On 7 Nov 2015, a group of 19 BSP students and 2 teachers boarded the flight with much anticipation to Dubai and then to Washington DC. This marked the start of the 16-day learning journey to the United States of America which covered Washington D.C., Boston and New York City. The main objective of this trip is to enhance our students’ understanding of the US, in the areas of its culture, history, economics and political system.
The students learned more about America’s history and the challenges that she had to overcome through visits to Arlington National Cemetery, and the memorials and museums at the National Mall in Washington D.C, including the Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. With our visit coinciding with Veterans Day, an official US public holiday that honours military veterans, the students witnessed the respect Americans give to fellow citizens who have served their nation. Our guide, Daniel, shared that his favourite memorial is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial as he was privileged to have met and worked with the civil rights activist. We were inspired by what we saw: the walls of the memorial were engraved with some of King’s famous quotes. In fact, the monument features a 30 feet-high relief of King named the “Stone of Hope” which stands past two other pieces of granite that symbolise the “mountain of despair – a literal expression of King’s quote – “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope emerges”.
We also learnt more about the September 11 attack when we visited the Ground Zero Museum Workshop which exhibited photographs and artefacts from the recovery period, coupled with audio recordings explaining the story behind each of them. The emotions that we experienced when holding a block of the glass window from the twin towers which collapsed or a piece of the American Airlines plane that crashed into the North Tower were inexplicable. The students were very fortunate to meet the photographer himself, Gary Marlon Suson. In the dialogue with him, he asked the students for their thoughts after hearing about the terrorist attacks in Paris and reminded them not to take things for granted. As one of the students reflected,
“The museum featured raw emotions in photos that carried stories, with a name to relate to. Every story there wrenches at the heartstrings. To us, 9/11 was only a distant event that happened. We see and read about the impact in old newspapers, websites, but to actually have pictures displayed in front of us, documenting the emotions and the moments of slow recovery or heartfelt worn down moments, we experienced something entirely different and we still find it hard to express in words. 9/11 was a monumental event that shook the world and perhaps America is still mourning the after-effects of such an attack today. A scar like that doesn’t really ever heal, does it? It reopens all the time, when something similar happens again like the attacks in France. Where we did not once feel anything, we feel now.”
Similarly, at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the students were invited to question their own assumptions about humanity, human dignity and human cruelty through a sensory experience: each picked up an identification card of someone that fell victim to the holocaust and assumed his/her identity; they were packed into a lift, modelled after an actual gas chamber that ruthlessly robbed the lives of millions during the holocaust. They witnessed events of the holocaust unfolding — from the Nazi’s rise to power to the numerous atrocities committed before finally seeking closure. As the students shared, they were more aware of human rights, dignity and peace movements. They realised that genocide, and the horrors that the Jews suffered and their dehumanisation could not be allowed to happen again. But we could also take comfort that despite such a horrifying event and colossal loss of human lives, humanity was able to move forward and towards a better future.
The students also visited other interesting icons of the United States including the Capitol and the Pentagon. The Capitol is the meeting place for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. There, we visited the Rotunda which is the heart of the Capitol and a ceremonial space where state funerals have been held since the time of Abraham Lincoln. They also saw paintings such as The Apotheosis of Washington, which showed George Washington surrounded by symbols of American democracy and technological progress. At the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence, the students learnt about how it was partially destroyed due to the 9/11 attacks. The building has to be rebuilt. Initially, the team was given 3 years, but the entire reconstruction was finished in just 16 months. They termed the reconstruction project “the Phoenix Project”: just like how the mythical bird was reborn from the ashes, so was the Pentagon. The quick rebuilding of the Pentagon is often regarded as a reflection of the unbroken American spirit.
To better understand the importance of bilateral ties between Singapore and the US, we visited the Singapore Embassy where we were hosted by our friendly MFA Officer Ms Karen Lee, First Secretary (Political). She shared on how Singapore is a close, strategic partner of the US across a range of political, economic, security and development initiatives. As much as the US has benefitted Singapore by providing much assistance in our developing stages and military advancement, Singapore has also served as an important trade, investment and defense partner of the US. We also visited the Singapore Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the United Nations Headquarters. Here, we learnt that Singapore served on the Security Council as a non-permanent member from 2010 to 2012. The UN upholds “one country one vote”, which ensures that even small countries in Singapore can be represented and have their interests protected in the UN. Singapore has also pushed for ‘World Toilet Day’: while some may snigger at that thought, proper sanitation is an important area, especially with 1 in 3 people in the world with no access to adequate sanitation. For example, the theme of last year’s World Toilet Day campaign was “Women, Girls, Toilet” which seeks to advocate the provision of toilets for women such as women in India – an initiative that can potentially reduce rape.
On a lighter note, the students also had the opportunity to attend a Broadway workshop titled “Acting Audition” and the acclaimed National Theatre production of the play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”. At the workshop, the students learnt about the techniques behind being a good actor, such as the correct posture, voice projection and self-delivery. Even though acting may not have crossed the minds of many students, the skills involved could be applicable in life in general, be it presenting yourself as a confident person during an interview or when making a presentation, and simply presenting the best image of yourself wherever you go! The play, based on the novel of the same title, centred around Christopher, an exceptionally intelligent boy who is ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. When he falls under suspicion of killing his neighbour’s dog, he sets out to find the real culprit, which spirals into a complicated family situation for Christopher and his family. As a student summed up,
“In life, there are many people like Christopher, who may be misunderstood as they are different from the others. Very often, we think that they are wrong merely because they do things differently from us, but we do not try to understand them or appreciate their strengths. Christopher has his own strengths – he is brave as he finds his way to London; he is curious about the unknown. He may be different but it is precisely this that makes him want to discover more and take more risks and adventure than others. Thus, I think we should give more respect to people like Christopher and stop differentiating them from us.”
One of the main highlights of the trip was visiting the prestigious tertiary educational institutions in Boston, namely Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T). The guided tours in both Harvard and MIT definitely helped them to gain a better understanding of the rich history of the two schools. On one of the evenings, the students even met three ex-Dunmanians, Benjamin, Joshua and Jia Ying who are currently studying in Harvard University, for dinner! From their seniors, they learnt about the adventures and challenges of studying in Harvard and gained valuable advice which is definitely helpful when they decide their future paths in a few years’ time. One key insight they walked away with is that what is most important is not stellar results, but rather, how much their personal story stands out. Ultimately, it is about how much impact one can create on one’s peers and the society and peers. In addition to the universities, the students also visited Boston Latin School, America’s first public school with its roots dating back to 1635. BLS is a six-year college preparatory school which provides a rigorous academic program that seeks to ground its students in a contemporary classical education as preparation for successful college studies, responsible and engaged citizenship, and a rewarding life. As one of the students reflected,
“BLS shares certain parallels with Dunman High School such as the emphasis on academic excellence and a common goal to prepare the students for life learning. One thing that really impressed us was how the school had a career specialist that helped students deal with future career challenges. However, many differences are also observed between the two schools. For example, BLS has a much more diverse student population with many migrant students as compared to DHS, which is made up of almost all Chinese students. Also, students in BLS are much more confident and vocal as well as enthusiastic in lessons. We also think that the students in BLS have a language advantage learning Latin (as well as other languages like Spanish and French), a foundation for many other languages. Similarly, in DHS, we benefit from our bilingual education.”
For all of us, this 16-day journey was not only exciting but enriching. The places we went to, the people we met, the experiences we encountered – these will definitely serve as fond memories.
Do visit the blog created by our students to find out more about their experience in the USA. y4bsp2015usa.weebly.com/