Aspiring teacher wins clan scholarship to Peking University, wants to make learning Chinese fun

(From left) Ms Yap Ting, Ms Ong Yun Jie, Ms Vissly Chan Shun Ling and Mr Choo Yi Xuan are among the recipients of this year's Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations scholarship. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Ms Ong Yun Jie, 19, spent her childhood in China and is still enthralled by her memories of the place.

She said she lived in China for some years till the age of six as her father was working there then. Her family lived near historical landmarks such as Yuetan Park, one of the famous "Five Altars and Eight Temples" of Beijing.

Ms Ong's parents believed it was important for her to build a foundation in Chinese, before she started primary school in Singapore. But she has wanted to study there ever since.

She returned to her childhood home on a bicultural studies trip when she was in Secondary 3 at CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School. That was when she visited Peking University and attended trial lessons, which made her even more determined to study there.

And now she will get to do just that. Ms Ong will read Chinese language and literature at Peking University starting next month.

The spirited Eunoia Junior College student was among the five recipients of this year's Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) scholarship. It was set up in 2011 to help Singapore students strong in Chinese to further their studies at top Chinese universities.

When she was a child, Ms Ong's mother, a housewife, often read Chinese stories to her and her older brother, she said.

Ms Ong was also inspired by her father, who taught mathematics and science in secondary schools here, to become a teacher.

Ms Ong took on a two-month stint as a teaching intern with the Ministry of Education earlier this year.

Coming from a Special Assistance Plan school, it was a "culture shock" to her that some Chinese Singaporean students were uninterested in their mother tongue and even seemed embarrassed to speak Mandarin.

Ms Ong hopes to bring knowledge from Peking back to Singapore, and make learning Chinese more fun and appealing for the young.

Ms Cong Yuqing, who will read computer science at Tsinghua University, will be the only one of the five scholarship recipients attending classes in person. The other four will be doing so remotely, but will be able to go to China when it reopens its borders after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Cong, who is a Singapore citizen, was able to secure a visa as her parents are in China. Her mother is a mechanical engineering university professor in Beijing, and her father works in the semiconductor industry in Shanghai.

A project Ms Cong did at Hwa Chong Institution drew her to the world of artificial intelligence. A "math and science person" from a young age, she hopes to become a university professor.

Ms Cong, 19, grew up seeing her mother interacting with her students, and hearing of how the teacher impacted her students' lives.

An avid dancer, Ms Cong took lessons in Chinese dance at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts when she was in primary school, and continued to pursue it in Nanyang Girls' High School.

Her dance teacher there sparked her interest in Chinese culture, teaching her that "dance is so much more than dance itself".

Ms Cong said: "It's also about the hard work that you put in behind the scenes, the emotions you feel when dancing and the interactions with fellow dancers."

Mr Choo Yi Xuan, 21; Ms Vissly Chan Shun Ling, 20; and Ms Yap Ting, 19, also received the scholarships at SFCCA's Toa Payoh headquarters on Thursday (Aug 19).

Mr Choo will study finance and management at Tsinghua, Ms Chan will read politics and public administration at Peking, and Ms Yap will study international politics at Fudan University.

The bond-free scholarship funds up to $15,000 for an academic year, to cover school fees, accommodation and living expenses in China.

It requires recipients to commit to a 55-day work attachment programme with SFCCA or its member organisations.

SFCCA president Tan Aik Hock said he hopes the scholarship holders will give back to Singapore's Chinese community when they return from their studies.

Correction note: This story has been updated for accuracy.

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