Loraine Choo first fell in love with economics in junior college as she found that its concepts helped her to make sense of many things happening around the world.
Having volunteered extensively to help marginalised groups in Singapore in her youth, she also realised that she had a heart for the social sector.
What was unclear at the age of 18, however, was how her academic interests could fuel her personal passions, and vice versa.
Thankfully, her four years at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) have opened her eyes to new possibilities.
Loraine says, “Although my primary interest lies in economics, I am also curious about subjects like politics and global development. The way the FASS curriculum is structured was a huge draw because the system of basket modules gave me ample opportunities to explore modules beyond economics.”
“I also looked through the NUS Economics module listing and realised that there were many modules that piqued my interest, such as Immigration Economics and Economics of Inequality.”
In 2018, Loraine (second row, first from left) spearheaded the National Economics and Financial Management Challenge (NEFMC), an annual competition for pre-tertiary students organised by the NUS Economics Society.
Beyond the hard knowledge she has gained in class, Loraine feels that she has learnt to take charge of her own learning.
Pointing to her “transformative” NUS journey, she says, “There is a variety of learning experiences, such as extra-curricular activities, student exchange opportunities and academic modules that helped me to zero in on my interests, and also develop more confidence in my abilities.”
These included taking up a minor in Global Studies and going on a semester-long student exchange at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, both of which opened Loraine’s eyes to new ways of learning.
“My first Global Studies module really pushed me to think critically. In class, we’d look at a particular topic, examine the common school of thought and its extreme opposite, before taking turns to argue against each side. Even though I found that approach to learning quite difficult, it was also very exciting to me.”
And while on exchange in the United States, she relished the lively and dynamic classroom environment, which was fuelled in large part by the local students who were not shy to voice their perspectives and experiences.
“In a sociology class that looked at the intersection of race, class and gender, students from diverse backgrounds shared their own experiences with racism, classism and sexism,” Loraine recalls.
“While their views were grounded in the American context, the class did get me thinking about similar issues in Singapore, and the privileges that Singaporeans like myself may have taken for granted.”
Loraine (second from left) went on weekend trips with her friends to different parts of the US during her student exchange.
With her keen interest in social issues and community development, these insights certainly struck a chord.
A self-professed introvert, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Local Merit Scholar credits these experiences for inspiring her to take more initiative in her own learning.
She explains, “I did two summer internship stints at MSF where being proactive was very helpful. My supervisors were often occupied with their own work, so I would initiate catch-up sessions with them to see if I’m on the right track, and ask them how else I can contribute to the team.”
As someone who’s big on volunteerism, she also seized the opportunity to work with the NUS Rotaract Club to help the underprivileged in Singapore.
At times, there were encounters that humbled her, as she found herself learning from the very people she was trying to help.
In 2018, she helped organise a befriending session with elderly cardboard collectors, raising funds and planning a memorable programme for all involved.
Under the NUS Rotaract Club, Loraine (first row, first from the left) organised a befriending session for elderly cardboard collectors in a collaboration with Happy People Helping People.
“From what I observed, there tends to be more community projects and programmes for other groups such as children from low-income households – this particular group of elderly folk don’t get as much as attention and not many people understand their circumstances either.”
After taking them out on an excursion, playing games and sharing a meal with them, one elderly man left her with a particularly strong impression.
“He came up to me to say how happy he was to be at University Town, and reminded me to study hard. At that moment, I felt so lucky to be where I am as a student at NUS. To many of us, life in school is an everyday reality that feels like a given, but his words reminded me that I am actually privileged to be in this position.”
Poignantly, she says, “It was also quite sad for me to realise that he’s part of the generation that helped build Singapore and laid the foundation for younger generations, yet he seemed so surprised by something that, in a way, he helped to build.”
With a heart that clearly beats for the less privileged, Loraine is looking forward to pursuing her masters upon graduation, before joining MSF to work in policy research.
“I think there is immense potential in this field, because these learnings can lead to policy improvements and spark intervention for emerging social problems. I find it to be an exciting area, and also one where I can apply my quantitative training from economics.”
If there is one thing that she will remember NUS fondly for, it would be the clarity the school gave her of where her passion and purpose can meet.
She explains candidly, “As a freshman, I had no clue if it would ever be possible to reconcile both, but in my time at NUS, I discovered my passion, and how I can work towards it. I became a lot more certain of what I liked about my economics training, and how I can apply that to the social sector - which is in analysis and public policy.”
As a graduating senior, she encourages her juniors to keep an open mind while at NUS.
“Being open-minded is helpful, because it can lead you to discover new interests and strengths. Your interests may evolve, too, and in such a scenario, ‘quitting’ is not necessarily a bad idea. As long as you are not closed off to trying and learning new things, you’ll surely find new passions and discover strengths that you never thought were possible.”