Virtual FACT 2021 for Global Humanities: Literature, Philosophy and Ethics @ Universiti Brunei Darussalam (GHxUBD) was a virtual joint programme that spanned over 3 days, from 26 to 28 October 2021. Before I signed up for this virtual FACT programme, I had many inhibitions. Was the programme being virtual going to compromise the full experience of an immersion programme? Would I be able to contribute productively to the discussions being just a term 1 Freshmore? Despite all these questions, I took the leap of faith, signed up for it, and I would say that it was one of the best decisions I have made. If you want to know why, please do read on as I share with you the experience I had during the programme!
On Day 1, after the opening address from Professor and Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) at SUTD, Prof. Lim Sun Sun, and from Director of Global Relations at UBD, Dr. Sabrina Daud, we proceeded to view the shared Miro board that students from both schools were tasked to key fun facts in a few days prior. To break the ice and kickstart some interaction between us, we commented on each other’s fun facts with questions and got to know each other a lot better. A student from UBD has 20 cats (and counting!) in her house! We also made use of the opportunity to learn more about the difference in lifestyles in both countries and exchanged meaningful insight that added a lot of value to the improvement of our daily lives.
We moved on to the second round of icebreakers, where we utilised Google Jamboard to share about our favourite parts of our culture and draw parallels or differences between them. We were split into breakout rooms where I first met my groupmates! I felt like this was the part of the programme that first drew me into Brunei culture and planted the seeds of my friendship with the UBD students. One of them shared some of the places that she visited while she was in Singapore like the Flyer, as well as iLight Singapore, which she really enjoyed. Then, we shared about our national foods and they introduced me to ambuyat, which is a food that is only found in Brunei and in certain areas of Indonesia and Malaysia. I cannot wait to try it one day; it is exactly the type of food that I have been waiting to have for the whole of my life!
After lunch, we had our very first lecture on the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) by Ms. Noralipah Mohamed, Lecturer from the Academy of Brunei Studies in UBD. It was a very important lecture which laid the foundations of the content we learnt for the other days. MIB is the national philosophy of Brunei and consists of Malay culture and customs, teachings of Islamic laws and values and the monarchy system, all of which are to be practiced and held to high regard by the people in Brunei. This was an eye-opener for me as it was really different from the way Singapore is, being a multi-racial and multi-religious society, but also really unlocked a brand new perspective in me.
On Day 2, we had our second lecture on Early Brunei (10th to 19th century) and its challenges faced and gradual decline, by Dr. Stephen Druce, Senior Professor from Academy of Brunei Studies in UBD. It was very interesting to me as I finally got to dive my hands into Bruneian history and geography. As an avid history and geography learner, I was very intrigued throughout the lecture and went on to research more about certain events that were covered during the lecture, so much so I almost forgot about lunch!
When my group proceeded to the breakout room for discussion on the video essay that we had to complete by the end of the programme, we had a lively discussion about certain issues that were brought up in the lecture. Our UBD friends would often add tremendous value to the discussions and allowed us SUTD students to gain a fresher and more accurate perspective of the historical events that occurred.
On Day 3, we had lectures by 2 faculty members – One was by Dr. Kathrina Daud, Assistant Professor in the English Studies programme at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in UBD, which was a detailed introduction to Bruneian literature. The other lecture was by Dr. Nazry Bahrawi, Senior Lecturer from the HASS cluster in SUTD. These were 2 very lively and engaging lectures that allowed us to take a closer look at some important literature from Brunei and Singapore and their impact to the society. This also allowed us to compare between the literature scenes in both countries and there were many pointers both countries could take away from each other to help grow their respective scenes.
When my group gathered in the breakout room for the very last time, there was a sour feeling. We were all very focused on working together to deliver a good final video essay for submission to show that we really have learnt a lot from this programme, but at the back of our heads, we all knew this might be the last time we could “gather” together. We forged such a strong bond with each other through these 3 days and connected over so many things; it felt like we were family already. Luckily, we all shared our contacts in our group chat so we could always connect with each other virtually, and who knows, when we visit each other’s countries, we could give each other a tour!
After the discussion, there was a closing ceremony where representatives from UBD and SUTD gave their closing addresses and students from both schools shared about their experiences, and it so happened that everyone who volunteered to speak were from my group!
To end off, I would like to extend my biggest thanks to Dr. Nazry Bahrawi and the SUTD Office of International Relations, because without their tireless planning and persistence through this pandemic, none of this would have happened. So, if you are seeing this, thank you so much and I really appreciate it!
I would also like to thank SUTD for this great opportunity that allowed me to learn so much about a different culture and grow a new lens to look at regional issues in a different but more informed light, while making a few new friends on the way! Despite the programme being conducted virtually, I felt the warmth from the UBD faculty and students throughout the 3 days and I sincerely hope they felt the same from our side too. I also really appreciated the opportunity to share with the UBD faculty and students about Singapore and our interesting culture, and I am sure they learnt a lot too! Participating in this programme has really piqued my interest for Brunei and its culture. I cannot wait to learn more about it through its literature and films, and of course I hope to visit Brunei and explore its rainforests in the near future when the pandemic gets better! Meanwhile, allow me to jump on this discord call with my new friend from Brunei and watch the Bruneian film “Akademi” together!
Written by: Ang Jia Le, Boston (Class of 2025)