Three months after I received news that I had been selected as a recipient of the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) and Center for Maritime Economics and Logistics (MEL) Scholarship, I arrived in Amsterdam, Netherlands to embark on the journey of a lifetime. I boarded the train to Rotterdam, my heart racing in excitement as I envisioned the year that lay ahead of me: one year of studying in Holland, with a seemingly endless array of possibilities and adventures.
At 34 years old, while my peers were busy earning large sums of money and climbing up the corporate ladder in their respective careers, I took a giant leap of faith that some people said would cost me a promising career in shipbroking. My loved ones supported me, lauding my courage and passion in taking such a bold step. Yet, secretly, I was doubtful and scared; how can I, a normal stream student who took ‘O’ levels twice and failed and repeated my first year at Polytechnic, expect to finish a Masters degree? How can I cope with academic tasks when faced with my nemesis subjects such as Economics and Statistics? Could I actually leave my wife and my family to pursue my dreams of higher education? All of these things and more ran through my mind, but in the end, I chose to go. A blessing had come and I knew the right choice would be to accept it.
Two years went by swiftly, and looking back now, I can’t be more certain that I made the right decision. I still marvel at the wonderful times I spent at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, learning not only from my teachers but from my talented peers as well. Included in this roster is my housemate Edwin, the other SMF-MEL Singaporean scholar who wasn’t just a top student but a culinary expert as well (which I can attest to as I ate his dishes daily). The inspiring and energetic learning environment created by the different gifted personalities around me motivated me to push myself beyond my limits, and I managed to join the ranks of the few students who graduated with distinction.
One of the best things that the scholarship gave me was the opportunity to attend forums and listen to distinguished professionals in the maritime industry, providing us with constructive insights into the intricacies of the industry. Classroom lectures were not just restricted to theory, but also chiefly supported by several interactive and real-life case studies. The lessons were also coupled with field trips to ports and terminals, extensive group work, and collaboration with the guest lecturers and their companies as well. The fact that Rotterdam is the heart of Europe’s transport and logistics hub only added more colours to our first-hand experience.
Another highlight of the MEL programme is the corporate network module that encouraged students to seek internship and employment opportunities in globally acclaimed maritime companies. As a visiting student, I was given the chance to carry out my thesis research work at the World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The short stint at Malmo was an inspirational experience for me as I had the opportunity to work with students and professionals of global diversity, who were all very intellectual, engaging, and brilliant. We have all benefited immensely from this corporate network module as it has given us the platform to harness greater ties with relevant people in maritime companies. Some of my classmates were even taken in by these companies right after graduation.
Though the MEL course was very intense, I made it a point to compartmentalise my time so that I could strike a fine balance between study and fun. I would hang out with some friends at a pub for a few drinks after class. When I wanted some time for myself, I stayed at home and played the piano. Simple pleasures such as these, as well as the support of my family and friends in Holland, kept me going during tough times.
Supply chain management, maritime logistics, ship chartering, legal commercial systems of trade, marine insurance… I could mention several more areas where my knowledge was greatly honed through this scholarship, but the most important gifts I have received from my one-year course are the friendships, networks, and human capital skills I have established, which now serve me well as a shipbroker. The MEL journey has truly been an exceptional educational experience for me. Now, I look back with great gratitude to SMF for making these possible, and for giving me a magical one-year journey in Rotterdam. Words are not enough to describe the richness of this experience and the lasting memories that I will treasure forever.