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Newfound confidence: Shy undergrad blossoms through vibrant university life
Ms Gwyneth Tan’s vibrant university life has helped her break out of her shell. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

From finding a network of support to overseas experiences, the NTU-USP scholar discovered exciting opportunities that helped her build confidence

Bright lights illuminated the stage, casting expectant gazes on Ms Gwyneth Tan. She quietened her beating heart, stepped out from behind the curtains and started to speak.

Never had Ms Tan, 21, imagined that she would one day stand in front of a crowd and perform in a play. A few years ago, she was someone who enjoyed quiet hobbies like playing the guitar and listening to Korean pop music.

Today she has become a billed cast member in a student-produced family drama, playing two shows in the limelight.

“My friends said it was the first time they heard me talk so much and so loudly – I have really come out of my comfort zone,” says Ms Tan, who is a scholar under the Nanyang Technological University’s University Scholars Programme (NTU-USP).

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In search of a more confident self

While in junior college, her research for a General Paper assignment led her to find a new role model.

“I saw videos of Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan giving his speeches in Parliament and at the United Nations,” she recounts. “He is so charismatic and well-versed. Because of him, I was inspired to study public policy and global affairs.”

Ms Tan’s admiration for the minister stemmed in part from her own quiet nature: She had been a shy girl who longed for a more exciting life. As she considered her university options, Ms Tan watched a NTU-USP video livestream, where students were interviewed and shared their experiences about school, living in student halls and travelling overseas.

“I was attracted to this vision of university life,” she says. “Initially, I was scared about making new friends in a new environment. However, NTU-USP has a community of scholars and events to facilitate interaction, so I was reassured that I could find my community.”

To prepare NTU-USP scholars for university life, the programme offers core modules which impart skills on writing and reasoning, living well and ethics. Ms Tan recalls attending mindfulness lessons which helped her to reflect, live in the moment and manage her academic stress.

NTU-USP also guarantees hall residence for students who wish to stay on campus, which allowed Ms Tan to form close friendships with fellow scholars.

“We would go to class together, have supper, do group projects and enjoy school events like Chinese New Year and Halloween celebrations,” says the third-year student, who is pursuing a degree in economics, public policy and global affairs.

Ms Tan has gained many valuable and memorable experiences in school. As part of her major’s programme requirements, she joined the Singapore Fashion Council as an intern and learnt how to promote sustainable fashion and organise outreach events. She made lasting friendships with those who worked and interned there, and even met up with fellow interns on an overseas trip.

“Now I am much more confident in public speaking and talking to new people.”

Ms Gwyneth Tan, scholar in the NTU-University Scholars Programme

Ms Tan is also active in student life. As the director of Alumni, Career, and Student Outreach for the NTU-USP Club’s 9th Executive Committee, she and her team invited alumni to share their life and work with current students.

“I had no previous experience for this position, but I decided to just try for it. I am very proud of what I have achieved with my team,” she shares.

On impulse, she also joined the hall dance team in her second year. She performed for the Hall Olympiad Closing Ceremony, an annual performance held by students at NTU.

“It involved a lot of training – a high commitment and was quite tough – but in the end, I had a lot of fun and made many friends,” says Ms Tan.

Unforgettable overseas experiences

NTU-USP also offers a Travel Overseas Programme for Scholars (TOPS) which provides a guaranteed overseas learning opportunity for all scholars.

In Ms Tan’s first year, her cohort travelled to Ipoh to learn about sustainability efforts. One memorable moment was when she and her group mates had to collect animal footprints as a visual aid for their group work on wildlife conservation.

“Many animals just did not want to step on the paper,” she says with a laugh.

The scholar enjoyed her TOPS experience so much that she joined the programme again in her second year as a student mentor and led juniors on a trip to Chiang Mai.

Another overseas experience she cherished was her four-month exchange programme in 2023 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. There, Ms Tan took courses in development, inequality and trade, foundations in global security, and South Asia: culture, politics and the economy.

These classes broadened her scope of learning and exposed her to a more relaxed collegial experience, where professors often enjoy conversing with young people.

Through her experiences, Ms Tan says she has grown to become more confident. She relishes the opportunities to try new activities, especially those outside her comfort zone.

“I never thought I would go into acting, for one – it was so foreign to me. Many of those opportunities came up suddenly and I acted on impulse to try them. Pre-university Gwyneth would not have been able to do all these things – leading, acting, having fun with friends,” she says.

“Now I am much more confident in public speaking and talking to new people.”

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