Contrary to popular belief, the proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” was not, in fact, said by Confucius. It was said by Lao-Tzu.

Confucius, however, was the source of the saying “To have friends come from afar is always a pleasure, is it not?”

I’ve seen that sentence many times. In books, in newspapers, in my own Chinese essays, even on the wall of an exhibition about Confucius — but the week of 29 February to 4 March was one of the times that I’ve truly felt it.

At the start of 2016, upon entering VJC, I signed up for the JC Experiential Programme (JXP). Under this programme, students from the People’s Republic of China who had received the SM2 scholarship and are studying in Singapore experience a week of studying at a JC — and VJC has the honour of being one of the few JCs in Singapore hosting these students. The Chinese students we were paired with are SUTD students who have been taking bridging classes since late last year.

On Monday morning, we met our buddies for the first time in the LT-AVA. After some quick introductions, as well as an impromptu yet impressive lecture by Ms Ek on China’s geography, we were off to the bookshop to get the buddies their PE shirts — and then off to class.

My buddy’s name was Lin Han, but he preferred being called Harold in English. Unfortunately, on Mondays, the first lesson for me is a lecture, so we had to hold off introductions and icebreakers until the first tutorial after recess. It was a Project Work tutorial no less, so things got awkward very quickly (imagine trying to translate the entire idea of PW into Chinese). Fortunately, our tutor, Ms Tan, was also our CT, which made the atmosphere less awkward as she helped to explain the subject of Project Work — and why we were talking about how to get Singaporeans to have more babies!

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Throughout the entire week Harold sat, ate and learnt together with my class. From PE to tutorials to lectures, he saw it all. While he was initially scared of PE lessons, after having heard some dubious “horror stories” from his fellow Chinese students, our PE lesson for that week was actually very comfortable for him as we were running around the school field — as it turned, out he was actually a very good runner. Nevertheless, Harold met his match shortly after: a Physics lecture, in the freezing LT5.

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Along the way, Harold and I had some very interesting conversations on life in China as well as Singapore. Needless to say, there were certain differences that Harold had to adjust to. One of the things he mentioned — and I remember this from speaking to Chinese friends before — was the afternoon nap! In China, it is customary for students to take a 30–60 minute nap shortly after lunch, while in Singapore there is of course no such provision. (In SUTD, Harold was able to take a quick nap during lunch time, but the VJC breaks were just too short.) He was also acutely aware of many social issues in Singapore, including xenophobic sentiments. Needless to say, GP was one of the subjects he found quite interesting. Nevertheless, he was still stumped by some local lingo such as “chope”!

Throughout the week, the participants in the JXP – Singaporeans and Chinese alike – had many gatherings to discuss the programme, find out more about each other and just have fun. On Monday itself, we took a bus to Marine Terrace to have some drinks and play some games.

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To entertain us, the Chinese students taught us some of the games that were popular among students in China — one example was “Who’s the Spy?” In this game, the gamemaster assigns each person a word or phrase, but unbeknownst to the rest, one person — he’s the “spy” — will have received a word that is slightly different (in our case, the word was “mentor” versus “professor”). Then, everybody takes turns to describe their word, as vaguely as possible, and then vote on who they think the spy is. In our case, due to the game being conducted in Mandarin, it quickly became a test of our Higher Chinese!

We also had some more formal sharing sessions and reflections on Friday afternoon, when the entire programme got together with our teacher-in-charge, Mdm Tan Yang Leng, and the principal, Ms Ek, to reflect and bring an end to a very enjoyable school week.

Over the weekend, we continued with more bonding activities, including a visit to the Future of Us exhibition at Marina Bay. This was a very eye-opening experience for most of the Chinese students as they marvelled at Singapore’s success story and its plans for the future. The exhibition was certainly captivating to Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike, as who can resist an offer to peek into our future? While our week in school together enabled us to learn more about each other’s lives, I feel that it was at the exhibition that we really bonded, whether it was through the act of imagining a shared future or just translating the info panels for each other. The Future of Us exhibition was really a culmination of the friendship that had formed over the past week.

Almost exactly a week later, on 13 March, we gathered at SUTD for the final goodbye. Our buddies were very grateful for the experience and unanimously declared that it had been a very enjoyable week. Harold, in particular, was full of praise for VJC, from the facilities to the pedagogy, and was also very impressed with our school spirit. This was certainly high honours coming from students of some of the most prestigious schools in China.

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So, we celebrated our farewell party just as students from prestigious schools in our respective countries would — with water balloon fights! Sadly, I had to sit out the fun event as I wasn’t feeling very well, but the look of enjoyment on everyone’s faces told me that they had relished the programme thoroughly.

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All in all, it was a very meaningful programme for us, and I feel that we had really made a difference in each other’s lives. My only regret? We didn’t manage to take a group photo with the newly-built VJC sign (read more about that here!)

Ryan Ch’ng, 16S47

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