A Cultural Experience

The FIREfly scholarship has opened many doors for Yvonne, one of which is the chance to attain her university education in Japan.

By Nabilah Husna A. Rahman

Japan is known for its vibrant tourism landscape, attracting over eight million foreign visitors annually. This is just one of the reasons why the chance to observe firsthand the high hospitality standards in this Asian country is so appealing. For Yvonne Sim, the choice to pursue her tertiary education in this distinctive location has been made possible through the FIREfly scholarship.

Amongst the six different agencies offering scholarships under the FIREfly Scholarship Programme, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) stood out as the best option for the chatty and friendly 21-year-old.

“Under the FIREfly scholarship, the different agencies have different areas to look after, but all work towards Singapore’s economic growth. At first I didn’t know if I wanted to go into the tourism industry for sure,” she admits. “But as I was going through all the scholarships, and what all the organisations had to offer, I realised that tourism was the right one for me.”

“I was always interested in cross-cultural interaction. Tourism is a very dynamic sector that involves many stakeholders and industry partners. You get to interact with people from many countries, even if you’re working in the local sector,” she adds.

Yvonne was also awarded the Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship in 2007 and had taken a one-year language course in Japan’s Osaka University, in preparation for her studies in Kyoto University’s Bachelor of Arts programme. Despite already being rather fluent in Japanese, she was resolute in pursuing the course to strengthen her grasp of the language, since all the classes and lectures were going to be taught in Japanese.

“It was a great year,” Yvonne enthuses, “a really great experience because I would never have been able to interact with people from so many different cultures. It was very amazing to see people of such diverse backgrounds coming together to study the Japanese culture and language.”

The power of positive-thinking
Yvonne reckons she was awarded the FIREfly scholarship because of her gung-ho personality and ability to strike up a conversation with anyone.

“In a sense, I’m not afraid of speaking to strangers, which would make me suitable for this industry. You’ll deal with customers, and also industry players, and I’m not afraid of going out there, being friendly and chatting with them,” she says jovially. “I’m also very eager to share the highlights of Singapore with people.”

In fact, as her extra-curricular activity in Japan, Yvonne has joined a club whose members are volunteer student tour guides offering English guided tours around Kyoto to foreign visitors. “It really is a great learning experience, because not only do I get to learn more about Kyoto along with my friends in the club, I also get to meet tourists from many different countries! At the same time, I am certain that I will pick up some skills that would be relevant to my future work in STB,” she says.

But being a scholar also comes with a unique set of challenges. Despite being at the initial stage of her scholarship, Yvonne is mentally prepared for the road ahead.

“Keeping up good grades is one pressure you’ll face as a scholar,” she admits. “So is the way you conduct yourself, by being responsible for your actions. When you tell people you’re on a scholarship, they would expect you to be of a certain character. Sometimes I consciously remind myself of that, but otherwise, I’m really enjoying being a university student in Kyoto.”

It is one thing to handle the pressure of a scholarship, but another to face it in a foreign country with a different culture. Yvonne acknowledges this, saying, “You might think you know what you’re in for, but when you’re overseas and immersed in another culture, there are things you need to adjust to that you never expected.”

As such, she emphasises the importance of perseverance, flexibility, and a positive mindset for adapting to various circumstances.

A future in tourism
With the dramatically transforming tourism landscape, Yvonne is keen to dive into her future career at STB.

“I think the work STB is involved in is really wide-ranging and any department would be able to give me a chance to contribute,” she reasons. “I’ll get a very hands-on experience in trying to get the sector going. Any department would be able to open my mind as to how the tourism industry works in Singapore.”

Advising potential scholars on the decision-making process, Yvonne says, “You need to imagine yourself in that organisation, doing related work. Ask yourself, will you be happy doing that? If the answer is yes, then it is the right place for you.”

She adds, “Try to talk to as many people as possible to hear of their experiences. Build on experiences of your own too and then try to gauge what would be best for you.”

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