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Braving the Beyond: A Singaporean girl's 2020 Voyage

JAN . 18 2021
Peking University, January 18, 2021: With the prevalence of COVID-19 pandemic, last year is undoubtedly a special one for most of us. During the past few weeks, we have shared six PKU students' key words and unique stories of 2020, who came from across the globe and spoke at the 2020 Youth Forum.

Drawn by their full and varied experience, PKUer Estella Zhang Qiming, a second year student from PKU Guanghua School of Management, also writes to us to review her extraordinary 2020.

Estella Zhang Qiming is a Year Two undergraduate student from Peking University Guanghua School of Management. She is passionate about the media, different cultures and its people, and aspires to experience the business climates of both the East and the West. She is currently a journalist of Peking University Office of Global Communications, a correspondent for Advisory Singapore, and a SEAker member in The Young SEAkers. In her free time, she writes, reads, and occasionally dabbles with the camera. She is looking to pursue a Marketing major when the time comes for her to choose a major, and is excited to explore both marketing and media opportunities in China.

When I look back to January, I could say that 2020 began on a relatively normal note. After I had finished my first semester at Peking University, I came back to Singapore when the winter holidays began, and celebrated Chinese New Year with family and friends. We heard about the situation in China then, and a group of us decided to do something to help, pooling together a small donation of essential materials such as masks and gloves and donating them to hospitals in Wuhan. However, Singapore's situation was still relatively stable, and most of us continued to enjoy the holidays and took the free time to visit places and catch up with each other.

Exploring Singapore

As the winter holidays approached an end, the school announced that next semester (which was equivalent to my Year One Semester Two) would be held entirely online. So I got ready to start the semester fresh "online", and set up my room to make it more conducive for studying. I chatted with schoolmates on WeChat concurrently while watching live broadcasts of lectures, and it felt as though we were sitting right beside each other, discussing class as per usual.
I also took a leap of faith then, and decided to join Peking University's Office of Global Communications, pursuing my passion in the media and learning more about social media platforms' uses and functions. I had the opportunity to craft articles of events in Peking University, draft posts for the different social media platforms, and occasionally manage the media accounts.

Singapore's Circuit Breaker began in April, and my whole family stayed at home then. I had more time to spend with family - stacking magnets with my brother, learning baking and cooking, and taking the time to try and make some (ugly looking, but it's tasty, really!) sushi. I also had to juggle my studies, as our workload was arguably the heaviest in the first two years, and combed my way through the Advanced Mathematics course that was the most significant part of our core module as business students. I also attended online lectures organized by friends, and had the opportunity to listen to distinguished guests from all over the world.

It was also this time that tensions triggered by Covid-19 began to manifest on the internet and even in real life. These tensions were initially "far away", where we only see it reported on the media and in the comments left by internet users. But they soon became "near" us, as they even manifested in our school's anonymous post sharing platform between the local Chinese and international students.

Because of this, my friend and I decided to make a documentary that can allow people from all over the world to share their opinions on why they chose to make certain decisions during Covid-19, and that hopefully, such a sharing can help different sides to understand each other better and mitigate the tensions we see building around us. The two of us gathered friends from China, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom, and together, we interviewed 120 people from 15 different countries.

We successfully published the documentary "Under the Mask" on both Bilibili and YouTube in May, and we were honored to see the documentary featured on Singapore Eye. Hopefully, we did some good and helped to mitigate some tensions, no matter how small.

When the situation in Singapore improved and we entered "Phase 2", whereby more activities were allowed to be resumed, I decided to take another leap of faith, and encourage myself to become more adventurous and daring. Peking University's summer holidays were also coming up, and it was the perfect opportunity to start new activities.

While balancing my academics and mostly studying throughout the day (some of our exams, initially to be conducted at the end of the semester, had been moved to be conducted at the start of next semester as the professors preferred offline exams), I started horse-riding classes, fulfilling my childhood dream of always wanting to learn how to ride a horse. I also joined a Muay Thai gym, and went there three to four times a week to better train my endurance and push myself to look past my long-lasting knee injury. Ever interested in the media, I organized an online talk for Peking University students regarding the past, present and future of the digital music and media industry, with Seth Schachner, Managing Director of Strat Americas, as the speaker. I also participated in a Coursera course on viral marketing, and had the opportunity to deepen my understanding of this industry's workings.

Covid-19 had also made me better appreciate what I had around me, and I started to become more actively involved with volunteer work. I signed up to be an English teacher with Stepping Stones China, where I taught two classes of English weekly to migrant and rural children in different parts of China online. With the support of friends, we pooled together monetary resources and bought books for these children, overcoming some administrative odds to send these books to them. I also decided to set aside a portion of my earnings every month to sponsor a child. I was in my twenties now, and I felt like it was time for me to try my best to do something, no matter how small it was.

When the first semester of Year Two began, it was a bit different than what we had in the previous semester. As many of the local students have already returned to campus, the school had to face the enormous task of balancing both offline and online classes simultaneously. As such, much of our classes faced the technological difficulties of audio and image glitches, the school website crashing sometimes and making lecture videos inaccessible, and some classes not providing an online option. But we adapted quickly, sharing notes and tips on how to improve the situation, and even comparing speaker models as a lot of us were looking to buy speakers to try and improve the audio quality of classes. I was lucky in the sense that my faculty provided us with live broadcasts of most of our core module lessons, and I could "interact" with the class in the same setting at times.

Towards the end of the year, in November, I also decided to pick up Japanese, and started an online course with an organization in Beijing.

Looking back on the year 2020, many of us would call it an unusual one, and that it is not a happy year for many. I am privileged in the sense that I could spend the year mostly in the comforts of my own home, while I realise that many did not have such a luxury.

The year 2020 has never been more challenging, and yet never a better testament to our humanity. When the pandemic initially became a pandemic, some groups started to panic-stock essential goods and materials. But there were more who started to voice out, sharing their care for the community. Everyday, there were articles or social media posts online about someone else's acts of kindness and what they were doing to help.

Perhaps as we enter 2021, it is of utmost importance for us to reflect on 2020, and ask ourselves how we can help society and the world as a whole in our own ways. Long gone are the days when we just focus on school work and live in our own bubble. Rather, we are all now mature college students who can make a change if we want to. What we can ultimately do might be minor, but they are actions which can bring about positive changes.

I sincerely hope that 2021 brings nothing but the best to all of us, and that no matter what happens, we will all have the courage to brave the beyond together, and take care of each other as we move along this journey.

Thank you for reading my story!

Written by: Estella Zhang Qiming
Edited by: Pu Hairui