Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reflection on Oral Presentation

I was extremely relieved that my oral presentation on 'Where is the baby boom' was finally over, but I personally think that I could probably have done much better.

Firstly, compared to my mock presentations and peer teaching presentation, I felt that I was less steady for the oral presentation. I encountered problems with the use of the remote mouse. Since I have never used it before in an actual presentation and was unfamiliar with it, I pressed the wrong buttons and it caused my speech and slides to be incoherent, as well as resulting in some technical difficulties. These unforseen circumstances made me nervous throughout the presentation, which affected my confidence and overall performance.

Secondly, the Question and Answer (Q&A) session was more intimidating than I thought. Even though I know my project topic and content well, nerves still got to me when our classmates posed questions which my teammates and I had not anticipated. There was a particular question which I didn't think I answered well, as I had difficulty processing the question in my mind quickly enough to provide a satisfactory answer. The consequence was that I stumbled on what I wanted to say, kept repeating and emphasizing on a certain phrase as I was unable to come up with a more well-thought solution due to extreme pressure and time constraint. That also left the audience unclear of what I was trying to express.

However, there were still a few positives to take from my performance during the oral presentation.

For instance, I attempted to inject some enthusiasm while presenting. This enthusiasm not only engaged the audience, but also helped to maintain my confidence and mask my nervousness.

In addition, I tried to keep calm even though I made mistakes during the presentation. It enabled me to recover quickly and focus on what to do next.

I also feel that Sofie, Jiewei, Zhuang Wei and I have great camaraderie through much practice prior to the presentation. Our transitions were generally smooth and we managed to help one another out during the Q&A session when we observed that any one of us was struggling with coming up with a satisfactory answer to a specific question.

I was also glad that the rest of the class were actively raising their doubts and suggesting better approaches and solutions for us. This helped us explore questions that we had never thought about or solutions that we had never considered. The discussion also improved everyone's understanding on the topic, which resulted in a win-win situation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Evaluating Intercultural Behaviour

I was fortunate to have gone to Thailand for a series of military exercises when I was serving in the 3rd Battalion, Singapore Guards (for more information on the unit, refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore_Guards) during my time in National Service (NS). This unique personal experience allowed me to observe and deepen my understanding of the Thai culture, as well as realising the fundamentals of effective communication.

My vocation in the Guards battalion is an elite infantry reconnaissance trooper (recce for short, pronounced as 'rackey', also known as scout). The main role of a Guards recce during missions is to either gather intelligence on the enemies or carry out other specified tasks and transmit these valuable information back to the battalion. In order to do that, recces have to be deployed in the outskirts of enemy terrain days before the rest of the battalion sets out to battle, and then travel deep into enemy territory to collect the required intelligence. A mission usually lasts 3 days, with the recce troopers surviving on very little sleep (often only a few hours per night) and relying solely on their own food and water rations. Due to the amount of stealth required, scouts operate in small isolated teams of 4 to 6 men, and try to avoid interaction with any other people to prevent from giving away their locations. In addition, it is common for scout troopers to carry equipment loads of up to 30 kg and traverse on foot for almost 20 km while navigating towards point objectives. For the special military missions in Thailand, each scout team had a Thai liaison officer attached to it to resolve any possible conflict with the native Thai villagers (such as trespassing of fields) when carrying out our mission in the rural areas.

During one of the missions, my team had finally closed in on our objective 36 hours after our deployment. However, night was approaching and we struggled to find a suitable place to both rest and perform our task of battle surveillance early next morning, since we were stranded in a particularly rural spot in the fields. Drenched in sweat, down with fatigue, out of rations and fearing for our safety (there were rumours that Thai farmers had not hesitated to shoot at trespassers of their fields), our team morale was unbelievably low. Even though our soft-spoken Thai liaison officer, who was attached to us impromptu, could only speak basic English and had difficulties in communicating with us, he understood our concerns and gestured to us to follow him to a nearby village. Upon arrival at the village, the liaison officer entered the house of the village chief and negotiated with him. When he reappeared, my teammates and I were surprised to find out that we were allowed to take refuge in the backyard of the village chief's house. My whole team was so exhausted that we fell asleep almost immediately after removing our heavy baggage.

When we woke up a few hours later, we were astonished to find out that there was a huge pot of sizzling curry sardine noodles in front of us. From the animated gestures demonstrated and the fragmented words uttered by the liaison officer, we understood that while we were sound asleep, he wanted to prepare a pot of curry chicken for us. Although the village chief allowed him to gather the curry spices from the vegetation planted in his backyard, he was unwilling to sell his morning rooster. Therefore, the officer borrowed a scooter from the chief and rode it to the nearest town to purchase sardine cans and instant noodles from a convenience store. He even cooked the pot of noodles personally for us.

This was one of the many memorable experiences I have had during my time in Thailand. Other examples include helpful villagers who gave us directions when we were lost in navigation exercises, as well as the friendly ninja-van drivers operating businesses in the rural areas, who not only supplied us with tasty food cooked on the spot (for instance, pad thai, fried rice) and cooling bottled drinks, but also assisted us in navigation and intelligence collection. The actions of the liaison officer embodies the various good traits of many Thai -- warmth in receiving strangers, while also being considerate and thoughtful for the welfare of others, so much so that they are willing to go all out in helping people they are not related to, despite the existing language barrier (since many Thai don't speak English).

