SciencesPo Pre-College Programme 2020 Reflection 1

Over the summer, I applied to the Paris Institute of Political Studies, also known as SciencesPo and I, fortunately, got admitted! SciencesPo is most well known for political science and international studies in the world and ranks 2nd (2020) globally for these courses, just after Harvard and Oxford. So, I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in their Summer School programme. Six of the eight Presidents of the French Fifth Republic have attended Sciences Po Georges Pompidou, François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy (who did not graduate), François Hollande, and Emmanuel Macron. There are also other alumni such as Christian Dior, Roxanne Varza, Pascal Lamy and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The time that I spent at SciencesPo was very enthralling and I was very excited to start the summer course not only because of its reputation but also because of the course choices. I felt as though they were very relevant to today’s world and to what I am learning in school at the moment. After this experience, I feel as though I will be able to make better connections with the subjects I am studying now. 


Throughout the course of two weeks, I had to attend four masterclasses, European Contemporary Challenges, Sustainable Development, Human Security and Populism vs Democracy. Before each of these masterclasses, we had a tutorial session which would give us context on what we would be learning and within these tutorials, we would have to give presentations as an extension of our learning. Additionally, we had to select an elective course, I had chosen Social Class: Understanding How Inequalities Shapes Our Lives. My tutorial teacher was Adrien Estève and my elective professor, Benjamin Brundu-Gonzalez. Throughout this course, we were not only graded through participation but also through a Petit (small) Oral and a written exam on the last day (the presentation for the tutorial session was also graded). 

Book Club: The Outsider

This weekend I read The Outsider by Albert Camus. While I read the book, the title resonated with me as it reminded me of how people are bounded by the standards and expectations of society, standards that are set by peers and family alike. When people don’t follow certain standards, they are immediately cast aside as ‘outsiders’. The book focuses on the theme of individual vs society, the power struggles between the two for supremacy, a theme that is prevalent in other novels. In my mind, I find the book to be similar to The Great Gatsby where Jay purposely hosts such large parties, just to find Daisy and tempt her to have another life with him – he seems to be courting society not because society is important to him but because he wants to build a life with Daisy away from society. It is also similar to A Clockwork Orange where Alex rapes and kills a woman with his friends without any remorse and refuses to accept the carnal nature of his crimes. His only connection with society or humanity was Beethoven’s music, but eventually, in the psychiatric ward he was placed in, music was taken away from him and that is what devastates him. Another representation of straying away from society’s expectations is Marlow from Heart of Darkness who ventures further into the African heartland towards a more primitive society, where he finally finds himself. However, what is common between all of these characters (except maybe Gatsby) is that by the end of their trials with society, they always find a reason to convince themselves that what they are doing is right –  for example, Alex holds onto his music which essentially allows him to think of vulgar deeds just as Meursault at the end consoles himself with the thought, “For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.”


Something I found fascinating in this book is how absurd society really is. I found it threatening that we think of ourselves as members of our society, yet we cannot live in one that behaves absurdly. We find it difficult to live up to the norms because we create these norms in accordance with social standards that are different from our individual preferences. The society is a collective, a sort of cooperative that cannot accommodate the quirks and idiosyncrasies of each individual. Consequently, there is a distance between the individual and society, much like what happens to Meursault. 


Just in the first scene, Meursault finds himself to be unresponsive to his mother’s death, “Mother passed away. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” The same insensitivity is at work during one of his dates with his girlfriend, Marie, ” A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her that it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so. She looked sad.”  He appears even more sadistic in the pivotal scene when he shoots the Arab who abused his friend, Raymond’s mistress, “And fired four more times at a lifeless body and bullets sank in without leaving a mark.” The world that Camus portrays is actually our world, where relationships are meaningless, humanity is dead and society doesn’t hold any standards. Where the only positive is the honesty with which Meursault clings onto his insensitivity. That’s the only trait that redeems this character and the society he lives in. 

