In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit if you're interested in more recent writing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

End of freshers

So I'm finally out of Cambridge for the year, and it's been an amazing past year. I really enjoyed the courses (Earth Sciences, Evolution & Behaviour, Physiology and Mathematical Biology), and living abroad for the first time on my own has been a pretty interesting experience.

I guess the first thing that really hits you when you're overseas is the language, or the accent. Back home in Singapore, when speaking to the ang mohs, or westerners/foreigners, I wouldn't speak with an accent. But after coming here, and realising that they really don't quite get what you're saying in Singaporean accent, I now have a chapalang, or mixed accent. But they seem to get me fine. I do find that accent is a bit of a barrier when it comes to speaking up or in front of a crowd though, cos I wonder if anyone understands me.

But I do tend to be a bit more vocal than most, especially when it comes to things that I really care about. And having a deep interest in stuff that most others of the same age don't quite have, also means I have to have the courage to go for events and stuff alone. It helps having done a gap year, and talking to lots of people, and I generally enjoy going for events even if on my own and chatting with random strangers, as long as everyone's a stranger as well and there aren't cliques. Which is one thing I didn't quite enjoy about college, was that people seem to be quite clique-ish and exclusive :/

But anyway, coming abroad, you really need to put yourself out of your comfort zone (if you want to get the most out of the experience), and push yourself to your limits.

I've also been continually impressed by how the lecturers all emphasise that they're not teaching just to prepare us for the exams but more for us to know how to publish proper scientific data and papers etc. It's just a refreshing change from always studying just for exams, as though exams were the end goal in itself, and not just a means.

But it also depends on what college you're in, perhaps. What they say about all colleges being same is a lie. For example, there's free laundry at Emmanuel College (Emma), free biscuits in various libraries during exam term at Trinity Hall and Emma, nice facilities that students can book in Emma, Clare College, Newnham College and Pembroke College is really environmental friendly, and Newnham and Peterhouse has nice rooms... And much more I'm sure. It's just hard to get such information out of the web, for international students who don't have the opportunity to come for open houses and visit the colleges.

It's not all been that great though, home sickness hits everyone. People think that just cos I have done quite a bit of travelling, I don't really get that homesick. But there is a difference between going somewhere on holiday and travelling and knowing you're gonna go back home soon, and living somewhere else on a daily basis and going back home being a distant future event. I find it quite interesting though, that for all that I was terrible at chinese and barely speak it at home, when homesickness hits, I play chinese songs. And generally, having Singaporean friends around who can cook Singaporean food helps (: Which I'm really grateful for. [interesting article on Thought Catalog: Why Coming Home is Hard) It also helps to have a stock of milo that lasts all through the 9 months :D

I've also realised how ill-disciplined I am, especially with regard to exercise and studies. I think the gap year made me a bit more relaxed over academics and studying, and there's also generally just been so much stuff happening that I just don't exercise/study as much as I should. You really need to get organised and stay organised, cos going overseas and living on your own, you have to cope more or less on your own. Not just for laundry and food, but also there's not really anyone who will take care of you when you're ill, or be extra nice to you just cos it's exam term. You really gotta get everything together on your own, and try not to fall sick. Which I thankfully haven't.

It's also really hard to make good friends. Perhaps it's just the structure of the academic year here in Cambridge, cos we've got 3 8-week terms and 2 5-week breaks as well as 3 months of Summer, meaning you barely spend time with people during the term. It takes extra effort to meet up with people, especially when everyone's so busy.

Overall though, I've had an amazing first year, got an exciting Summer ahead, and I'm so looking forward to going back home to Singapore!

A quick shout out to all my friends who have kindly donated to my Summer trips, be they donations to Practical Action for the Mt Kilimanjaro climb, or to my Operation Wallacea volunteering stint in South Africa (: I've managed to raise almost everything that's required for the expeditions, thanks to all your generous support, as well as support from my college and the Donald Robertson travel fund.

I've now got about close to two weeks here in Juniper Hall in Surrey, England for my Ecology field trip, followed by my Mt Kilimanjaro climb and then a two weeks safari in Tanzania with my parents (: A month in South Africa at Balule Reserve and diving at Sodwana Bay, before finally going back to home soil. And then it's back to Cambridge for my Geology field trip, and the start of second year in Cambridge!

Really looking forward to it all (:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Jocelyne's Summer 2013

I don't usually post my travel plans, but it's different this time. Travels in the past (during December holidays) were family holidays. And during my gap year, I worked to fund (most of) them.

Now though, because fundraising seems to be the favourite past-time of the Brits, when I signed up for a Mt Kilimanjaro climb and an Operation Wallacea biodiversity conservation research expedition, we are to raise funds for our trips. Hence, I would greatly appreciate any little donation to either of my Summer projects.

