Q&A

Travel Restrictions Have Not Deterred Dsg Scholar Serene Yap

16 Apr 2021 • 7 min read

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The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works of some of our Dsg scholars. Some had to defer their studies, while some had to settle for virtual lessons, and some even braved all odds to continue pursuing their education overseas.

We catch up with Serene Yap, a Dsg Scholar from the 2020 batch. She overcame travel restrictions and fears of a still-raging pandemic in the United Kingdom to pursue her Master of Arts in Service Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA), physically. We find out more about her adventures.

So you’re currently based in London and pursuing your dream (finally!). Please share how you decided to just go ahead with the travel to UK despite what’s happening around the world now. And the fact that you postponed your flight twice!

Flying to London despite the unstable COVID-19 situation in the UK was honestly one of the toughest decisions I had to work through, both with myself and with my family.

Having originally planned to fly into London after Christmas last year, I was bummed when the UK announced they were going into a Christmas lockdown. I was confronted with the fact that I'd be leaving my near COVID-free country to a COVID battleground, which to most people, would probably sound completely irrational. So I postponed my flight, only to be disappointed again by the news of London going into a full lockdown. But I knew it was for the better, as I could stay on in Singapore to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family.

My next flight on 16 February would be the one that eventually got me to London. London’s situation was stabilising and given that no unnecessary travelling was allowed, I thought it might actually be safer entering London since there'd probably be less people at the airport and on the roads. It was nevertheless a risk, but a decision I had to own and be accountable for (think: double-masking, constant hand sanitising, conscious efforts to reduce contact with people and surfaces). I also owe it to my family for trusting me. In fact, my worried parents joked about tying me to a tree or standing in front of the plane to stop it from flying. I'm glad none of that happened.

How has it been for you thus far, in terms of adapting to life there and the coursework that’s being conducted in the university?

So far, London's been treating me well with some very sunny days! I'm also really grateful to have housemates who are also my coursemates—I think that helped me a lot in terms of settling in, as they'd offer to get groceries and make dinner whilst I was still self-isolating. After all the quarantining was done and dusted, they took me out to explore the vicinity where we would go for our daily walks.

As for my Master's programme, as soon as the government gave the word for schools to reopen, the RCA started operating in a format called "burst weeks" where programmes would take turns to use the campus facilities for two weeks. Lectures are unfortunately still held online, but the burst weeks gave us the opportunity to meet our coursemates, most of whom we've known virtually since September last year. We also had some good laughs because we realised some of our peers who appeared to look petite on screen were actually really tall in person!

What’s the situation like in the UK presently?

The UK has passed its peak and cases have gone down over the lockdown period. As of 28 March, it has hit 30 million first COVID-19 vaccine doses—57 percent of all adults. As an international student paying for healthcare access, we'll also be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine here.

Unfortunately, while the UK is slowly lifting the lockdown, a number of other European countries are going into fresh lockdowns, and I think that's something that is keeping everyone on their toes a bit.

How has Dsg supported you the past year since you were awarded the Scholarship, especially in navigating the challenges/uncertainties that arose?

If it weren't for this Scholarship, I'd probably not have gone back to school to do my Master's. I'm really thankful for this opportunity because the Dsg Scholarship covers not just the full cost of my tuition fees but also provides an annual allowance so I can focus on making the best out of my two-year programme in London.

The Dsg team has also been very understanding with our ever-changing circumstances, and check in on us every now and then to ensure we are safe and well, and that our studies are still going as planned.

What would you say to Scholarship applicants who are still sitting on the fence about applying due to the pandemic?

I'd be lying if I said that I'm having the best overseas student experience of my life and that this is what I've dreamed of. It can be painful to sit through online lessons, and not being able to interact with our peers and the teaching staff the way that we'd like to in person, especially for design courses that thrive on hands-on learning experiences. But I've moved past the frustration and grief, and have come to terms with the fact that this pandemic will stick around for a few more years to come, and that we'll have to figure out new ways to manoeuvre this and carve out our own paths to reach our education goals.

If anything, the pandemic has taught me to be clearer about my intentions in life, to be more adaptable, more forgiving, more grateful and less begrudging.

I'd ask you to consider your goals and think about how important a factor time is, and if you'd be willing to compromise the traditional aspects of learning with virtual or blended learning experiences. This is particularly so for fields that require physical access to workshops and tools.

But more importantly, if you're reading this, you probably already know what you want and are looking to reaffirm your point of view. Whatever decision you make, there's a journey that's ahead of you, so hop off the fence you're sitting on and go with what resonates the most with you and make the best out of it! Good luck!


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