Book Club: Memoirs of my Melancholy Whores

This afternoon I decided to read Memoirs of my Melancholy Whores by Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez. Interestingly, he wrote this when he was 77, obviously at a ripe old age by when he had got to see quite a bit of life. A book of a mere 115 pages, shorter than an anthology of poems, the book really stirred me up. Firstly, it did not traumatize me as I had expected, a book on the relationship between a 91-year-old and a 14-year-old would. I just seemed to get it. Secondly, I felt the book is not at all about the two main characters – the scholar/maestro/narrator and the young girl who he calls Delgadina but, it is his comment about the concept of love and its boundaries. Thirdly, it’s the narrative style which reads almost like a college student’s diary, without the dates but with enough details to explain the chronology. It’s an easy read like maybe a John Green and yet it tells a story that verges on a fantasy. A story of finding love between the ages of 90 and 100, somewhere in strife-torn Columbia. 


Very early on in the book, its the narrator’s 90th birthday and he wants to gift himself a night of love with a virgin and sets about looking for a box of treasures and says, “No old man forgets where he has hidden his treasure.” The treasure that he refers to is his book full of the names and addresses of the prostitutes he has slept with in his past life. Although I felt I should be shocked, I wasn’t. Instead, I realized that “treasure” could actually refer to anything – a gift, something personal, an expensive inheritance but in this case, it’s a list of whores which means that illicit/paid relationships can also be precious. The narrator is a man who seeks a paid night out as a way to feel the power that he doesn’t have as a low-wage, aged journalist who is obviously at the end of his career and life. This is why Rosa, the brothel manager asks, “What are you trying to prove?”. Frankly, it is slightly pathetic that on his 90th birthday the only thing that appears “magical” to him is the idea of having paid sex with a young virginal girl. And the ironical part of it is, he decides to call her Delgadina which refers to a Mexican folk song about a young lady who disobeys her father’s wish to be his wife, ending with her tragic death. This implies that he is aware of the drastic age difference and the perversion of it all. And yet, he falls inexplicably and obsessively in love with her. But despite his love, does he really get over his solitude? He says on page 71, when they are quite deeply involved in the relationship, “Dear girl, we’re alone in the world.”  This could work in both ways – he could be referring to the fact that society would ostracise them for their illicit love but also that despite the love and a relationship, every individual remains alone. Whereas the narrator puts in so much effort into the relationship and takes so much care of Delgadina, she just seems to sleep through it all. Even on the day of her birthday when he visits her, he describes her beauty in sleep. It seems just as the narrator does not want to know her real name, he doesn’t want to get to really know her either. Maybe, he doesn’t want her to lose her innocence and maybe he is more in love with the idea of love than he is with her. By the end of the 10 years though, he is finally ready for death, having experienced love, “It was, at last, real life, with my heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony of any day after my hundredth birthday” 


I liked the book because it cancelled every stereotype that I could think of. While in Lolita which I had read last year, the author Vladimir Nabokov seeks to create a new stereotype of a pedophile with a love interest in his own stepdaughter, in this book, Garcia Márquez is actually destroying every hierarchy and archetype that controls our mind. This includes age boundaries, society’s perception of prostitutes, the whole idea of not living your life till it is too late and the play of power between genders – whereas the narrator is the one with the power as Delgadina’s customer, it is actually she who has the power as he is almost willing to do anything to keep her in his life. 

“Teller-Proof” Stories Gore by Sarah Ellis

Gore by Sarah Ellis



Twins are known to have a very special bond. From the moment of their birth they are so identical they are almost equivalent to soulmates. Their relationship is linked by feelings of love and kinship which makes both halves feel like the same individual. It is said that twins that were separated at birth and meet as adults are able to discover an absurd amount of coincidences in their lives. They have more in common than they think, from the names of their wives and children to the clothes that their best men wore at their wedding. They’ll come to realize that they have the same breed of pets and use the same specific brand of toiletries. Thus, proving that the relationship between twins is one of the strongest connections in the world. 


What a load of horse crap. 


Soul-mate? Confidante?


 God forbid. 


Amy can’t even fathom that she and Lucas are in the same family, let alone being twins. To tell the truth, she can’t even believe that they’re the same species. In her eyes, Lucas is essentially an ‘unevolved thugoid’ and a detestable sibling. Amy is almost too sure that Lucas managed to obtain all of the nutrition in the womb, making him stronger, faster and bigger leaving her frail and incapacitated. However, as the years have passed, Amy’s two areas of superior power are her extensive vocabulary and her gift for voice impersonation. 