[Update 26 Jan: If you'd like to donate but do not wish to do so via the fundraising pages (they charge some fees), feel free to text/message/email me (jocelyne[dot]sze[at]gmail[dot]com) and I will provide you with my (Singapore or UK) bank account. Thanks :)]

Support my charity climb!

I'll be doing a charity climb of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, which is the highest peak in Africa. It's done with Student Adventures, and the money raised will go to Practical Action.

Why am I doing this?
I really want to climb Mt Kili one day. I enjoy outdoor activities, and have climbed Mt Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia in 2009, as well as attempted to scale Island Peak in Khumbu, Nepal in 2011. I love being outdoors. Though I think mountaineering is an innately selfish sport, the adventure seeker in me is hard to repress. Climbing for charity makes mountaineering results in some good at least!
At the summit of Mt Kinabalu with my brother Jeremy in June 2009
As close as I got to the summit of Island Peak in Oct 2011

Doing this charity climb will help raise awareness about Practical Action & raise funds for them to do their work (as they wouldn't be able to raise that much money otherwise)

What is Practical Action about?
Practical Action is a charity that introduces technology to developing countries to help bring people out of poverty. They work on energy, food and agriculture, water and sanitation, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, markets, technology, infrastructure and urban poverty issues, amongst others.

Practical Action works alongside communities to find practical solutions to the poverty they face. We see technology as a vital contributor to people's livelihoods. Our definition of technology includes physical infrastructure, machinery and equipment, knowledge and skills and the capacity to organise and use all of these.
We actively seek to work with communities and adopt a collaborative approach, sharing knowledge and experience. We increase our impact by scaling success pushing for policy change that directly benefits poor communities.
Practical Action's vision and mission
Vision – Technology justice: a sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technlogy is used for the benefit of all
Mission – To contribute to poor people's wellbeing, using technology to challenge poverty by: 
  • building the capabilities of poor men and women,
  • improving their access to technical options and knowledge, and
  • working with them to influence social, economic institutional systems for innovation and the use of technology. 
Why should you donate?
Well if you're thinking of getting me something, I'd much prefer a donation to this cause instead. If you're not, donating to a charity is always good! 

Just to make it clear, although I'm supposed to raise £2650, £1275 is my trip cost and £1375 goes to Practical Action. I'm only requesting for donations for the £1375 that goes to Practical Action. If you'd like to check Practical Action's accounts, you can do so here. From what I've seen, about 84% of their income (from donations and investments) goes towards their charitable activities. Of course, any additional funds raised that go towards reducing my personal cost will be very much appreciated!

Support my biodiversity research conservation field course!

I'll be going on an expedition with Operation Wallacea to South Africa as well.

Why am I doing this?
I want to be go into the field of conservation for a career, and every field experience I have will be useful and will equip me with necessary skills.
I've had limited experience in bush ecology, and I will be there as a research assistant for ongoing conservation projects in South Africa. I'll also be furthering my understanding of wildlife resource management and major conservation issues faced in the region.
Me in the Bintang-Hijau Forest Reserve in Gerik, Malaysia while volunteering with Rimba

What is Operation Wallacea about?
Operation Wallacea is an organisation that conducts expeditions to various biodiversity hotspots around the world to do baseline biodiversity surveys and other stuffs. It is funded by grants as well as students who join on their expeditions to gain field survey technique and ecology principles, or dissertation topics. work with local organisations to ensure that work done is translated into real life action.

Operation Wallacea is a network of academics from European and North American universities, who design and implement biodiversity and conservation management research programmes. Research is supported by students who join the programme, to strengthen their CV or resume, gain course credit, or collect data for a dissertation or thesis. Academics benefit from funding for high quality fieldwork enabling them to publish papers in peer reviewed journals. This model enables the collection of large temporal and spatial datasets used for assessing the effectiveness of conservation management interventions.
Operation Wallacea is an organisation funded by tuition fees that runs a series of biological and conservation management research programmes that operate in remote locations across the world. These expeditions are designed with specific wildlife conservation aims in mind - from identifying areas needing protection, through to implementing and assessing conservation management programmes. What is different about Operation Wallacea is that large teams of university academics who are specialists in various aspects of biodiversity or social and economic studies are concentrated at the target study sites giving volunteers the opportunity to work on a range of projects.
Why should you donate?
This project would really let me learn a lot about bush ecology hands on, and I'd very much appreciate your support! If you're not any relation of mine, there's no particular reason why your hard earned money should go towards a stranger like me, but if you've got some cash to spare and would like to support someone's dreams :) I'd appreciate it very much :D

I will be raising US$2920/£1822 for this expedition, and every cent/penny will just be going to supporting me on my expedition. Which sounds like a lot for me to ask of you :X 

All that said, this is not a "do or die" operation for me, and I will somehow or other find a way to go on my Summer programmes. Even so, I would really appreciate any help I can get (but if you're tied up at the moment yourself, then don't worry about me), Any amount at all would be appreciated (even S$5!), thank you very much! 谢谢您! Terima Kasih! Merci! ¡gracias! Obrigada! Kapoonkah!

