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February 17, 2017


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Finding A Safe Haven in Singapore

February 17, 2017

Photo: HSBC Point Scholar Kylie in Singapore


The temples of Southeast Asia and the lush expanses of equatorial Africa seemed a world away from the practically organized streets of my native Chicago. In my childhood, traveling across oceans was financially unfeasible, so my mother would spin a globe each night, and we would place our fingers gingerly on the globe to stop it. Wherever our fingers landed, we would read about that location in our encyclopedia set. This nightly routine was our travel.

The idea of crossing international boundaries captivated me as a child. When I began high school in 2001, I was ecstatic at the possibility of spending a year studying and living in Western Europe. However, due to financial constraints, this dream was not able to come to fruition. During university, the opportunity again presented itself to study abroad, but I was not able to gather the financial resources that a year away from the United States would have required.

In my 20s I was fortunate enough to travel outside of the United States, but only for brief instances. However, I still had not yet experienced the level of immersion that studying in a foreign country could provide. Midway through my first year in business school, I was finally able to secure a place in Yale’s study abroad program at the National University of Singapore. The generous support from Point Foundation played a significant role in my being able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Even my most optimistic idealizations of what study abroad would be paled in comparison to what my experiences in Singapore were. The Lion City – with its fascinating, multi-ethnic population, its world-renowned cuisine, its lush landscapes – became my happy place. My peers at the National University of Singapore welcomed me as if they had known me for years. I felt as much a part of that school as I had in any other institution I had ever attended. In hindsight, I suspect that one of the principal reasons for which my memories of Singapore are tinged with a pleasant golden hue is because that period was the first time in my life that I did not feel that my skin color was a liability.

It would be revisionist to say that Singapore is free from racism or that it has no history of racial strife. What can accurately be said of the country is that it proudly embraces its multicultural present and past. The country boasts 4 official languages and a prime minister who openly and regularly speaks on the importance of racial inclusion. In Singapore, while my African heritage might have made me stand out, I never felt judged unfavorably for it. In Singapore, I could be. I could exclaim my pride in my Blackness without politicization. I could proclaim that Black lives matter without being reminded of Black on Black crime. Never had I felt quite as at peace with myself and my identities as I did in Singapore. Most of all, Singapore was my safe haven as I witnessed the specter of normalized overt racism reemerge across the Pacific Ocean in the United States.


HSBC Point Scholar Kylie with her mother in Singapore


Though small in size, I hold onto the hope that Singapore’s flourishing multiracial democracy might one day inspire the United States to truly reconcile its haunted past and learn to love its multi-hued present. Singapore gave me faith for what the United States might one day become. If not for my time in Singapore, I might have ceased to believe that a brighter dawn can greet the United States if we are willing to work for it.


This post was written by HSBC Point Scholar Kylie Aquino Waddy.

Kylie pursued studies in linguistics and pre-law at New York University and earned her B.A. in 2009. Three years later, Kylie earned her M.S.W from the same institution. Kylie is currently studying Business at the Yale School of Management. Read more about Kylie here.

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