And so, four years of college life have come to an end.

To most foreign students, this marks the end of a four year long study in university, and the beginning of a new chapter of their adult lives. To me, this signifies the crossing of the finishing line of a race I started many years ago; the end of a childhood dream that inspired me so tremendously, that I can hardly believe it myself.

What was it that made me run continuously and tirelessly the moment I stepped foot here? What drove me to achieve things that I never thought I could do? As these doubts still linger in my mind, the whistle for the next race has already been sounded, and I feel as if I have lagged behind others who had had their headstarts.

But then again, why rush, when I do not know where I am heading off yet? After all, it is the journey that matters, and it was the journey that had the greatest impact on me. I had just finished a run. Let me take a break, before setting off on the next.

Coming to Japan was a dream, but a dream is never like a dream. A dream becomes reality when the dream comes true. And reality is never what you had imagined. Life is not just full of joys, but complemented with its share of grief, annoyance and helplessness.

My first year in Japan involved living in a small wooden house that gave me the shivers, both the fearful and the cold ones, at night, where the toilet was a one square metre space, and where bathroom was non-existent. As a result, I had to walk every day to the school student centre to get a 100 yen coin shower, or walk 30 minutes to a friend’s dormitory to get a bath. Without a computer, I had to walk to the 24-hour computer room to finish my assignments or catch up with friends, before reaching back home, and shivered to sleep.

But still, it was a dream come true. Not a totally perfect dream, but it was enough for me to savour the little things in life which I had overlooked. Like what the famous French writer Montaigne says, “We must learn to suffer whatever we cannot avoid. Our life is composed, like the harmony of the world, of discords as well as of different tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, soft and loud. If a musician liked only some of them, what could he sing? He has got to know how to use all of them and blend them together.”

Indeed, both the hardships and the joys in my initial life here created the perfect background music for the drama of my life to be unfolded.

If “studying” had been a theme of the first 18 years of my life, “playing” was that of my past 4. Or rather, I had learnt how to “learn” from “playing”. People often say true learning does not take place in classrooms. If learning in classrooms is necessary for growing children, playing outside classrooms is necessary for growing adults. Children love to play, and tend to forget the importance of studying. Similarly, adults love to work, and tend to forget the importance of playing.

In my second year in Japan, I discovered the joys of traveling. In English, we say “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, but ironically in Japanese, we say “Let the child travel” (with the intention of letting him or her experience the tough reality in life). I started traveling and saw things that were beyond my sight. Curiosity no longer kills the cat; it leads us to the less known yet greater side of reality. In my second year too, I had an interesting experience appearing on some television shows as a Singapore representative. I realized how far I stood from the idealistic self I thought I had achieved.

In my third year, I expanded my traveling boundaries to Europe. I left the comfort zone of Japan, and Asia, and arrived at Europe for the first time in my life, all alone. I had some interestingly dangerous experiences, where I had to count my blessings after returning to Japan safe and sound.

In my fourth year, Japan was struck by disasters, yet surprisingly it reflected the side of Japan I loved even stronger. I felt my sense of responsibility in this country and started some little projects to bring smiles to people. Ultimately, I was the one who was greatly comforted and encouraged by the help I received, and the strength of the people around me. Once again, I had chances to appear on television and meet the people that I had been so engrossed in watching.

And now, everything seems to have vanished into thin air. I am back at the starting point.

I cannot help but recall what Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Don’t be afraid. Everyone is a beginner in the game of life. Everyone is playing it for the first time.

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