Wed, Apr 08, 2009
The Straits Times
Seven things about American youth

YOUR article on the youth of Singapore tickled me. Having studied and lived in the United States, I adore the people I have met, and I miss my friends. Here are my own observations about the American youth.

1.They love Singaporean youth.

Every conversation would begin with, 'Where are you from?' To the reply 'Singapore', they would exclaim: 'Oh, how lovely/wonderful/awesome!' I would beam proudly, wondering why Singaporeans were so sceptical of their country's growing status. That was, until I realised that American youth actually had no idea where or what Singapore was. So much for that split-second ego booster.

2.They speak, think and dream in superlatives.

The middle ground does not exist. Forget good, all right, okay, sounds fine. 'Awesome!' is the appropriate response to everything: an agreement to meet for lunch or a study date, a looming assignment deadline, a work-filled weekend, buying someone a cup of coffee. You name it. I had been there, and it was - 'Awesome!'

3.They are nuts about basketball.

It is a serious business. When I was there in 2005 for a semester, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill won the national basketball championship. The town erupted. People spilled into the streets, dizzy with joy, embellishing lamp posts with toilet paper, yelping with laughter and high-fiving everyone they met. It was an 'awesome' party.

4.They know nothing about SMS.

They talk. They yak. They discuss. They do not SMS, period. Blame it on the way their phone plans have been structured. It is more economical to talk on the phone than send text messages. There, I reacquired the skills of good conversation and gave up stressing my fingers.

5.They are concerned about you - or so, you love to think.

I got asked 'How are you?' all the time. Often, I would stop to answer, only to realise that the person had moved on. Over time, I got used to the greeting. Now that I am back home in Singapore, no one asks me.

6.They are smart and sharp.

They have an opinion on everything. In most classes, there would be a comment made, an opinion voiced and a rebuttal given. I would sit in rapt attention and awe, desperately trying to think deep thoughts. I blushed at my inability to keep up with my classmates. It took a while for me to realise that their opinions might not have any intellectual depth at all. It was just important to be heard.

7.They can be as quiet as any class in Singapore.

My lecturers in Singapore would rebuke us for not speaking up, and encouraged us to emulate the constructive and stimulating environment of US colleges, where every student contributes meaningfully. In reality, however, classes and lectures there could be deafeningly silent, too. The same few students speak up, as the rest furiously type into their laptops - catching up with friends on AOL.

Laurelle He, 25, is a recent graduate of the National University of Singapore, and currently works in the civil service. She spent a semester at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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