Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Intercultural Observation

In this blog post about intercultural communication, I will talk about one of the more impressionable experiences I had during the seminar programme in Tokyo that I was involved in, as that is probably the only time I witnessed intercultural conflict.

The setting was the seminar classes, which was conducted in the form of group discussions and each group had a fixed topic related to efficient energy use for environmental sustainability to work on. In the conflict scenario that I got to hear from Hailey*, a good friend that I made from the seminar who was also in the group with the conflict, some of her groupmates were unhappy with their groupmate, Rose*, and a conflict arose.

I shall start with a brief introduction of the main characters. Hailey was a Vietnamese who is also a good friend of mine that I made during the seminar. Rose was of Iraqi blood but grew up and studied in the US. Mark* and Dave* were both Americans who take their work very seriously.

One day while we were all left to be in our own groups to work on our project, I noticed that Rose looked upset yet it seemed she was trying to put up a brave front. After lessons ended, Hailey told me that Rose had earlier stomped off, saying, “Since you guys don’t care about what I say, I will go”. Apparently the two most vocal members of the group, Mark and Dave, had openly downplayed her contributions and made it obvious that she was not making constructive contributions to the group discussion, and it had upset her.

According to Hailey, Rose appeared unwilling to commit to the project and did not seem serious about her work as she was often unprepared for the discussions. Besides that, she speaks with a slur, wears thick, gothic-style makeup and rants about her Japanese boyfriends whom she met while working as a hostess at a Japanese bar.

Honestly, I had a mix of emotions when I heard about the unpleasant event. Even though I felt sorry for Rose that her opinions were not highly regarded by Mark and Dave, I felt that this actually came as no surprise to me, as I had ever worked with her on a pairwork previously. Having had first-hand experience of how she did her work, I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that she did not regard what we all were doing in the seminar as important. Quoting Rose, “There’s no need to be so serious. This isn’t graded anyway.”

If I were to attempt to interpret Mark and Dave’s actions, I would think that they treated Rose with such hostility mainly because of her work attitude. Ever-prepared for discussions, Mark and Dave would always have facts and figures at their fingertips to support their points. On the other hand, Rose would make suggestions and claims without justification. I would believe that Mark and Dave came from a culture that emphasizes high work efficiency and reliability, whereas for Rose, it seemed very likely that she came from a culture that apparently did not emphasize on those work attitudes. Furthermore, as she comes across as liberal and speaks with a slur, this could have added to the impression that she was most likely not as academically capable as the rest of the students in the seminar.

To have a better understanding of Mark and Dave’s actions, I grabbed a chance to talk to them about the conflict. Indeed, they felt that she was being irresponsible and uncooperative, and “wasting everyone’s time”. Unfortunately, I did not manage to speak to Rose about it as I did not feel comfortable enough to broach the subject to her. However, as far as I know, Rose lost both her parents at a very tender age and since then had been working to support herself. I would think that perhaps because of that, she was more easily influenced by liberal cultures and hence behaved differently from the rest of us.

*Names have been changed for privacy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Personal Statement (for the post of Research Assistant, in correspondence with my cover letter)

I am a fresh graduate with a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Life Sciences (Concentration in Biology), from the National University of Singapore. I am in essence someone who is passionate about the natural environment; as such I have been very much involved in ecological work in my research whilst in my undergraduate years, as well as in my volunteer involvements.

During my 3rd year of study, I undertook the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme in Science (UROPS) where I did research on the relationship between healthy seagrass beds and the abundance of seastars, particularly, the knobbly seastars on Cyrene reef. The entire research process was especially enjoyable for me as I love doing fieldwork, getting out of the laboratory to hit the natural habitats and study the organisms in their natural environment. Being particularly fascinated by the knobbly seastars, I carried on with the research when I was in my Honours year. Working alongside Professor Chou Loke Ming (Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore), I have picked up much relevant skills as well as gained valuable insights into the field of marine biology. The research project definitely fueled my passion for the natural environment.

Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I undertook modules such as Fundamentals of Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry, which equipped me with laboratory skills such as performing Liquid Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry. Upon graduation from NUS, I was familiar with procedures in a laboratory with regards to safety as well as operation and maintenance of laboratory equipments.

During the summer break in my 2nd year of study, I had the rare opportunity to participate in the Waseda Global Honours College (GHC) Programme held in Waseda University, Tokyo. One of the key objectives was to gather students and professors from 8 universities worldwide, where they come from different disciplines and cultural backgrounds to discuss topics related to Environmental Sustainability. Though the programme lasted only a mere 3 weeks, I believe I learnt much more than I would in the same duration of time if I were back home in Singapore. For one, I became much more disciplined and efficient in doing work, and I have more confidence in my ability to deliver work that is of reasonable calibre. This is due to the fact that my peers and I had to work under tight deadlines while making sure work had to be of a standard that was acceptable to the professors, who were also our mentors in the programme.

Personally, I have always enjoyed interaction with people from different backgrounds and cultures, as there is always much to learn from every different encounter. Through my work experience with Fitness First Singapore Pte Ltd especially, I got the chance to interact with people of varying age and backgrounds. Also, the Waseda GHC Programme gave me the opportunity to interact with both students and professors of diverse personalities and from different backgrounds. These experiences have certainly honed my interpersonal skills as well as forged great friendships.

Work aside, I volunteer with Team Seagrass and Toddycats, both of which are non-governmental groups with environmental conservation as their primary concern. The little contributions I may have made to Singapore’s environment through involvement in these volunteering activities have further rooted my passion for the natural environment and I believe that this has influenced my friends in some way or other. I believe that with increased public awareness, more people will be aware of the vulnerability of Singapore’s biodiversity, and in general, the whole natural environment as a whole, in view of the changing climate conditions the world is facing. It is my hope that more of the general public would join in the fight against climate change, which is currently one of the most pressing environmental issues.

My undergraduate years have been truly fruitful as I saw tremendous self-development and growth, and was given many opportunities to fuel my passion for the natural environment. I am an advocate of life-long learning, and very much hope to develop myself in the field of ecology.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cover Letter - Research Assistant

Here is my cover letter with interest to apply for the position of Research Assistant at the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI). This is written under the hopeful scenario that I have graduated in 2011 from Lifesciences major with Honours. I will be most appreciative if you guys can comment on possible inadequacies of it. My personal information has been changed for privacy, but the information of TMSI is real as it is a real local institute. Cheers!

Phong Chun Fong
Blk 701 Bukit Rambai St 70
#01-00 Singapore 700701
9123 4567

3 September 2011

Dr Michael Holmes
Deputy Director
Management Department
Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI)
14 Kent Ridge Road
Singapore 119223

Dear Dr Holmes

Application for the Post of Research Assistant

I am writing in response to the opening of the post of research assistant in the Marine Environment Department, as advertised on the website on 2 September 2011. With my academic qualifications and relevant skills, as well as passion for the marine environment, I believe I will be able to contribute to the development of the institute.

I am a fresh graduate with a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Life Sciences (Concentration in Biology), from the National University of Singapore. Marine Biology has always been my area of interest and hence I did marine biology-related research when I undertook the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme in Science (UROPS) which I brought forward to my Honours research as well. I am also proficient in hypothesis testing using biostatistical methods such as the paired t-test and one sample z-test, and familiar with laboratory techniques. That aside, I am an active volunteer with non-governmental pro-environment groups such as Team Seagrass and the Toddycats.

Besides being a meticulous and pro-active worker who has experience and a genuine interest in research of marine biology, I am also one who enjoys working in a team.

It is regionally and internationally recognized that TMSI is a centre of excellence for research and development in tropical marine science. TMSI also actively collaborates with academic, government and industrial sectors to achieve integrated marine science. As such I sincerely hope to be able to further develop my passion in this dynamic institute, and I believe that I will be able to contribute to the advancement of the institute with my skills and experience.

I have attached my resume for your kind reference and it would be my utmost pleasure to attend an interview with you at a convenient time. Please feel free to contact me via 9123 4567 or I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you.

Warm regards,
Phong Chun Fong