Lucas attacks without provocation. The other day, Amy was sitting reading. She was finally able to read a copy of R.L Tankard from the library. The story is essentially about this girl who has a babysitting job in an apartment building on the twenty-sixth floor. When she arrives at the apartment, the baby is already asleep, so she hasn’t seen it yet. While watching TV, she thinks she hears a noise from the baby’s room….


She muted the TV for a minute and in the sudden silence, she heard the noise again, but louder. It was a heavy wet noise, like the sound of a big piece of raw meat being flung to the floor. She stared at the door to the nursery. It was outlined in a band of crepuscular light. She stood up and, with her heart pounding in her ears, she approached the room-




Lucas leans over and snatched the book from Amy’s hands and runs in the bathroom, the sound of the closing door, echoing through the house. Amy pleads to have her book back as Lucas threatens to rip the pages of the book one by one, and flush them down the toilet. 


Amy tries to deal with him, even going as far as to doing his chores. However, Lucas, microbrain that he is, isn’t falling for it. After attempting to convince Lucas to return her book, she collapses on the couch in despair. Amy feels weaponless, like a —. 


Well, not quite. 


Suddenly, there’s a knock at the door. Amy rushes to answer the door, as the knocking grows louder. There are two, no, three of them. Faceless, hooded beings crowded together, pressed up against the door. This is Amy’s first mistake, leaving the door open a split second too late to slam the door. They are inside. They are silent. Amy rushes to the bathroom door, violently pushing at the handle, begging to be let it. Lucas laughs from inside as the hooded figures slowly make their way towards Amy. 


A cold sweat breaks out over Amy’s body. The hooded figure’s icy fingers wrap around her wrist, slowly dragging her away from the door, her hand slipping from the handle, nails scratching against the surface of the floor. The door rattles. 


Amy’s bloodcurdling scream leaves Lucas silent behind the door. She escapes from the figure’s grasp, beating its masked face. Chairs and side tables fall as she crashes past them. Magazines fly through the air and crash against the walls. She dashes to the telephone just outside the hall and dials Emergency. After a century of rings, someone finally answers. 


“Do you wish police, ambulance or fire?”


Amy is choked with sobs as she begs for the police. 


Click. The line goes dead. Amy drops the receiver as the cold, wet fingers wrap around her neck. Paralyzed with fear Amy drops to the ground like a stone and buries her face with her hands. The bitter cold courses through Amy’s body, forcing her to become one of them. With her last breath, she begs “Lucas, break the window. Get out. For pity’s sake, don’t come out here.” 


Then silence. The only sound is the telephone receiver thudding against the wall. 


Lucas calls out to her, to receive no response. His voice shrinks as he calls her name. The telephone’s humanoid voice rings through the noiseless hall. 


The bathroom door opens slowly. Amy sits, curled up behind it. She holds her breath. Two steps, that’s all she needs. Two steps. 




Two steps it is. Amy grabs the door, swinging around it, jumping into the bathroom and turning the lock. Success! Victory! Amy settles down on the bathroom floor, holding the book to her chest. She catches her breath and frantically flips through the pages. 


So, what was in the baby’s room?


CAS Reflection

Due to the coronavirus case numbers increasing, we have been asked to stay under quarantine for a longer period of time. This has effectively put on hold our CAS activities. However, we were able to find some kinds of solutions to keep ourselves actively involved. 


The activities I was participating in, origami and pottery and my service, RDA have been immensely affected. However, at home, I have access to origami paper and am able to create more sea creatures which I am putting together for an origami aquarium. Although I am unable to do pottery or volunteer at the Riding for Disabled centre, I have been able to request our school art department for certain supplies once the circuit breaker period had ended. I was able to ask for supplies such as gouache paint, ink, cardboard and watercolour. These supplies will help me experiment with new styles and genres of art. Apart from watercolour and cardboard, I have never dabbled in creating art pieces with gouache paint or ink. I intend to teach myself these skills in the coming weeks. Although without a mentor to teach me it will be difficult, my goal is to complete at least three art pieces that I will be satisfied with.  


