Most would agree that life here at Hwa Chong is incredibly stressful, and the expectations and daily workload that accompany the school’s reputation are inevitably stifling for most, if not all, students. This opinion is certainly valid and shared by many, including my friends and myself. However, visiting and attending lessons at Bugil Academy’s Global Leaders Program soon changed this perception. That is, we saw for ourselves an even more intense and rigorous school system, and immersed in the lives of the Korean GLP students.
As a society that deeply values the importance of academics, it is little wonder that the expectations of the students in South Korea were so high. The students were all extremely driven, independent and motivated to study hard and excel in their studies. Interacting with them and getting a taste of what school meant for them left us with a mix of emotions – on one hand, we were certainly impressed by the learning that took place in the school, and greatly enjoyed the interactive lessons conducted by their tutors. On the other, we counted our blessings for the environment we were in was not as stifling, in that we still had time for leisure and our lives did not solely revolve around our academics.
When we visited them, it was two weeks away from the students’ final year examinations. In spite of that, many of them took time to welcome, accompany and interact with us throughout our stay there, for which we are immensely thankful for. As the GLP community was small, with just slightly over 80 students in total, the 10 days we spent there allowed us to get to know almost all the students. What struck us the most was the positive attitude all of them took towards learning. Even though their lives were so hectic and their workload left them with practically no time at all to rest and unwind, they all displayed a remarkable resilience and persistence in striving towards their goals. In fact, they all had very clear ideals and knew exactly what they wanted to pursue in life. As the GLP programme and curriculum primarily primed them for top American universities, they all had specific colleges they were targeting and were unafraid to put in their all to attain these goals. Some of the students even placed their goals prominently on their laptop wallpapers or as their Facebook cover photos.
Throughout our stay, we had the opportunity to experience a few key events in Bugil, both of a large and small scale. On one of the first few days we were there, we attended a band concert put up by the teachers themselves. It was a short and simple event, but one that brought out the sporting attitudes of the teachers and their hidden musical talent. Their principal even belted out a ballad or two, much to the enjoyment of the students. Another event we attended was the Bugil Fall Festival, which was a large-scale event that involved students from the girls’ school and boys’ school in Bugil as well. Students set up stalls selling food and providing services including games and noraebang (karaoke). We also set up our own booth, providing samples of Singaporean food such as bak kwa, iced gem biscuits and the extremely popular kueh bangkit which the Korean students loved. Sadly, this also meant that we had limited time in exploring the other stalls at the fall festival, although we could still absorb ourselves in the lively and vibrant atmosphere.
The second part of the fall festival was the concert, of which we were the opening act for! We had been rehearsing hard and put up a performance comprising 细水长流, our batch song ‘Me and You’, and part of the Apollo and Ares dances. The stage effects were incredible! While dancing, there was suddenly smoke and fire as part of the stage effects, which surprised us and made us feel like kpop stars momentarily.
After our performance, we sat among the audience to watch the rest of the concert, which included various songs and amazing dance performances, including an intense one by a group of boys, whom we later found out were from the Weightlifters Club. With the calibre of the performers and the high-tech stage effects and facilities such as the cameramen screening the concert from various angles and screening it live onstage, it hardly felt like a school concert, but more of an actual, publicly televised concert. Even though the entire concert lasted all of 6 hours (a quarter of a day!!), it was time well spent and an experience we cannot imagine would take place in schools in Singapore.
Apart from the concerts and festival, we also participated in the monthly Volunteering Day, where we went to a homeless shelter to help the underprivileged with tasks like sorting out their clothes and keys. On one of the nights, we witnessed the Bugil GLP presidential debate between the two candidates. What struck us the most was how dynamic and engaging the debate was, and how genuinely the students cared for their school and the welfare of their peers. It was certainly a refreshing experience as the debate went beyond superficialities and the candidates were able to diplomatically disagree with each other’s views on school policies and candidly discuss how best to address the problems they faced in school.
During the weekend, we got to travel to Seoul from Cheonan and visit iconic places such as the historical Gyeongbokgung Palace, a royal national palace, and the Korean Folk Museum, where dramas such as Da Chang Jin and Sungkyunkwan Scandal were filmed. We also spent one whole day in Lotte World, spamming rides which were all very thrilling and exciting, especially the Gyro Swing which was the BEST ride ever! Other highlights included shopping in Myeong-dong, a famous (and extremely crowded) shopping district in Seoul, where one in three shops sold cosmetics and beauty products, and where we tried eating 30cm ice-creams, even when the temperature was 2°C.
We also went to SBS Broadcasting Company to watch Inkigayo, a music show, where we watched artistes like K.Will, Kim Jong Kook and Block B perform (and subsequently got addicted to K.Will’s “Please Don’t”, which you should try listening if you enjoy kpop and don’t mind getting a ballad stuck in your head).
All in all, it was 10 very memorable days spent, be it in Bugil or out of school visiting different places. We are glad to have received such a hospitable and warm welcome from the staff and students, and are thankful for having had the opportunity to experience the lives of a Bugil student. Despite being sad to leave, we were met with an unexpectedly pleasant encounter of sharing the same flight as widely popular kpop group SHINee and artistes BoA and Kangta, which provided the sweetest finishing touch to our trip.
Written By: Dinnie Ee 12A14 on the behalf of the Bugil Exchange Team,