How can we contribute towards a more inclusive Singapore? That’s a question that Amy Daga, Corporate Services and Research Manager at Temasek Polytechnic (TP) and Project Director for the Diversity.Inclusion.You. (DIY) Programme, hopes students will be able to answer after going through an inter-polytechnic initiative, spearheaded by TP’s Centre for TransCultural Studies under the auspices of the Inter-Polytechnic International Student Integration WorkGroup (IPISIWG).
The DIY programme takes a ground-up approach to preparing students for an increasingly transcultural future. “For integration between diverse groups to be truly effective, we want students to realise that it is a two-way process but begins with YOU. Each individual has to proactively do his or her bit to Recognise, Respect and Reconcile differences,” said Amy.
Each DIY programme starts with a two-day camp where 50 local and international students from the five polytechnics come together for an intensive series of activities, presentations and workshops on diversity and integration-related issues to become Student Integration Ambassadors. It is facilitated by Staff Integration Ambassadors from the polytechnics who have undergone their own DIY programme prior to the camp, with the support of Senior Integration Ambassadors, graduates of past runs of DIY.
Over 200 IAs from the five polytechnics are trained at various DIY camps held at the Glocal Connect Village @ TP throughout the year. “The IAs go back to their polytechnics after the camp to be positive opinion multipliers for greater integration,” said Amy.
“We want them to go with the mind-set that they should proactively & positively engage with other races, nationalities, cultures,” added Justin Scott and Annie Leo, Project Managers for DIY.
A Platform to Reflect on Sensitive Issues
For mind sets to change, students are encouraged to delve deeply into all sorts of issues, even those considered sensitive, at the DIY camp.
Amy elaborates, “As our core focus is to encourage the embracing of Diversity in our midst, DIY is set up as a safe platform where students can discuss and reflect on even thorny issues like religious differences, gender discrimination and even sexual preferences witnessed at schools or in the workplace. They can share their views openly without fear of repercussions. As facilitators, we reserve judgment on what is right or wrong as that is subjective – we do not condone or condemn. What we do promote is open-mindedness and genuine acceptance of differences for an inclusive Singapore.”
Abigail Phua, a third year student at Temasek Polytechnic and a Senior IA said, “During the camp, you meet a lot of new people and it’s a step out of your comfort zone to be discussing sensitive issues with people you don’t really know.” The case studies provided during the workshops are based on actual cases, including incidents of discrimination between locals and foreigners in the workplace. “Talking through the issues in a safe environment with the facilitators guiding us is very helpful as you get to see views from the other side. You start to think about how you can help to reduce discomfort between different groups.”
Another Senior IA from Temasek Polytechnic, Steven, a Year 2 Chemical Engineering student from Indonesia, feels that he gains a lot from helping facilitate some sessions. “People from different countries and backgrounds view things differently. When I first came to Singapore to study six years ago, I didn’t mix with the local students because I thought that they wouldn’t accept me,” he said.
“Since attending the DIY camp, I have been intentionally reaching out to other students as an IA. It has been a very rewarding experience so far. Contrary to what I had originally thought, the local Singaporean students have been very receptive and open towards me,” he added.
Part of a Larger Whole
The DIY programme is only one of the integration activities under the umbrella of the Inter Polytechnic International Students Integration Work Group (IPISIWG). DIY is run in conjunction with other cross-cultural events held throughout the year. Each polytechnic, has its own signature integration event where Local and International IAs & other students from all the polytechnics are invited to take part. Temasek Polytechnic organises a Global Community Day; Republic Polytechnic hosts its One Heart project; Singapore Polytechnic has the Youth Model ASEAN Conference, Nanyang Polytechnic holds the Singapore Quest adventure race and Ngee Ann Polytechnic has a Cross-Cultural Symposium. Each event is a celebration of diversity and racial harmony and a learning experience for students.
Bonding by Giving Back
Following the DIY camp, Integration Ambassadors are also encouraged to take on community projects to reach out to less fortunate groups, with the various polytechnics choosing their own focused activity. Temasek Polytechnic’s IAs collaborated with Project BECAUS – Befriending Elderly Cleaning Aunties & Uncles of Singapore. Republic Polytechnic, on the other hand, reaches out to the transient workers who reside near the polytechnic.
DIY’s objective of preparing students for a transcultural future beyond the polytechnic is bearing fruit. Nazirul Mubin, a TP graduate and a Senior IA who always comes back to support DIY, who is currently a Ministry of Education scholar at Nanyang Technological University, shared that DIY has also helped him as a trainee teacher to encourage a more inclusive mind set among students at the school where he is currently on attachment. “A DIY Industry Panel speaker once told us not to view diversity as a threat, but as an opportunity to grow and develop. Attending DIY in the past has helped me appreciate the richness of diversity, that acknowledging and respecting differences in culture, opinion and beliefs indeed widens one’s horizons,” he said.
The Director of TP’s Centre for TransCultural Studies, Teo Sze Cheng, believes that growing the pool of IAs will result in a multiplier effect in forging integration. “We have seen a lot of success from the DIY program, and we want to continue to build on this impetus to sow the seeds for a more inclusive community. Immediate plans are to expand the number of Integration Ambassadors, so that there is a diverse and thriving community of evangelists that will in turn spread the vision of diversity to students at all the polytechnics and beyond,” he said.