Similarly, due to the lockdown, I have been unable to participate in RDA and our current system of creating blogs has not really taken off as we are finding difficulty in writing blogs without learning new skills in the centre. Beyond being a sidewalker, we have been unable to move up to another level. However, once the lockdown ends, I will not only be able to return to RDA but I also intend to take my skill of working with less-abled children forward. While at the RDA I had greatly enjoyed working with the children as it taught me to be patient, understanding and sensitive, especially how these children are not as different from us as they seem. All they want is to just have fun! What I intend to do after, though it might be difficult to join a new group I am not accustomed to, I plan to join the Sarada Kindergarten, Singapore since they have a special program for differently-abled children. 


Two other activities that I am really passionate about and would want to lend my voice to are working with animals and migrant workers in Singapore. For the first, I have recently registered as a volunteer at Jurong Bird Park for Singapore’s Wildlife Reserve and received an email saying,  that they will get back to me once they can confirm that they can resume volunteer training. This will be a serious challenge for me as it will be fairly technical in learning the behavioural patterns and habitats of these animals. It also requires serious time commitment of 6 months of work, but if I am able to do it, it will be very satisfying and beneficial for me. 

There is also an organisation in Singapore called HOME, which works with migrant workers and their rights. While I was always aware of migrant workers, the Coronavirus has really made up sit up and notice them as the deadly pandemic has swept through their dormitories. To aid them, my family and I have donated to 

My family and I have also been closely associated with the Ramakrishna Mission of Singapore which works in providing food and rations to the migrant workers. I have also written to HOME as a volunteer and will be participating in the oncoming awareness talk.

Additionally for physical activities, I am taking initiative to cycle 3km every day after online school ends so that I can remain physically fit. My goal is to increase the number of kilometres every week. 

Independent Reading (Imagine Me Gone) and Fun Home

Over the last couple of weeks, I finished reading a couple of books, Imagine me gone (Adam Haslett), A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess) and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (JRR. Tolkein). 


Imagine Me Gone is essentially about a depressed man who to a certain extent is unable to find happiness as the people around him constantly let him down. The protagonist Michael finds it impossible to find a lover due to his mental condition which he inherited from his late father. He becomes obsessed with women who are unattainable because they are married or lesbians. His obsession causes them to avoid him at times. This increases his anxiety. He also has problems getting into college and later graduate school. While he finally gets in both, he does not finish. He drops out of college and a mental breakdown forces him to leave graduate school and move in with his mother. Throughout his life, he has taken out loans with no prospects of being able to pay them back. This also adds to his anxiety. Medication is the only thing that allows him to cope, but the more medication he takes, the more he needs. When Michael has anxiety attacks, he turns to his family for help. They attempt to support him as he chases after the girls who do not show up for dates and he feels as though he cannot breathe. Supporting him often means ignoring others or comes at a financial expense. At the same time, they are trying to manage their own lives. His sister, Celia is not happy with her current job and has problems committing to her live-in boyfriend. While his brother, Alec is gay and also has commitment issues. Michael’s inability to pay back his loans burdens his mother. Alec decides to intervene and proposes to help Michael slowly get off his medication. Michael agrees to give it a try as he wants what his family want for him. However, Michael cannot cope without his medication and dies, leaving a message for his family, where they finally understand him. Michael’s life has a very obvious connection with Fun Home’s Bruce Bechdel. Fun Home hones in on how Alison and Bruce are only able to connect in the later part of her teenage years through her love of books. The book focuses on the relationship and the possible causes that led to Bruce’s suicidal death as well as aspects of him that Alison did not know as a child. This is similar to Michael’s siblings who are unable to completely understand his problems, not until he dies. The misunderstanding between Michael and his family is equally evident in the relationship between Alison and her father where Bruce built walls around himself to hide or imprison himself behind. Like Bruce, Michael seems to be lost behind those walls and bursts out in various monstrous ways but never seems at ease with who he is.

