“Social harmony has been preserved, but fear and displeasure linger.”
This was the conclusion, Miss Marcella Tang, who interned at the US Embassy Singapore, came to during a brown bag presentation.
The economic and political (EP) section intern said: “Often, the Embassy staff have the impression that Singapore is one of the best examples of a multiracial state and society which is “colour-blind”.
But a survey done by Miss Tang at the Embassy revealed that ethnic and racial tensions continue to plague the social fabric of Singapore, in which some were personal experiences of the local staff.
For instance, Malay staff are not allowed to wear hijabs in certain occupations and there continue to be existing racial restrictions within the military.
In September last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reasoned the rationale behind the reserved presidential election was because Singapore has “not yet arrived at an ideal state of accepting people of a different race.”
“We always boast about how multiracial Singapore is, but yet Malays are not allowed to practice their religion peacefully by donning the hijab is something we should really question,” explained Miss Tang.
“Non-Singaporeans often don’t see these underlying challenges so I thought it’s a great opportunity to share with them the other side of the coin as well.”
She admitted that while it was a controversial topic, it was the proudest project she had ever done.
“I not only get to decide the direction of the discussion, I also got to share with my American counterparts a different side of Singapore which they were rather intrigued by after.”
Meeting president Donald Trump was also one of the highlights of her stint where she got to be up close and personal with him during a Meet-and-Greet session when he was in town for the Trump-Kim Summit.
When asked how she felt, Miss Tang said: “I was honestly star-struck as he is so charismatic in real life. It is really great to meet and just listen to one of the world’s most influential leaders speak.”
Going about her daily routine in the office, a regular day at work for her consists of consolidating local economic-related news articles, and drafting up reports for the seminars and conferences she had attended. The information then gets circulated to everyone, including staff at the White House, who will then analyse them.
With the EP section mainly responsible for the conduct of diplomacy, trade policy, and economic relations between the US and Singapore, the Singaporean Economics and Management major felt that she had an important role to play.
“I’m often the first point of contact when my colleagues want to learn more about the economic activities here and I had to make sure that I painted an accurate picture in order to for them to further their discussion or decision-making process.”
However, it was not without its challenges.
The level of autonomy Miss Tang received to dispatch her tasks was far from anything she expected.
For instance, when she was drafting opening and closing speeches for various government personnel such as the chargé d’affaires Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath and assistant deputy chief of mission for events like the Third Country Training Programme, where US and Singapore provide capacity building to Southeast Asia, she was given the liberty to explore.
“Writing these speeches was rather pressurising as they were delivered to large audiences and thus required extreme care and caution,” confided Miss Tang.
Another important role she was assigned to was hosting international visitors. Miss Tang was tasked with the role of a control officer to acting under secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment Manisha Singh during her visit in Singapore.
Her duty included planning the under secretary’s schedule, escorting her throughout her trip, and assisting with other miscellaneous tasks assigned.
“While it may be stressful, I appreciate the high-level of trust that the Embassy gives to the interns. It gave me a sense of ownership which then translates into a sense of pride as it pushes me to be a problem solver on my own.”
But of course it was not all work and no play.
Miss Tang enjoyed herself most at the yearly Independence Day celebration held at Gardens by the Bay.
The 22-year-old shared that she was assigned to take polaroid pictures for the large crowd that were present at the party and was quite fascinated by the entire set-up of the event.
“I was not only blown away by the performance of the Philadelphia Boys Choir, this was also of the rare times where I got to let my hair down and mingle with my peers and superiors alike in a non-office setting.”
Describing her internship as memorable, she shared that the Americans who interned at EP specifically want to become diplomats themselves.
“But I would like to bring this valuable experience along with me and see how I can use it to contribute to our local public service sector scene such as the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the future,” she added.
Students who are inspired by Miss Tang’s story can get involved via SIM’s internship portal, UNICORN, a one-stop integrated hub for students and employers to apply and receive applications respectively.
And Miss Tang encouraged everyone to take advantage of the opportunities the school has offered, like attending the various workshops and courses, or even the networking conferences between the students and prospective employers.
That said, she also reminded students not to be afraid of exploring their interests, instead of following the conventional route into the Big Four or other popular companies.
“Always look at what can best aid your own career path.”