Last week, two letters arrived in the mail for me, from the two local universities that I’d applied for this year. Both just plainly stated that my applications have been unsuccessful. It’s not a first for me – this was my third time/year applying for a degree course, and hence at least my third time getting rejected, but the familiarity of the situation didn’t make it any easier for me to just carry on without a hint of depression. My slightly over two years of working experience in a relevant industry, and all those testimonials and industrial competency certificates accounted for nothing. My less-than-average diploma grades would forever big smear in my university applications, for as long as I wanted to apply to any of the public universities. A lingering thought at the back of my mind finally surfaced right at the top, Would I actually ever hear a positive response from either of them?
Architecture as an education is a little hard to come by in Singapore. While many (sorry, but, ignorant) people keep suggesting that I apply to study at private institutions, they don’t realise that the two public institutions I’d applied to are the only ones in Singapore that offer an architectural degree. Almost any other course, and it would’ve been easy talk. Business? Finance? Tourism/Events? IT? Engineering? Interior/Fashion design? Biomedical sciences? All of them have wide open doors in private universities. But Architecture is not that easy.
Overseas, then, some people tell me. Well, if you read one of my earliest posts on this blog about my attempt with handling the financial aspect, you’ll know I haven’t been able to find a way around it. Yet I stick to my determination that I have to achieve a degree someday; without it, there’s a lot of job opportunities with great career advancements I’ll miss out on. Without it, let’s be frank, I’d be stuck with a certain payscale, never able to go beyond it.
At one point in the past few months, I’d actually seriously considered just switching my field altogether, make my life easier by doing something else I enjoy just as much or even more than architecture. In fact, maybe even give up the whole degree thing. Afterall I admit that I’m not as fluent with my creative expression as most people in the industry are. I thought, let’s just drop this building design career idea and just be an aircraft engineer, since I love aircrafts and I like being able to fix, dismantle or make-good things with my own two hands. I also thought, I love helping tourists to find their way around my beloved Singapore, and I enjoy walking around, why not take up a WSQ (Workforce Skills Qualification) course and be a local tour guide? I did a lot of research on these options, looked up places where I could attend courses and training, how long they’d be before I can start work officially, how much I’d earn, what the pay would be like and the career advancement opportunities.
Ironically, it was when I was discussing this with an ex-colleague who is now in the aircraft engineering line of work, that I realised how silly I was being. Here is this friend who, whilst trying to convince me to join him, is so sincerely excitedly telling me about his job and how he’s always seen it as something he’d always wanted to do, and here I am giving up on my dream of being an architect. A dream that began 7 years ago, a dream that I chose to embark on because I had a real passion to make a direct impact on people’s lives by designing their surroundings. Yes, I may not be as creative as I’d initially innocently thought I innately was, and this lack of creativity may have been part of the cause that I didn’t do well in my diploma, but why had I let this single factor bring me down to this level and give up? There are other ways I could contribute, especially in the way I feel most connected with – technical know-how. Back in my diploma days, I always found myself fixated on getting the technical drawings right. I would research on the way real engineers design things so that they get built and actually function in real life. I refused to settle with the mediocre, general explanations that my busy lecturers sketched out for me. I want to know how it’s done, properly, full and well. So it dawned on me that there was an open path for me I hadn’t realised before – I could continue working in this field as an architectural assistant or drafter, to support myself, at the same fund and pursue a part-time diploma in construction engineering. I could put in all my effort and do well, then with those good grades, apply for a degree, this time with private institutions as options in addition to the public universities.
Why hadn’t I seen it before? Maybe I was too fixed on getting that B.Arch certificate so that I could step into that higher payscale. Maybe because I keep hearing many people say you should never go back to square one and take up a diploma course again. Maybe because I’d never ever considered part-time education due to the sheer fear of not being able to have a life if I worked in the day and studied at night (I treasure my personal time a lot). But when I thought through this newly-formed plan in my head, I thought it makes perfect sense for me to give up some of my usual pleasures in order to do something that I don’t only need but also desperately want.
I’m currently intensively job-hunting, still looking to work in the architectural/construction/built environment industry. There’s still a strong hint of the sadness from receiving those letters last week, but now I have a clear idea of what I want to do, and how to do it. I’m a realist, really sitting on the fence between being optimistic and pessimistic, so I know that something might go wrong with my plan. It’s possible that I may not be able to do well in the diploma due to a various reasons; maybe my work would make me too busy to study and do well in tests and exams, maybe I would have a serious late-coming record that could affect my grades if my work keeps me from leaving on time. But I’m still going to go through with this plan, because rarely anything actually goes super smoothly and precisely according to plan, there would definitely be setbacks of some sort, and through it all, I must not give up on my dream, I must still move on.
Without a dream, we would just be machines that do as we’re told.
I’m not a machine, I’m a young woman with still many years ahead to forge my path and live my life the way I want it.