Meet Chua Ying Xuan, NTU Asian School of the Environment undergrad who represented Singapore at the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) Fall 2019. The programme, sponsored by the US embassy, consists of a five-week academic residency hosted by the East West Center to learn about the Hawaii, California and federal government’s policies and approaches towards environmental management. Participants were given the opportunity to meet politicians, academic researchers, NGOs, book authors during the programme. Ying Xuan recounts her worthwhile experience in the programme.
How were you selected to represent Singapore at YSEALI Fall 2019?
I filled out an application package consisting of a personal statement, CV and recommendation letters. I believe that the experience that I accumulated in the environmental field over the past four years allowed me to add value as a delegate to the YSEALI programme. Other than my environmental advocacy work with NGOs, I also completed corporate internships with Unilever and Marina Bay Sands. Being in a Venture Capital focusing on food sustainability investments opened my eyes to the exciting possibilities of the future of food. I also co-founded a social enterprise, Accommodate, where I create novel learning experiences on sustainability. My multi-sectoral involvement in sustainability probably gave me an edge over other applicants.
Tell us about your experience at YSEALI Fall 2019.
Throughout past five weeks, we experienced blended learning – from classroom teaching to experiential learning through field trips. We were also assigned four books for discussion and had the opportunity to meet the book authors themselves!
The programme started off with an academic residency in Oahu, Hawaii, where we spent three weeks in the East West Center. We conducted peer-to-peer trainings, attended field trips to understand Hawaiian history, culture and environmental policy.
How did it feel to represent Singapore on the world stage at YSEALI? How did you benefit from this experience?
I am grateful to attend the highly coveted YSEALI programme, which had been my dream since I chanced upon the YSEALI website two years ago. Being my first time visiting the United States, I had an especially eye-opening experience.
The YSEALI programme has transformed my outlook towards life. With a heightened sense of curiosity, I find myself questioning more and taking more interest in the lives of others. It also granted me new lens when looking at the world. Inspired by my YSEALI experience, I initiated my own learning journey to Myanmar where I contacted several start-ups, farms and local university and research institute to host us. YSEALI has spurred me to take bold initiatives as a leader to seek opportunities for learning and personal growth. I was able to redefine learning and uncover the once hidden opportunities for learning in my everyday life.
My greatest takeaway was the precious friendships forged with the twenty other representatives scattered amongst the ten other Southeast Asian countries. We shared many special moments and memories as we journeyed with each other in the six weeks, weaving in our diverse backgrounds and cultures. Their energy, thirst for learning and drive for sustainability keeps me driven when I wake up each day. When I feel burnt out from my work, I am reminded of these passionate individuals and how they are making an impact in their community.
Generosity was a theme that was consistently emphasised during the YSEALI programme. I was inspired to be open about sharing, and took the first step by starting a public Instagram account @yxuan.learns to document my learnings and reflections in my daily life.
Through observing the actions of my peers, I learned that it is the little actions that speak the loudest, such as simple gestures to express appreciation, creating an inclusive environment and safe space. I aspire to adopt a servant leadership model and promote a positive culture of growth for my team in Accommodate.
As I received valuable mentorship and personal development through the YSEALI programme which aided my personal development, I am committed to mentor and disciple and decided to intentionally set aside time to help others discover their passions, hunt for growth opportunities and build confidence.
You’re currently reading Earth and Environmental Systems Science in ASE. How did you find yourself in this field?
I found my calling in the months after the completion of my ‘A’ Levels examinations, where I volunteered for a local NGO, ECO Singapore. That marks the start of a life-long journey dedicated to sustainability, as I went on to volunteer for NGOs like Zero Waste Singapore, LepakinSG and took up a leadership position in Earthlink NTU in my freshman year. Since then, there was no turning back, and pursuing environmental studies in university was a natural choice for me.
ASE stood out to me due to its inter-disciplinary nature, where I dabbled with the technicalities of earth systems while being exposed to the law, policy, sciences and economics of sustainable development. As an analogy, Earth and Environmental Systems Science placed me in outer space where I could have a macro view of the Earth, and equipped me with a pair of binoculars which allowed me to zoom in on different environmental issues that I am passionate for. I explored a myriad of research topics – environmental impacts of fashion, air travel and eco-tourism. What I appreciated the most about my course was the field trips (both in and out of Singapore) where we went out of the classroom to tackle environmental problems head on.
What do you see yourself doing after graduation?
I could be joining public sector, a multinational corporation or entering the start-up scene. I am happy to leave my options open for now, as I accumulated pleasant internship experiences in all these three fields.
What matters to me the most is not the job title, credentials or pay scale, but to surrounded by colleagues that are committed to help me learn and grow (and vice versa). Job fulfilment is primary, and I would require my future employer to have aligned values as me – encompassing the drive to promote sustainability and being a force to do good.
Any words of advice to prospective students keen to pursue Science at the university level?
Results are not everything, do not be fixated on getting the As. The four years of undergraduate studies is a treasured window of time for you to experience life in its fullest form – pick up a new hobby, hone your leadership abilities and cultivate meaningful friendships.
Most importantly, stay open-minded and curious! Grab opportunities to grown and learn – you are also not defined by what you study, so stay open to the boundless possibilities of career options that lie ahead of you!
The YSEALI Spring 2020 Academic Fellows Program brings undergraduates or recently graduated students between the ages of 18 and 25 to the United States for a five-week institute held on the campus of a U.S. college or university. These five-weeks themed institutes, held on the campus of a U.S. university or college, will include an academic residency, leadership development, an educational study tour, local community service activities, and opportunities to engage with American peers. The program will conclude in Washington, D.C., to allow for engagement with policymakers, governmental representatives, businesses, and think tanks. Read more about it here.