She had been offered a place at Goldsmiths, University of London, and awarded a teaching scholarship from the Ministry of Education.
In short, Ms Woong Soak Teng’s future appeared to be taking shape in 2012.
But after much consideration, Ms Woong decided to reject both offers, taking a gap year instead.
She explains: “I would have had to take a hefty bank loan to study at Goldsmiths, which would have been a burden on my family.
“As for the teaching scholarship, I was concerned about the bond that came with it, especially as I was unsure about teaching immediately after graduating from university.”
During her gap year, Ms Woong discovered she was drawn to the arts. So, in 2014, she applied to and was accepted into the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). She was also awarded the Nanyang Scholarship, and secured a place in the NTU-University Scholars Programme (NTU-USP).
She says: “I was interested in pursuing the fine arts in the diverse environment of a university where courses beyond the arts are also available. NTU was the only local university that offered an environment that was the closest to what I was looking for,” says the 23-year-old. She will graduate with a Bachelor in Fine Arts (Digital Imaging & Photography) in June.
“The bond-free nature of the scholarship was also a plus and set my mind at ease,” she says.
The Nanyang Scholarship is NTU’s foremost undergraduate scholarship. It is awarded to outstanding freshmen pursuing undergraduate programmes. It recognises students who excel academically, demonstrate strong leadership potential and possess outstanding co-curricular records.
Under the NTU-USP, Ms Woong has the opportunity to learn in a multi-disciplinary environment, which was ideal as she wanted to be exposed to areas beyond the arts.
She believes in the importance of gaining knowledge across a wide range of issues, and getting in touch with different ideas and perspectives to create wellinformed works.
“Ideas from other fields can become inspiration for works of art. Such ideas can also be presented and perceived in new ways that generate more conversations,” she says.
“I also learn from my interactions with other NTU-USP scholars.
Talking to friends outside ADM often provides a different way of looking at issues, thus broadening my perspectives,” she adds.
Ms Woong is interested in creating art and experimenting with different mediums. One of her works, “Ways To Tie Trees”, was turned into a photobook with the encouragement of her mentor, Mr Ang Song Nian.
The photographs consist of staked trees in Singapore tied in different ways with various materials in an attempt to assimilate them into our garden city.
The photobook won The Workbook Prize organised by The Bookshow and the Steidl Book Award. Along with seven other photobooks, it was also selected to be published by renowned German publisher Gerhard Steidl last month.
Being in the NTU-USP has afforded Ms Woong not one but four overseas learning opportunities.
She went to Hong Kong as part of an overseas study trip offered to first-year NTU-USP scholars.
Inspired by that trip, she helped to organise a trip to Chiang Mai for her NTU-USP juniors the following term. In her third year, she also had a semester exchange at Columbia College Chicago under the Global Education and Mobility programme.
“After returning to Singapore in the second semester of my third year, I spent two weeks developing a body of work in Hanoi as part of the ADM photo department’s Location Experience module,” she shares.
Ms Woong feels that getting the Nanyang scholarship and the NTU-USP experience have been life-changing.
“My thinking and communication skills are now sharper,and I have become more confident in developing my own craft and perspectives.
“With the scholarship, I have been able to focus on the learning experience instead of worrying about finances. It definitely lightened my load and provided me with more opportunities to grow,” she says.
Art In The Making
For Ms Woong, university education itself is art in the making.
“I believe one’s university experience starts off as a blank canvas that is to be shaped and moulded.
“Of course, it does not happen without any resistance or limitations, but there are many choices to be made within the boundary of the frame. Eventually, each decision you make will make up an entire, unique experience,” she says, adding that NTU’s nurturing and supportive environment has helped her flourish.
She adds: “My friends and I like to joke about how NTU has its own micro-climate because it is located in a corner of Singapore.
More importantly, it is where we get to co-create our own space for learning and growing.”
She advises aspiring scholars to be masters of their own fate: “It is up to you to shape your university life. Pursue the things you love. If you have yet to find out what they are, figure out what you don’t love. This is one of the best times to discover and grow at your own pace.”