Studies

Tales of folly, friendship and faith: 3 poly alumni look back on campus life

by Jeremy Tsang // April 27, 2021, 5:17 pm

3 poly alumni

For polytechnic students everywhere, it’s either the back-to-school season or a fresh start in a new environment. How are you feeling? 

It may be daunting, but hey, you’re also at the time in your life when you’re discovering yourself and the world we live in.

Poly can be a great place for you to do just that – as it has been for many! We sat down with 3 of our friends who have seen themselves grow through their time in school.

Here are some of their biggest lessons.

MY LECTURER LOCKED ME OUT

Recently, Siqi met up with her lecturer after 10 years, and that walk down memory lane brought back some embarrassing moments.

Siqi shared: “Ms Mary had enough of latecomers, so she actually locked the door so that the latecomers couldn’t come in.”  

“When I reached the classroom, I knocked on the door but everybody ignored my knocks. I got really, really angry because I travelled all the way to school just for this class and I wasn’t going to have it… so I went to kick the door.

“It was really loud. Everyone went silent.”  

Spoiler alert: Ms Mary opened the door for her. 

Needless to say, Siqi is not the same person that she was 10 years ago, but she still looks back on this incident sheepishly.

Above: Siqi with her lecturer Ms Mary. Below: Siqi with her church friends during her years in polytechnic.

New to Christianity at that time, Siqi shared that she was learning how to navigate the nebulous terrain of being in the world but not of the world.  

For that reason, Siqi is very thankful for her cell group leaders who discipled and nurtured her without making her feel judged at that time.

Despite doing things that, in her own words, would “probably be shocking to most Christians”, Siqi said that her leaders never looked down on her.

“They accepted me as I was,” she shared.  

Likewise, Siqi is very thankful for Ms Mary who accepted her, even after that locked door fiasco. 

Going above and beyond her role as a lecturer, Ms Mary also connected Siqi with one of her contacts, so that Siqi could land her first internship. 

“When I look back, I realised that she was a really good teacher,” said Siqi. “At that point in time, I didn’t see it. I was on good terms with her, but I just didn’t see how much she impacted my life.”

“Use your freedom to find out what is truly important”: A poly lecturer’s letter to new students

Another thing that Siqi had to navigate was the complicated web of love triangles.

“I was building my identity and learning how the world works by looking at all these different experiences and different people,” Siqi continued. 

Many of her friends were dating around, and it almost seemed like a game of musical chairs, with everyone switching places. Being a passive observer of this curious phenomenon helped her formulate her convictions when it came to relationships. 

Siqi concluded: “That was where I got my principle of being serious about my relationship… I decided that if I want to enter into a relationship, I definitely want to enter into one with someone whom I can envision a future with.”

I WAS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF GROUP MATES

For Jewel, who graduated three years ago, poly was a bit of a culture shock.

“Before that, most of the people I met were similar to me,” she said.

Describing herself as the sort who would spend a lot of time on studying, she and her friends were the archetypal A1 students. 

“We were all the studious kind, like those who would study for exams by memorising word for word and then test each other,” quipped Jewel, adding that studies were the most important thing for her at that time.

As such, she had to learn to relate to schoolmates who didn’t view studies with the same importance. Some had different priorities, like co-curricular activities, making friends and having fun. Some were also not as academically inclined, but had other strengths.

Explaining this mindset that academic achievements were closely tethered to a person’s self-worth, Jewel said: “In the environment I grew up in, I learnt to look up to ‘smart’ people, or people who did better than me, and correspondingly it meant that those who did well were admirable.”

Opening up about her journey of humility, she shared that she came to realise that grades don’t define who you are.

Grades don’t define your future

Jewel’s favourite part of poly was the community she found in The Navigators.

Meeting regularly with other believers who were serious about reading the Bible was especially formative in her spiritual life since she was a young Christian then.

“It helped to bring Christ into a school environment,” she shared.  

Jewel joined the weekly Bible study as well as the Vacation Training Programmes. She was also mentored by a staff member.