CAS reflection: ORIGAMI

Although the recent coronavirus outbreak has slightly hindered the number of outdoor activities I have been able to do, I have access to origami paper which has allowed me to continue my experimenting with the art of origami. I have really been enjoying making these different pieces of paper art. I think that they are really helpful for wellness and well being. It is very therapeutic in times of stress, especially during what we are facing now. What I really enjoy the most about origami is that even though is it such a tedious process, the outcome is always beautiful and satisfying.

Origami is very special as for Japan it is the cultural symbol of simplicity, beauty, and peace. It is a way of creating something beautiful from something as simple as coloured paper.

My goal for this activity is to make almost like an aquarium of animals with different species such as dolphins, turtles and fishes. I think that the most challenging thing about this process is remembering the directions from the video and being able to replicate the actions again. It is also difficult to make sure that all the angles of the paper are equal so that the piece is able to balance on its own.


A Low Art from the Penelopiad (2006) by Margaret Atwood

In the prose A Low Art, from The Penelopiad (2006), Margaret Atwood’s creative retelling of The Odyssey is a monologue of Penelope’s point of view in the first person. Atwood conveys Penelope’s escape from her oppression and her life with Odysseus. 


The conflict in this prose is Penelope’s frustration of having to be bound to a life with Odysseus while she was alive. It is a monologue of her realization where she regrets not understanding Odysseus’ true nature, “He got away with everything, which was another of his specialities: getting away”. She describes her husband as tricky and a liar, yet she had only realized this once she was nothing but in a state of “bonelessness, listlessness, breathlessness.” where she realizes her mistakes in refusing to see the darker side of her relationship with Odysseus. The monologue shows the amount of freedom Penelope now has, but only after her death. However, Atwood is not only highlighting the intense amount of oppression Penelope experienced but she is also discussing how it is often that women, in general, are subjected to living to submission or docility. She is describing how her defences were fragile and brittle as she played the role of an oppressed woman who, “kept my mouth shut” and “didn’t dig deep”. Penelope fell into an abyss which gave her a fabricated “happy ending” where she would shut out anything that told her otherwise, 


Due to this, her action of “keeping the right doors locked”, later led her to realize that because she refused to speak out against Odysseus, she began to have no spine of her own, or as she mentions, she had no mouth through which she could speak. Penelope’s circumstance of realising her mistakes so late allowed certain truths to be revealed, truths which she herself (when alive) did not want to accept. She also realizes that her action of resisting the temptation of seduction from other suitors created a stereotype for all women, that they must always be obedient and faithful. Her life’s example was a “stick used to beat other women with”, it became a story for yarn-spinners to spin into a perfect stereotype for women. 


The monologue which is in a passive-aggressive tone is essentially a moral lesson for Penelope as she realizes her faults during her lifetime. 


On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer (1816) By John Keats


Following the conventional form of a sonnet, which is often used to express love, Keats expresses his admiration for Chapman’s version of Homer’s epic “The Odyssey”. Keats uses his poem as an opportunity to express the importance of appreciating poems which touch and deeply move a reader. In the poem, he explains how through the many “goodly states and kingdoms seen” he was able to find something in the literary world which satisfied him and gave him a reason to continue searching for more stories to unravel. More importantly, how he was yet to find more poems which would give him the creative satisfaction he craved. He expresses that of all the different things he has seen, he was never able to “breathe its pure serene” admitting that he was unable to find fulfilment until Chapman’s Homer.  


In poetry, he has found the gold that Cortez, and the other conquistadors he had read about in William Robertson’s History of America, which Cortez had searched for so hastily. He also alludes to the fact that Cortez is “stout,” that is, fearless, and that he is alert, “with eagle eyes.” So much so that his men stand about him in silent awe, looking “at each other with a wild surmise.” Keats secures this idea to help express his own feelings of having made a discovery with the world of poetry. 


Keats expresses his appreciation of Chapman’s version through the line, “felt I like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken;” alluding that he was finally able to find something he was able to hold on to. He was able to find something which brought a new perspective to his life because of the way it was revealed. The word “skies” implying that the version had broadened his perspective and that he was it was like heaven, giving him a realm better than those of gold. Keats is now able to venture and explore with his new discovery and this new world he has discovered for himself, allowing him to treat literature in ways that he hasn’t before.