We observed in two early childhood classrooms (birth-7 years). This was of particular interest to me because I have worked in classrooms in the United States and also observed early childhood environments on another service learning trip with Wheelock to Northern Ireland.
Children in Singapore are in centers for a much longer day than in the United States, and there is a focus on infectious disease control as each child undergoes a daily health check. I observed that there do not seem to be as many resources for children with special needs, and I did not observe any children with special needs in the classrooms. Whereas the United States is focused on integrated classroom environments, it was interesting to see the early stages of a competitive educational system.
We also visited two child life programs at local hospitals. As a child life graduate degree student, it was great to compare the health systems of care and child life programming to the systems and programs in Boston. I was shocked by the examples of inequality, such as the availability of health insurance being determined by class and the quality of patient care also being determined by your class system.
The hospitals were beautiful and in many hallways open air took the place of windows. There were outdoor spaces for children to use for play. It was obvious that play was valued at the facilities. At one site visit, I was able to play with an adolescent patient. Although we started off by playing Monopoly, the patient quickly requested to chat about America instead of playing. It was a wonderful memory to share stories and to see the excitement in the patient.
We visited Wheelock’s Singapore campus and we were warmly welcomed by staff and the students. Our Wheelock tour guides introduced us to their friends. It felt as though we were attending a reunion! I loved looking at the pictures of the group’s trip to Boston last summer. They could clearly relate to our experiences and travel in a place that was very far away from our homes!
Tuesday through Friday night and Saturday we were in class with Paul, who was teaching another cohort of Wheelock students at SEED University. The class we took, Helping Children Cope with Stress, was even more intriguing from a different cultural perspective. Having taken several of Paul’s courses in my undergraduate and graduate career, I knew his classes were rich with lectures and discussions. As it turned out, the discussions of topics in the class gave us insight into the stress that exists in Singapore. We heard stories about the practice of caning, grief and loss, alcoholism, and abuse.
Different cultural expectations and laws create significant difference in living. At times, the students from Singapore would gasp at the stories we had from America, and then we would gasp in shock at what they shared. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to have taken this class in a different country because I gained an additional insight to the topic that would not had come from taking it in Boston.
Overall, what an absolutely amazing trip! I had been hesitant to enroll in the trip, but I am so thankful I took the risk. Not only did I travel to Singapore, but I had the opportunity to learn about professional sites, become friends with the locals, explore the culture with the guidance of Singaporeans, enroll in a course, and have fun with a great group of friends and a wonderful professor.
Wheelock made the trip affordable, safe, and fun. The trip has made me more aware of other cultures and ways of thinking and approaching problems. It has changed who I am from a professional and personal point of view. I have traveled on other trips with Wheelock, and they truly have become some of the best experiences of my life.