He navigated from his dream of a career in the skies to pursue a different course altogether.
But by fortuity, Mr Marcus Chee was brought back to his first love after landing an internship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the US Embassy.
The final-year international relations (IR) undergraduate said: “I was thrilled when I heard the Embassy had an opening related to aviation and applied for it immediately.
“I wanted to see how aviation could be combined with IR and it definitely didn’t disappoint.”
While he was elated to combine both the loves of his life – aviation and IR – he confessed that it was not an easy one.
The 24-year-old hit the ground running with two huge projects – designing a dashboard capturing key aviation data on Asia-Pacific countries and devising travel infographics with information on business and cultural dos and don’ts.
The information collated was meant to ease and assist FAA officials looking to conduct diplomatic missions within the region.
He had to gather information on countries’ population figures; land size; gross domestic product (GDP); the number of airports each country had; and radar capacity, just to name a few, across 40 countries in the region.
But sussing out the information wasn’t the toughest part, the final-year IR student confided.
“It was when I had to learn a new data analytics software called Tableau to make sense of the information I collected.
“Learning the ins and outs of the software was a lengthy process, but I’m thankful that a coursemate who had prior experience offered to help me out.”
Not one to settle for the bare minimum, Mr Chee went further to explain certain phenomena based on the data gathered.
For instance, he performed statistical analyses of commercial flight take-offs per capita, which could indicate the strength of a country’s aviation industry.
This became that data he put to use later to answer questions on why countries with similar GDP per capita have different “take-offs per capita”, and whether GDP truly dictates a country’s aviation consumption.
Despite the initial obstacles, he got the hang of it quickly and was glad that he did not disappoint his supervisor Braks Etta, who is also a senior representative in the department.
“Mr Etta gave me a lot of freedom despite my lack of experience, to craft the project in my own vision.
“It was definitely taxing and time-consuming, but at the end of the day, it was all worthwhile.
I not only got to demonstrate my skills and proficiency to him, what makes it even more fulfilling is that the dashboard continues to remain in use at the office.”
On top of his projects, his daily tasks include compiling daily news and reports on trends in maintenance, repair and overhaul projects in South-east Asia, and accompanying his colleagues to conferences.
When asked why he chose to deviate from his aviation dream, the young man shared that an unlikely friendship forged between him and a group of friends during his army days brought out his passion in IR.
They would spend much time discussing about state relations, political philosophy, and even historical events like the Peloponnesian War.
And while he was interested in those topics, he felt he was not adequately equipped with the right knowledge.
“I decided to read more IR books in order to engage better and was so drawn to it that I gave up my pilot ambition to study IR.
“I still want to attain a pilot license,” said the aviation enthusiast who is currently learning how to fly from a family friend in Malaysia.
While this dream of his may not be fulfilled just yet, the internship has certainly opened doors in ways he could not imagine.
Through a recommendation by his superiors, Mr Chee landed an opportunity to discuss a possible career with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).
“It is rather exciting and I hope one day I can be in a position where I can assist in crafting aviation policies with the CAAS, and even possibly with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the aviation arm of the United Nations.”
It also left him with a deeper sense of pride for his own country.
In Feb this year, the FAA and CAAS strengthened their Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement Implementation Procedures for Airworthiness.
It is a long-standing agreement which allows for the recognition of airworthiness of civil aeronautical products, and aircraft safety and maintenance standards between the two nations.
He said: “It shows the trust the US has for Singapore and I feel proud that Singapore is viewed as the ‘benchmark’ that all countries within the region should strive towards.”
Revealing that he was initially fearful about blending in with the embassy staff, his fears were soon proven to be unfounded after he was invited to numerous events, including the embassy’s Independence Day celebration.
“Mr Etta also introduced me to representatives from the various agencies based at the embassy after I expressed interest in understanding how they operate.”
“It was definitely interesting as I got to meet agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the defence attaché, and even a colonel with the US Air Force who was a veteran of the First Gulf War who shared about the differences in military operations between the US and Singapore.”
Mr Chee also got to participate in the Embassy’s trick-or-treat during Halloween.
“My superior bought me a ghoul costume and I stood behind my office door to scare our visitors.”
But it is when he attends the Marine Corps workout session with his colleagues that he feels a true sense of camaraderie.
“In the day, they may be officers of certain agencies and interns from Ivy League schools, but once we’re at the basketball court, we’re all in our physical-training kits exercising together.”
When quizzed about whether he ever felt inferior conversing with other Ivy League interns, he insisted that such comparisons were unhelpful.
While he agrees that they were definitely well-spoken and knowledgeable, he emphasised that we “can be that too”.
“They may have had more opportunities to learn, but do they know more than you in everything? Not necessarily.”
“In school you have to try different opportunities. There is a future (for international relations students), but you really have to work hard,” he added.
“The door is open, and once you’re through it, you’ll never know where it will lead you.”
Students who are inspired by Mr Chee’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.