This didn’t just remain head knowledge though, because meeting new people gave her a chance to put God’s love into practice and to become a better friend. 

A photo of Jewel as a polytechnic student.

For instance, one of her closer friends was diagnosed with depression and found herself unable to complete her part in a group project. 

Within that five-girl group, one felt wronged, while the other two were indifferent. It was not easy, and Jewel was often caught in the middle of this conflict as both sides did not get along.

Yet, Jewel recognised that what her friend really needed was just someone to be there.

“I was just present in her life, and we did normal things. You know, sometimes you just need a friend,” she continued. 

There was eventually reconciliation within that group. Regardless, Jewel was thankful that she was there when her friend had no one else.

“Maybe I was there for that purpose. She was also there helping me to grow,” said Jewel. 

STRUGGLING TO FIT IN WAS EXHAUSTING

Brendan belonged to a large faculty, so there were many exciting chances to make friends. However, there also seemed to be a standing social order that couldn’t be ignored. 

“A lot of groups try to encourage you to be part of their circle, so it can be pressurising because you want to fit in. You want to find a group you belong to,” he commented.

“People are trying to fit in so that they can get all these opportunities… a lot of things come into play. When you see how it all unfolds, it can be quite toxic because I think they try to climb over one another just to get on the top of the popularity ladder,” Brendan continued. 

In a culture where people are preoccupied with their image, there would naturally be an undercurrent of gossip. Recounting an incident when he was the subject of false accusations, in Brendan’s words: “Word travels very fast.”

Giving an example of a leadership camp when he and a friend were identified as candidates to lead the next camp, Brendan said he confided in a few friends after he wasn’t successful. 

“People twisted and manipulated my words to say that I was jealous of my friend and wasn’t supportive,” he lamented. That also cost his friendship with the guy who got the position. 

Despite these challenges, Brendan shared two main takeaways he had from three years ago.

The first was that he didn’t need to conform to peer pressure. Constantly struggling to fit in was exhausting, and he came to learn that it was not worth it. 

He remembers vividly the first of many times he was jio-ed to have drinks. At the time, he was underage, so it was clear to him that the right thing to do was decline. 

But Brendan remembered wondering: “Should I conform to peer pressure? Should I be firm and stand my ground? There were repercussions if I did that. I wouldn’t have been seen as cool and wouldn’t have fit in as much.”

Ultimately, he realised that he should only be striving to please God and not man. 

Is clubbing harmless, innocent fun?

“All these kinds of things were very trivial. There were other things that were more important in life,” shared Brendan.

The second was that God was always there.

Brendan admitted: “I was too focused on other things. Though my faith was not as strong, God was still there for me, even if I hadn’t come back to him for a while.”

“God had always been there from start till end,” he shared. “He was the only constant throughout my entire poly life.”

Dear Poly Student,

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “youth is wasted on the young”, that doesn’t have to be true. 

Your experience in poly will not be the same as anyone else’s, but hopefully what has been shared will give you the wisdom of hindsight as you look ahead into your remaining years (or days). 

You are not placed here by accident or by chance. God has carved out a spot for you for such a time as this. So continue to seek Him, for only He knows the plans He has for you.

Our prayer is that your season in poly be marked as a time of spiritual rootedness and development. Even as you fearlessly pursue the youthful endeavour of finding your place in this big beautiful world, do remember your creator in the days of your youth!

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12

THINK + TALK

  1. What does it mean to strive to please God instead of man?
  2. What challenges are you facing in school right now? How might God be working through your struggles?
  3. Who are the people God has sent to encourage you? Allow them to journey alongside you!
  4. Know someone who is facing a tough time in poly? Reach out this week with a little encouragement. 🙂
About the author

Jeremy Tsang

Jeremy is usually referred to by his last name, but responds to both 'Jeremy' and 'Tsang'. He is an ice cream enthusiast, known by his friends as having the mental age of 40, and by his neighbours as a shower singer.