
Let me tell you a little more about my team (Or at least what I had learnt about them after living together for 5 days). My team comprises of a very interesting mix of extremely talented and dare-to-dream people. Despite coming from all walks of life, each student had a common passion for the arts. What would be somewhat of a plus point for us is the fact that every person in the team is actively engaged in some form of art. It proved to be somewhat of a cultural shock toward me. I was really not used to the fact that everyone I was going to work with shared a common passion with me. I roughly guess this was the catalyst behind why the entire team could bond and understand each other as though we had known each other throughout our lives. This tight knitted friendship was what made the long and assiduous journey, all the more bearable.
Every journey has its ups and downs and not all was smooth sailing on this journey for the 60 of us. One of the more tiring and less pleasant experiences was at Singapore Discovery Center (SDC) where we learnt more about our Community Action Project (CAP) and how to set about accomplishing this project.
The goal and objective of this CAP was crystallized. However, the way to accomplish it was rather abstruse and perhaps even inscrutable. There was no fixed way to go about doing so and we were tasked to come up with the solutions. At this point, the leader in every person rose to the occasion. Everyone wanted to lead the team headfirst into this project with the skills they possessed along with their ideologies. It was an eclectic mix of synergy from different people. This synergy allowed us to understand each other better. It was the first time I felt as though these people… have known me throughout my life. I had never felt more at home with this bunch of people.
The discussions started off fruitfully with every person providing opinionated but wonderful suggestions. I had never witnessed such creative brainstorming infused with pragmatism. It was as though witnessing Da Vinci trying to paint Mona Lisa. We could feel the extreme tension and frustration in the room as everyone wanted to have a chance to say their piece. This discussion resulted in recurring halts due to a syndrome youths like to coin as the “brain-dead” syndrome. It was the first time I went headfirst into a discussion and left with headaches and physical exhaustion.
It struck me at that point, thinking to myself it may not have been such a good idea to put 60 equally talented and vocal student leaders together after all! This was such a paradox because the team possessed excessive talent and ability. This was testament to the statement “The best team may not be necessarily made up of the best people.” Eventually, the team settled for a compromise between all the solutions, which might or might not have been the best solution. Well this was definitely one of the memories ingrained in my head. It had definitely put a different perspective within my horizon which is to “think differently” – Steve Jobs.
One of the most memorable takeaways was how the team bonded together and rose to the occasion to meet the obstacles presented to us. It was no easy feat to have 60 people working together on one project along with 4 other sub-projects and even more so, to be pushed out of our comfort zones.
The CAP project presented challenges which allowed us to learn and grow amongst each other. It was one of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences throughout the 5 days in OBSEC. The CAP engendered having to interact with members of the public and bringing ourselves to empathize with complete strangers. It was a nerve-wrecking experience to have to approach someone you do not even know, and it was extenuated by having to converse with them as though you have known them throughout their lives. To many of us, the experience was a first despite having done community work previously. Wearing my heart on my sleeve, I had to first try to capture the attention of passer-bys who would already most likely ignore us. The amount of rejection faced was demoralizing but however, it gave me all the more courage and strength to approach these strangers.
It was an unforgettable and awe-inspiring experience, having to apply what we have learned at school into a real life situation. Three weeks of arduous planning and work had finally culminated into something very real and touching. The group was initially dispirited that we thought the project would fail. As we strived on, the motivation unknowingly set in to help drive this project into a huge success. A saying goes “What you learn in school is merely the tip of the iceberg. What lies ahead is far greater and more complex and cannot be learnt through a book.” This is indeed a true saying and I have now seen the reality in it.
This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the 60 of us. The project was just merely a showing of what 60 like-minded and talented individuals could do when put together. The true takeaway from this poly forum experience was the friendships made and the lessons learnt from one another, from the project, and from facing the challenges that lie ahead. To sum up my short 5 day ubin adventure fairytale is impossible, but written in prose, are some ending thoughts.
The sun was nowhere to be seen and what was left perched in the sky was a sun-cast symmetry of clouds and waves forever entwined at the horizon, yet never intersecting. No one paid even a perfunctory glance at the tableau, but it reminded me of the asphalt jungle that I had momentarily left behind. I know I can never be apart from it. Ships were made from bolts and screws just as towering skyscrapers were pieced together by steel and iron – that we are carried by man-made materials on a journey only to find ourselves back in the inorganic constructs of yet another man-made fantasy; and with that, I know, that our jaunt to Ubin can only hold as a cursory respite from the trudging lives we lead.
- Lam Ying Sheng (Singapore Polytechnic)