And because I believe in democracy, you have a chance to exercise your right to choose between a proper charity organisation and me, if you'd like to support me, or not at all (:

Have a blessed year ahead and may it be a fulfilling and rewarding year! Life is not all about work and money and materialistic wealth; do spend time with family, friends, your hobbies, being happy, appreciating nature and our heritage and all things intangible (:

(coming out of) the cave.

Well not really, I don't tend to exhibit hermit-like behaviour even if it's exam period.

The exams were bad, so bad. It's the first time I feel like I could actually cry during an exam, that I would hand in half-empty scripts, that my stomach cramped from the fear. I usually moan and whine about exams, but most are fine, I can at least write something. This was so bad that you're gripped by the fear of handing in blank script cos they tested everything that you wouldn't think would come out (having done a couple of past year papers and all). The range of topics covered in the syllabus is like insanely large, and they test just a fraction of it. and the fraction that's tested always happens to be the one that you didnt study. And it's such a tragedy when they don't test the stuff that you've been studying so hard for - I felt quite cheated.

Really, this is worse than As. For A levels, you study hard, you prepare, you do tonnes of TYS that you've got answers for and you know the model answer and what to write and you've got time to think during the exam. Also, if you fail your As, you can retake it. Not cool, but you can.

Failing these exams, you get kicked out (or so I was told). No retakes. No chances.

No wonder they had to repeatedly reassure us that first year grades don't count to the degree and it's quite hard to fail.

Apart from the stress of cramming and the fear of failing, I also tend to get homesick during exams cos nothing else to distract. So I just end up emo-ing around and doing nothing productive in particular. And feeling guilty about that subsequently. Vicious cycle, not cool.

A late night realisation at 1.20am on 9 June. I've just finished covering sedimentary facies, the climate system, in the midst of British geological history. And I realise I really like what I study (or rather, I remember that I really like it), the things I learn. That the climate is affected by plate tectonics, the movement of continents, earth orbital movements (precession, eccentricity, tilt), green house gases, solar constant, reflectivity and all sorts of things. How mountains are made. I don't think I can remember the details sufficiently to regurgitate what they want during exams, but I'm happy to know the mechanics of the systems. Does it really matter that I got a 2:2? I know that I know what I know. I say that now, but when results are out, I'll probably still be depressed. But for now, peace.

So the nightmarish week is all over now, till a year later. It's been an experience, sitting for exams again, and I really hope I'll get a decent grade. Or I'll be a disgrace to my country, as my younger bro reminded me. :P

The Cave - Mumford & Sons
It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you've left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker's hand

So make your siren's call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

Monday, June 03, 2013

Insidious vices

You don't usually think about it. Life, is so much more than technology, it's about going out and breathing fresh air and seeing the fluffy clouds in the sky etc, etc, etc. Who cares about work and studying? Live in the moment.


But when something happens – a charger refuses to charge, or a programme you really need refuses to load – the whole world crashes. 

My macbook stopped charging sometime yesterday, but I thought it was just one of its weird idiosyncrasies and that it would be fine, so I left it. And cos my phone adaptor spoilt, I usually charge through my laptop. Woke up this morning and got a shock when I realised my phone had was on a very low battery power probably because my laptop had run out of juice as well.


10 years ago, this wasn't even a problem for me. Fair enough, I was only 11, but I think quite a few 11 year-olds now have laptops and iphones. 10 years ago, I was happy enough to be waiting 10 minutes for the shared PC at home/in school to start up, and programmes hanging and crashing were a norm, even if frustrating.


Now: instant, snappy start up please. What, iTunes keeps crashing?? *rage* Why is my internet refusing to load, this is not the time to throw a tantrum!


When everything works smoothly, batteries charged and programmes working and internet loading, the world is fine. I can pretend my life does not revolve around all this technology, that I really was meant to be "in the wild". 


But when something (quite trivial really, a battery that refuses to charge) happens, all that goes out of the window.



If anything, this small "#21stcenturycrisis" made me realise how much more reliant I am on technology than I thought myself to be. I just don't usually think about it I guess. It's a given.