With my first year of college under my belt, I embarked on a new journey—an international journey. In the spring semester, my family announced that they would be permanently moving to Singapore. Goodbye to my old home and community, and welcome to a different country, culture, and climate. Many things I learned from my freshman year at Templeton last year came to life during my time in this new community. Here are just a few of these things.
1. We are all truth-seekers.
The Great Conversation is one that transcends all boundaries: time and place included.
Local Singaporeans are friendly and hospitable, giving me the opportunity for many conversations. Mainly they wanted to discuss what I was doing there, but also what I was reading (because you can always find me with a book in my purse). This would start a conversation about Eastern and Western authors. I began to see that people here really care about knowing how their lives fit into the grand scheme of the world. Many people I met and conversed with believed more in the astrological universe and relied on truths from horoscopes, tarot cards, or psychics. However tentative I was towards these means of knowledge, I began to understand the intention of their hearts. They desired to see reality for what it was. They struggled with the freedom given to us by God; as Ivan says in The Brothers Karamazov, “For the secret of human existence does not consist in living, merely, but in what one lives for…There is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting for him, either.” Humans, no matter the time and place, struggle to know what is the right thing to do and what we ought to do. We take different means and approaches that give us different answers, but the desire of our being becomes clear: we want to know how to be good humans. Our existence and being are not coincidental and haphazard, but meaningful and rich.
2. How we speak to one another is very important.
I juggled a few employment opportunities during my time in Singapore, but my favorite was working as an English tutor. I worked with three vastly different students, a woman in her mid-forties who had some broken English, a thirteen-year-old girl who could speak English but could not write or read, and a five year old who had minimal exposure to English. The first thing I learned was I do not think about what I say enough. My words often lack intentionality. I barely understand or consider a great deal of the phrases and idioms I use. When I was forced to be intentional and clear with my words, it hit me how powerful our language is. Countless nuances and shades between words are ignored or mumbled together. Not only do we need to embrace the nuances and subtlety in our language, we need to be clear, precise, and appropriate in our usage. I had to be very intentional and thoughtful in how I spoke to my different students. It was as If I was writing an essay for Dr. Richards or Dr. Cary in real time. The rules of what to speak about and how to speak that Dr. Cary set out in my first semester in Western Civilization became my guidebook for conversing. The art of communication, as a primary step on the way to conversation, became strikingly clear to me. It occurred to me how presumptuous I am when I speak. I assume a listener understands my heart and intention without much care for the words. Yet it is usually quite the opposite. We need to be precise with the words to communicate our heart and intention. I cannot be blinded by my perspective and good intentions.
3. Learning is only successful with love.
My youngest student, a five-year-old girl, did not have much regard or intention to learn English. What she did love was coloring, playing, and telling me stories in her own charade way. Most sessions I spent prying and coaxing her to
get through her lesson. I even stooped to bribing her with gummy bears. One day I was quite frustrated and just decided to let her play with the materials I planned for her lesson. To my amazement, she got through the whole lesson in her own fashion. I had been forcing a system of instruction on her that was not conducive to learning. I did not let her explore and wonder. After I let her take initiative, she began to learn at an exponential rate. She did want to know, but she did not want to know in the way I was teaching her. I became more relaxed in our lessons and even began to view them as leisure. Some sessions were almost entirely spent playing chess and talking about her dog. I would have normally objected as it is not ‘structured learning’ and does not produce strict results. However, it was in this period that she would listen to me as a person and not merely repeat what I was saying. It was in this unrestricted wonder that her love and inquiry expanded. Also in this period, I developed a real love for her as well. I began to take her on outings with my four-year-old twin brothers. My brothers have some exposure with Chinese, but their verbal communication was very limited. However, that did not hinder their play, imagination, and friendship. Every day when I left for work, my brother, Ryan, would ask to come see my student. Learning alongside one another bonds two people quietly. I saw it with my brothers and myself with my young student. She was one of the hardest people to say goodbye to. In a lot of ways, she and I fostered a community similar to Templeton. We allowed each other the space to grow and learn, but still listened to each other. It was not merely a relationship of utility we began to do life together in very tangible ways. However the requirement for this relationship was love first. Learning thrives in Templeton because we are first lovers of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Living across the globe was difficult, even if it was just for a summer. At times, I felt alone and isolated from my surroundings. However, traveling to a vastly different place allowed me to recognize the importance of many aspects of my home community. The more time I spent there, the more I began to see these aspects reflected in others who originally seemed foreign.
Giana Cirulli (’20) is a Templeton scholar studying Mathematics.