From this outfield incident, I have learnt two things.
Firstly, cultural values and differences can be formed through geographical divides. It is quite hard to imagine Singaporeans behaving in the same way the Thais react towards visitors, regardless of the fact that many of us can communicate with most foreigners in English. It is just not part of the Singaporean culture to be overwhelming friendly towards people whom we are not close to.
Secondly, in spite of language differences, it is still possible to communicate effectively through the show of good intentions and genuine affection via what we do. In this case, the Thai liaison officer could not even form proper English sentences, yet we were able to understand and feel his kind intent through his conduct and attitude.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Application Letter Critique

September 9, 2012
Chan Brothers Travel Pte Ltd
150 South Bridge Road, #07-01 Fook Hai Building
Singapore 058727
Dear Sir/Madam
Application for the position of a tour consultant in Chan Brothers Travel Pte Ltd
I am Rai Toh, a year 4 Civil Engineering student in NUS. I am writing in to express my interest in taking up the position of a tour consultant in Chan Brothers Travel Pte Ltd. I have come across this job request on www.jobstreet.com.sg and am deeply fascinated by the job prospect in the tour agency.
I have always enjoyed travelling, and have been to many different countries such as South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia for cultural exchanges as well as military exercises. The exposure to different customs, cultures, architectures and landscapes overseas have always piqued my interest, and I value the experience of interacting with the natives. I have a keen interest and enjoy reading up on the histories and geographies of China, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States. Locally, I have also collaborated with an Italian dance troupe ‘Studio Festi’ in the presentation of ‘Ocean Symphony’ at the Marina Bay floating platform at the Singapore Grand Prix 2011.
Having taken up various part time jobs in the Food and Beverage sector, which includes working as a server in the Resorts World Sentosa Casino, an Italian restaurant called Al Forno along East Coast Road, and ‘eM by the River’, an al-fresco bar located at the base of Gallery Evasion Hotel along Robertson Quay, I have vast opportunities to interact with several tourists and foreigners. Through these interactions, I have learnt more on the difference in customs and culture between Singapore and the countries these tourists have come from. Moreover, I offered to help them out when they encountered problems in communication or navigating.
Both my English and Mandarin are nurtured and polished through the years during school, work and National Service, therefore I am effectively bilingual. Furthermore, I have represented my school in many competitions, attaining a commendation award in the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventor’s Award Competition 2003, as well as the first runner up in the Mediacorp Programme “Creatively Mine” Competition 2004. In addition, I was the emcee for many of my school’s ceremonies and public performances. All these have helped honed my public presentation skills tremendously.
I feel that a career at Chan Brothers Travel Pte Ltd will provide me with the passion, motivation and challenge in assisting tourists with their specialised needs and making the best out of their holiday. I also relish the chance to work with other dynamic individuals that are committed in bringing the most satisfaction to visiting tourists. The interaction with different groups of tourists can also help deepen my interest and improve my knowledge on global and current issues immensely.
Despite the comparatively low salary to other industries, the irregular hours and the high pressure faced at work, it is my passion that drives me to look for a career in this industry. I would greatly appreciate if you look through my application and have attached my resume for you reference. I gladly welcome the opportunity to discuss my qualifications and how I could contribute to the company. I can be contacted via the handphone number and email address indicated below. I really look forward to hear from you. Thank you very much.
Yours sincerely
Rai Toh
Email: XXXXXXXX@gmail.com

*Due to privacy issues, some of the particulars have been altered/censored.

Resolving Interpersonal Conflict

This was an incident that happened to me in Secondary 3. I reached home late again after another dance rehearsal for an upcoming concert for my external dance troupe. Feeling exhausted and about to sleep, my father approached me. He felt that dancing had taken up too much of my time, resulting in me having insufficient rest as well as a drop in my grades. He also remarked that guys should spend more time focused on 'real work' rather than engaged in dancing. Being lethargic and having a short temper, I perceived my father's concern towards my well-being as a confrontation and interpreted his remarks negatively as a bid to stop me from dancing. A huge quarrel ensued, and it was the first time I raised my voice against my father over an issue I felt strongly against. Even though I had only picked up dancing when I was 'forcefully' recruited into the school dance troupe in secondary 1, I have gradually developed a real passion for it, and made lasting friendships with several fellow dancers (even being a groomsman to one of my close dance buddies tomorrow). Since that fateful day, returning home past midnight after school and external dance practices had become a norm. Knowing that my parents are both sensitive over my passion for dance, I would try to avoid the topic of dance in front of them and attempt to keep them from knowing the fact that I am still dancing up to this day. I've been committing much of my time in dancing, but always reluctant to use that as an excuse for submitting late assignments, even though sometimes it isn't too far from the truth. What should I do so that I could continue to enjoy dancing without compromising the quality of my school work as well as making my parents accept and support my pursuit of passion?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Effective Communication Skills

Effective communication skills are important to me because they allow me to express my thoughts and ideas appropriately and accurately to others. Without the skills to communicate effectively, people will not be able to understand what I have in mind. This can result in misunderstandings, which may adversely lead to problems in social interaction. Good communication skills not only eradicate misunderstandings, but also make me feel more confident when interacting with people. This confidence can lead to a feel-good factor, which increases my willingness to continue interacting and communicating with people. The more I communicate with people, the better I get at it.