An Ode to Learning

Below is my submission for Activia Training’s UK Scholarship.

Why is learning important to you and how has it impacted your life?

I am a cat. Curiosity killed me several times, but satisfaction has brought me back many times, too. When I was younger, Wikipedia’s hyperlinks were laser pointers aimed at a white wall, and I couldn’t help clicking on every link I saw. What’s behind all those links? I had to know and hunted them down. Simply put, learning was – and still is – my catnip.

I treat each new piece of information like a new challenge. Can I fit this into my existing knowledge base? Does it enhance what I know or contradicts it instead? Is it reliable? Not only that, I get a sense of achievement from understanding something I couldn’t before. The world is a great puzzle; each bit of knowledge is another piece I can click into place.

Learning also taught me how to solve problems. As I grew older, what I encountered in school became harder. I remember struggling with algebra when I first encountered it. I just didn’t understand what the brackets around those numbers meant. To tackle that, I figured out what I didn’t understand, and tried different ways of solving the same problem. This way, I gained a thorough understanding of what it takes to do algebra. This struggle is very rewarding, and it’s helped me grasp difficult concepts, one at a time. It’s sharpened my mind as I gather more knowledge.

Beyond school, I’ve also been learning many different things. One thing I’m picking up recently would be parkour. Parkour is a discipline where we learn how to get past obstacles as efficiently as possible. Via parkour, I’ve honed my balance, improved my jumping form and hoisted myself onto walls. When I first started, I would be sore for a week after. Now, I recover a little bit faster, and hang on a little longer. This improvement has brought me lots of satisfaction. Learning parkour has also helped me step out of my comfort zone. After all, to improve, I’ll need to get up close and personal with something new and unfamiliar. Keeping a beginner’s mind, where I remain curious and learn all I can, helped me overcome my fear. What if I did it differently? Let’s try it out. In parkour, a positive learning attitude has helped me frame failure as exploration. This way, I can laugh at my mistakes and bounce back faster.

Looking inwards, I’ve also been learning more about myself as I grew. As I drilled deeper into my own psyche, I learnt what I liked, disliked, and why. I fixed my misconceptions: I found out what they were, found out why I had them, and eliminated them at their root cause. I learnt how to comfort myself, to tackle fear head on. I understood better how my past has shaped me now as I studied myself. This has helped me learn to regulate my emotions, learn to meet my needs and learn to find my purpose in life. I would lead the meaningful life I truly want as I become more self-aware and reinforce my identity.

Speaking of a meaningful life, Sir David Attenborough was a big influence on what that looked like for me. Anyone else here a big fan of him? In my primary school years, I’d spend weekday lunches watching his documentaries on Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel. He’s shown me the beauty of the world – what wonderful creatures we have here with us! My favourite would be the peacock spider. It’s a tiny spider that will unfurl colourful peacock-like flaps on its abdomen during its mating dance. Adorable. Our little corner of the universe is truly amazing. I first heard about climate change from him, too. It pains me to learn that we’ve forgotten to cherish our home that’s given us so much. However, being curious and learning more about the world has kept me focused on what’s important. We’ve pretty big problems on our planet; I’ll make it my life’s work to fix these problems.

Apart from developing myself, I’ve also explored other societies. I took Japanese for four years. In my adventures, I’ve been to a tea ceremony, and even gone on a short, fully-sponsored trip to Aomori, Japan. We learnt how things worked there, and my Japanese improved as I kept practicing it. During my one-night homestay with a local family, I slept on the tatami floor, thick blankets keeping me warm. The next day I had rice and miso soup for breakfast, along with fish. This was all quite different from Singapore, where I’ve lived most of the time. Who else is out there? It’s time for me to explore the western side of the world. To take my learning to the next level, I’m coming to the United Kingdom to study. I’ll learn even more from people who’ve grown up with different traditions. In my pursuit to understand the world, I’ve become more adventurous.

Now, learning is needed more than ever. As society gets more polarised, I want us all to keep learning about everyone and everything around us. It’ll teach us humility: the focus is on what we’re learning, and not on ourselves. It’ll keep us open-minded, and teach us to listen to other people. It’ll show us that the more we learn, the more we’ll realise how much more there is to learn from everyone. We’d discover that there we are all people, and aren’t so different after all. Learning may not seem like much, but I believe it is a part of the solution for the problems in society.

Ultimately, learning has shown me the beauty of the world. It keeps me young, keeps me in love with the world, in love with living. Who says there’s no magic in reality? There are so many fascinating things out there; to me, that’s magic enough. The cat in me will always be stalking its next prey. Meow!

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