By Edmund Zhang (19S06S)
No matter how comprehensive the introduction sessions and pamphlets they give you, no matter how vivid the personal anecdotes from the seniors are, nothing really prepares you for the rigour and intensity of the hectic 9 months ahead of you.
ISLE is much more than just going to school every Monday 2 hours earlier than everyone else and a 10-day long trip to Batam. The journey begins with an overnight bonding camp where you’re given a glimpse of how vital teamwork and adaptability are in order to complete the tasks delegated. It’s also when you start to form new friendships and learn how one another work under different conditions.
Then you start planning for the recce, a 3D2N trip to the school where you’ll spend the year-end trip at. During the recce, you’ll begin to understand why they call ISLE a “student-led” programme. Do not expect spoon-feeding from the teachers, being told what to do and when to do it by. Expect being clueless and working together with your teammates to get the exact dimensions for specific structures, figuring out what aspects of the school can be improved or refurbished to make it more student-friendly, and going down to the hardware store personally to order and make an inventory of what’s needed. It’s in this recce where the different personalities and working styles of the team start to gel and you’ll begin to see everything coming together. You’ll learn to stop relying on the guidance of your teachers, and step up to solve problems together.
ISLE week is a dedicated period of fundraising for the work you plan to carry out. This is when the entrepreneurial ones step up and plan what has to be done. Being meticulous, accountable and planning and scheduling ahead of time will help the week go by smoothly. Our team learnt the importance of delegation of roles and the severity of miscommunication; after all, it’s going to be 15 of you trying to reach out to a student population of approximately 2400. This year, through selling merchandise and carrying out a car wash, the 2 teams of ISLE were able to fundraise over $2000 in 1 week, which were used to purchase items such as paint, cement, bricks, rollers, etc.
You take a short break to tackle the ever-dreaded promos, and then it’s back to the flurry of meetings and preparation for the year-end trip. And believe me when I say that nothing, really nothing, prepares you enough for what you’re going to experience and learn during the trip.
Service-learning is more than just volunteerism. Everyone has a different interpretation and take on it, as you’ll soon appreciate during the nightly reflection sessions. During these sessions, your understanding and opinions on issues ranging from the difference in cultures between Batam and Singapore to what it really means to be “serving” and “helping” will be thoroughly and comprehensively debated on, and you’ll come out of every session with a new outlook. Lots of controversial topics will be covered, and through this we realised that not everything was as simple and clear as black and white, and we had to take into account the perspectives of different stakeholders.
What will probably stick to you most will be the interaction with the students. You’ll be planning and conducting lessons for them, and the language barrier only makes the task even more challenging than it is. For those few hours, you’ll experience what’s needed to conduct a class, along with its challenges and joys. We engaged the students in various activities centred around colours, the plant anatomy and art and craft. It wasn’t easy. We experienced a hiccup on Day 1 – a change in the number of classes and students we could take on, and that was the first test of our adaptability. This meant a change in our logistics and scheduling, and it was the first learning point for all of us: no matter how prepared you are, there will always be unexpected challenges that you’ll have to be ready to tackle at any point in time.
In between classes, you’ll get the chance to play and interact with all the students on their breaks. This takes some getting used to. They’ll treat you like celebrities and crowd around you, and you may be a little intimidated and be slightly uncomfortable, but I implore you to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to them. That’s when you really connect with the students and understand their lifestyles and school culture. Using your minimal grasp of Bahasa to try to understand them, you’ll soon realise it’s not all that difficult to interact with them. It’ll be a little bit of a culture shock, and the empathy and feeling of being welcomed will be of a magnitude and scale that you’ve never experienced before.
The construction you’ll be carrying out will be physically taxing, but it really puts into perspective what it takes to build and maintain school grounds. I can guarantee that every student that comes out of ISLE will appreciate and treat their own campus and environment very differently. The students of the school will voluntarily step up and help out too, as they see it as their responsibility to take care of the school grounds, and it’s an attitude that we should all aspire to have.
Flower Bed construction
Before you know it, the trip will soon come to an end and you’ll be shocked to see the amount of work you’ve completed. The culmination of the efforts of 15 hardworking, like-minded individuals will exceed any expectations that you had before the trip. In just those few days, we were able to paint exterior walls, classrooms, stairwells, a volleyball court, build a flower bed from scratch and paint existing ones, all while carrying out lessons and interacting with the students.
We learnt so much more than we asked for. We grasped with how to work with different personalities and working styles under tight deadlines (think PW on steroids); we appreciated how it was like to serve with your heart and truly care about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for; and we discovered the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone. We were more confident in ourselves and became more reflective, having learnt the importance of thinking about both the unintended and intended consequences of our actions.
In ISLE, you’ll find a community of kind-hearted, enthusiastic individuals with the desire to help and reach out. You’ll learn more about yourself, such as your own leadership and working styles and how quickly you adapt to new scenarios and environments. Stepping up and taking the initiative will soon become second nature to you, as you’ve now experienced what it’s like to feel so invested and accountable for the cause and your team members.
The journey, albeit draining at times, has been a fulfilling and memorable one, and I think it’s safe to say that every single student of ISLE is extremely grateful to have been part of this programme, and has been inspired to do more to serve the community, both locally and internationally.