Valerie Liew, graduated from Suzhou Dulwich International High School in 2017 as a good student, with an offer from University of Manchester as a backup choice, took a gap year gaining work experience. She is now admitted into Business major at Nanyang Technological University, and Business Management major at Singapore Management University. She has some reflections about her gap year experience:

As a Singapore Citizen who had lived in Suzhou for 18 years, I have always wondered what it would feel like to be living and studying in a country that is my “home country”, but feels foreign to me nonetheless. This is why I decided to apply for the three public universities in Singapore (National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University)when I was still in Year 10.  Two of which have extended offers of my desired programmes to me.

One of the reasons of why I chose to take a year off before entering tertiary education is to apply for the universities in Singapore, where term would have started in August 2017 if I had applied in my final year, meaning I would have received a conditional offer or a rejection before all of my A-level results were released. Lacking experience and knowledge of the education system in Singapore, I wanted to apply with my actual results with more reassurance. I also hoped for an opportunity to experience what working life would feel like in the particular industry, reassuring myself that this is the field of work that I am prepared to devote a large portion of my life to. I wanted to go into further education with less doubt about my future

During the first half of my gap year, in addition to preparing my applications for university, I became an intern in the International Education Centre of the National University of Singapore Research Institute (Suzhou). This internship lasted approximately 4 months, during which I was able to participate in both desk work as well as organizing events for visiting scholars and students. Being a part of the team which organized and supported both the International Symposium on Music Information Retrieval 2017 Conference as well as an Immersion Programme for Singaporean High School students allowed me to respond faster to situations and became a more extroverted person, which allowed me to be more prepared and reacted with more confidence during my university interviews. Analyzing data and preparing presentations allowed me to grasp an idea of what I may be required to face in an office when I step into society. This experience also made me realize that my university education should do more than just teach me the information I may use later in life, it should also prepare me for situations that I will have to deal with in the future.

Earlier in 2018, in the second half of my year off, I moved back to Singapore alone. I was faced with the challenge of living by myself in a new country without an immediate circle of friends that is usually provided by university life. As I did not receive any offer from any of the universities yet, I took up a temporary job in an office of a construction firm. I was a receptionist for two weeks before transferring to a desk job for data entry. During this experience, I was able to have a small taste of two drastically different tasks and what it felt like, working in the bustling country of Singapore. Compared to my previous internship, it had longer hours and felt tedious due to the monotonous tasks available for someone with my skill set and limited knowledge of the firm. However, it did allow me to have a more shaped vision of what career I would like to pursue in the future.  For example, I’ve considered taking up majors or specialisations that will allow me to pursue careers that incorporate thinking and analysis into my daily tasks instead of what my temporary job offers, a repetitive routine every day. With this in mind, I will be able to begin my university education with ideas of which courses I wish to take in my second or third year, helping me shape my future.  

Although gap year is very common among students in Western countries, Valerie is the first student of DHSZ to take one. Her independent thinking and courage to make this decision is an embodiment of Dulwich’s education philosophy: rigorous, relaxed and respect for individuality. She also set an example for younger students at DHSZ. During her gap year, Mrs. Crozier, her counsellor at DHSZ, gave her a lot of help in the excruciating university application process, allowing her to fully prepare for university studies while enriching her experience.