Five students receive scholarships to study in China, but may have to attend remotely due to coronavirus pandemic

(From left) Rebecca Yang, Pek Ning Xuan, Lee Xin Ying Rachel and Shi Xinyao are four out of five recipients of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations Scholarship. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - Five students keen to begin their overseas studies in China this September will have to wait a while more before they can fly over due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The recipients of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) Scholarship will likely be pursuing their university degrees at the prestigious Tsinghua and Peking universities through online learning indefinitely when school starts.

Ms Shi Xinyao, 18; Ms Rebecca Yang Xinze, 19; Ms Rachel Lee Xin Ying, 18; Ms Pek Ning Xuan, 19; and Ms Kuo Pei Yu, 19, received the scholarships at SFCCA's Toa Payoh headquarters on Friday morning (Aug 14).

Ms Kuo, who returned to Singapore at the start of August after five months volunteering in a Taiwan village as an English teacher, could not attend the ceremony, as she is serving her stay-home notice period till next Wednesday.

The five were selected from 16 applications this year, more than the 13 applications last year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the study plans of some.

The bond-free scholarship funds up to $15,000 an academic year, including airfare, school fees, accommodation, insurance and living expenses, and each recipient is required to commit to a work attachment programme with the SFCCA or its member organisations.

Ms Kuo, who spoke to The Straits Times on the phone after Friday's ceremony, said she would prefer to be able to study in China rather than remotely.

"One part that attracted me to study in China is the chance to immerse myself in its culture and environment, and I have the option to stay with local students and get to interact with them," said Ms Kuo, who has yet to decide her major but will be studying at Yuanpei College at Peking University.

Ms Shi said the uncertainty arising from the coronavirus is something she had never experienced before, and she hopes that she will be able to head to China soon to pursue her degree.

"For some lessons, I heard that we can go out to experience China's cities, so this is real-life experience that I would be missing out on if studying remotely," added Ms Shi, who is pursuing liberal arts at Yuanpei College at Peking University.

Ms Lee said there were pros and cons to studying remotely.

She said she would be able to spend more time with her family in Singapore, but felt that being in China would be best for her to experience and get to know Chinese language and literature better.

All five recipients have yet to successfully apply for a student visa.

Due to the Covid-19 situation, the Chinese Embassy in Singapore is accepting visa applications only for necessary economic, trade, sci-tech activities, and urgent humanitarian needs, according to a notice on its website dated July 17.

The students will have to adapt to the online learning situation, said Ms Pek, who will be majoring in humanities and social sciences at Tsinghua.

She is also this year's sole recipient from River Valley High School. The four others are from Hwa Chong Institution.

A majority of applicants yearly continue to come from Hwa Chong, River Valley and Dunman High School, said SFCCA president Tan Aik Hock.

The federation has been gathering more support from the individual clan associations, and hopes to give one or two more scholarships for future cohorts, he added.

He also announced that an SFCCA Scholars Network comprising the different batches of scholars has been set up, marking 10 years since the scholarship was introduced.

The network should serve as a platform the scholars can leverage for opportunities to continue learning, growing and contributing back to the Chinese community, said Mr Tan.

Ms Yang, who is pursuing economics and finance at Tsinghua, said she hopes to come up with events and ideas to better engage young people and pique their interest in Chinese culture during her future work attachment programme.

Ms Lee, who will be studying Chinese language and literature at Peking, added that she hopes to get younger Singaporeans in touch with their dialect roots.

"I think it is an important part of Chinese blood. Like when I speak Hokkien, I feel connected with my ancestry," she said.

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