BY SAMANTHA LEE
Pandemic aside, studying abroad has always been a viable option for students in Singapore. The exploration of new vibrant cultures, revelling in fresh environments complete with seasonal weather, and freedom from constant parental scrutiny often hold much appeal to those who are afforded the luxury of an education abroad. I spoke to Natalie Low from Mustard Seed Service (MSS) about her life in Sydney, Australia, where she spent the last 3 years pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Art.
Instead of choosing a more “typical route” for a Singaporean student that kiasu parents often secretly (or not so secretly) pine for like medicine, law or engineering, Natalie was certain that she had the calling to study drama. It is no secret that she has a great gift for performance, having played significant roles in church productions and as an active member of the Creative Arts Ministry. Due to the specificity and rarity of her subject of choice, Natalie chose to enrol in Excelsia College, which has a deservedly reputable arts programme.
When I think of Australia, the image in my mind is one of sunny beaches, spiders the size of my fist and the Hemsworth brothers, but there are far more considerations when planning to commit to a few years of education abroad than merely a short vacation. “I like the challenge of having to think for myself,” Natalie told me. Living independently without the easy access to parental assistance and advice, as well as unfamiliarity with her surroundings, made things pretty tough at first, but eventually, Natalie was unfazed by these challenges as she is a person who appreciates the discovery of new places and is fascinated by other cultures. If you follow her instagram page, you would see that Natalie is not one for “all work and no play”, she made time to explore the Brighton Beach huts in Melbourne, Sydney’s iconic heritage-listed Luna Park, and even secured an internship at a local theatre company in her time abroad.
Natalie in Twelfth Night (Shakespeare) Photo Credit: Excelsia College
Natalie with the cast of Ready or Not
Photo Credit: Excelsia College
Despite her adventurous nature, Natalie still struggled with loneliness and homesickness. For many students studying away from home, a brief bout of culture shock is inevitable, and Natalie had to adapt to her new environment while grappling with her university course. Learning to interpret the distinctive Aussie lingo was also something that challenged her, but upon hearing her voice over our MSS Zoom services, I could not help but notice that her voice carried a slight twang from the Land Down Under!
Being physically removed from familiar communities also resulted in Natalie having to assimilate into her new ones. “I definitely struggled trying to fit in and find a new church community,” she shared. Furthermore, Natalie was the only international student at her school, making it harder to befriend others and settle comfortably into college. I can only imagine the sense of displacement she must have felt being an ocean away. However, perhaps going away was a blessing in disguise for Natalie, as she says that “I definitely turned to God a lot when I needed help to get me through difficult seasons, and I have learnt to depend on God even more.” Needless to say, with her affability, Natalie has successfully sunk into student life and has made a vast group of friends as seen on her social media accounts.
I believe that Covid-19 carried a silver lining. As church services turned digital, they allowed students like Natalie to return to her home church community and even re-engage in ministry. As a service chairperson, she was no longer constrained by physical distance, but was able to chair a few services from her dormitory room in Sydney.
Although her pictures and accounts of her time abroad are tantalising, especially now when travel is prohibited and we can’t wait to take a bumpy flight out to somewhere with delicious food, Natalie tells those planning on an overseas education to “be prepared to expect that you will need to make decisions on your own”. She emphasises the need for maturity and responsibility, but yet not be daunted by such hurdles because they hone the senses and responses of young people’s minds. She encourages all to be open to new and different experiences. Natalie also conveyed that she was deeply grateful for her home community like her cell group El Olam because, despite the distance, she always felt loved and remembered by them, knowing that she can rely on them in times of need.
Natalie’s Cell Group, El Olam, in Youth Camp 2018
Convinced that you want to study abroad yet? Natalie has provided us with a wonderful personal testimony to assist with such a decision. Education is integral in any Singaporeans’ life, and we are so incredibly blessed to have such good structures in place to assure that we are prepared for the ever-revolving future. I think the one thing we can take away from Natalie’s story, whether you are young in age or young in spirit, is to recognise your gifts and pursue them with faith that God will provide!
Samantha is a passionate advocate for Womens’ Rights, environmental conservation and thrift shopping. On a quest to find Singapore’s best mala, she ranks Potong Pasir Broadway 7/10, but 10/10 for the fellowship with her MSS cell group, El Chaiyai.