By Shaun Loh (21A01A), Noelle Leow (21A01B), and Samyak Jain (21S03A)
Photos courtesy of Michael Chow
The President’s Scholarship is awarded to students who have ‘gone beyond excellence in academic pursuits and co-curricular activities to distinguish themselves’, and who have a ‘strong ethos in public service’. We conducted an interview with this year’s sole President’s Scholar, Alyssa Marie Loo, batch of 2019. Alyssa is now studying linguistics at Brown University. We also interviewed her Linguistics teacher, Ms Janissa Soh.
With Alyssa being the first Linguistics student to win the President’s Scholarship and pursue Linguistics as a degree, her Linguistics teacher, Ms Janissa Soh, has many sentiments to share. Like many of us, Ms Soh is very excited about Alyssa’s future journey with the public service, and looks forward to the good work she will do.
Alyssa also shared that she holds great interest in making government schemes more accessible to Singaporeans by integrating Singlish into ministry websites through artificial intelligence. Her proposal of a chatbot that can recognise Singlish aims to aid people in locating certain schemes on various ministry websites or understanding how a policy works.
Alyssa’s interest in combining linguistics and technology probes us to question whether linguistics and technology complement each other. In answer to that, Ms Soh explained that language is “a means through which we express ourselves”, while technology is “a tool which offers many possibilities to spread a message or even simply and make information more relatable”. Hence, whether they complement each other “depends on the user and their intent”.
According to Ms Soh, the issues discussed in English Language and Linguistics (ELL) invite students to explore the relevance and uses of language in our society, and how language reflects and shapes one’s culture and identity in Paper 2. Moreover, Linguistics has the potential to humanise and localise an otherwise very institutional text. Alyssa’s proposal of a chatbot is thus a timely and relevant one.
Our interview with Alyssa:
You were the recipient of Raffles Girls’ School’s pinnacle Rafflesian Award in 2017. What are your thoughts on receiving both the Rafflesian Award and the President’s Scholarship?
Alyssa: Both have been surprising but I’m very grateful to be recognised by both awards. It’s a very big honour and I work hard to live up to the titles everyday.
You were a member of Raffles Press, President of Film Society and [other commitments]. How did you balance all your commitments?
Alyssa: I was lucky to be surrounded by people I loved being with, working hard on projects I believed in. It never felt all that tiring; even when I was physically tired, it all still felt worth it and I’d look forward to seeing the project through. For instance, making my own film for Film Society was beyond exhausting, but I found all the scrambling, late-night editing, turning up frazzled in class and juggling my assignments a very enjoyable hustle.
But definitely it’s also about adjusting expectations. Don’t let perfection get in the way of good; sometimes our high standards can get in the way of us getting something out, and it chokes up our schedule because we’re stuck on it. I’ve learned that it’s important to just be willing to iterate as you go.
What were some memorable experiences in RI that have shaped you as a person?
Alyssa: Being in the Humanities Programme gave me an amazing 2 years with my class 19A13A. I think it showed me how much a safe space and collaborative mindset can be enriching to everyone involved.
Directing my own film in Film Society was also a mammoth task that sometimes I still can’t believe I pulled off. It taught me about finding the balance between consultation and direction in leading a team.
We always thought A-Levels was the worst thing to be anticipating, but now that we are all faced with the rolling expanse of life and all its existential dread…we think about how nice it’d be to be back in school.
Which teacher in Raffles has left the most significant impact on you, for whom you would like to thank in particular?
Alyssa: I think the whole HP faculty has been incredible, but I’d definitely have to shout out to Mrs Nicola Perry. She always saw the best in us and taught us to be better as people too. A lot of the things she told us in Civics and in Literature classes didn’t make much sense to us at the time, but now that I’ve spent some time out of school I find myself going back to her aphorisms. She always kept telling us, for instance, “anything with an end is bearable”. We always thought A-Levels was the worst thing to be anticipating, but now that we are all faced with the rolling expanse of life and all its existential dread…we think about how nice it’d be to be back in school.
Any advice for Rafflesians who are aspiring to become PSC scholars?
Alyssa: Get out there and do something! I think we are all very adept at being eloquent with our beliefs and interests, and “I’m interested in…” is a very common phrase that we throw around. But I think what matters is whether you apply yourself and do something out of it. It doesn’t really matter what field you choose; just give your best in anything you love to do and concerns about having a good CV or good university essay will naturally resolve themselves in due course.
We wish Alyssa all the best in her future endeavors, and hope she continues to shine not just as a Rafflesian, but also as a pioneer in the linguistics field in Singapore."Interview Feature: Alyssa Marie Loo, 2020 President’s Scholar",