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 http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The closing of another chapter in life.

After three long, yet short years, I am finally done with my undergraduate education. I have been extremely blessed and privileged to be able to attend Cambridge on a fully funded scholarship from the Jardine Foundation. I don't want to be pedantic about my time here being a life-changing experience and all that stuff, but I have really gained so much more than just a degree here.

Sunrise from Queens Road, along the backs of Kings College

I arrived in the United Kingdom, at the University of Cambridge about three years ago, already older than most of my peers at 20, having taken a gap year. I felt fairly self-assured and I knew what I wanted to do with my time here, and the rest of my life, more or less, which was probably more than can be said for most of my year mates. But despite my Raffles education and being accustomed to not being the smartest in school, it was still rather intimidating, especially the feeling of just being an outsider (not English/British, or even European). The accent, the drinking, the social norms and all, it took me a while to get the hang of them.

But in the three years, I know I've changed not just in terms of how much more I know about ecology/evolution/conservation/natural history, but also in the way I interact with others and my dress sense. I think I've become less risk-averse, more flexible about rules and approaching new ideas, game for more spontaneity and hopefully, more capable of holding an interesting and engaging conversation. I am less conscious of the age gap between me and my peers, and so perhaps act a little more/less like my age (depending on what you think I guess). I've become perhaps a little more introverted and introspective, feel more self-sufficient, and enjoy my solo time a lot more. At the same time, I don't think I've changed that much that people won't be able to recognise me; I think my core values and personality and character are still the same.

Peterhouse chapel during the e-Luminate Festival

As with most people, I plan quite a lot and set targets and aims, but seldom complete them. I remember in my notebook for my first year, I had a list of societies I wanted to join and things I wanted to accomplish and all that. I have managed to do a fair bit, like setting up and running the Nature Society and organising two climate and sustainability conferences. Attended perhaps as many talks and events and seminars and conferences to rival the actual number of lectures I have to attend for my undergraduate course. Done some night climbing. Met many cool and interesting people. Visited a good number of colleges and chapels (though not all 31). Learnt so much more about my faith, the Catholic church, history and traditions, all through Fisher House. Learnt some Spanish at the Language centre.

This year in particular, I managed to get a decent amount of reading done. Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, Callum Roberts' The Unnatural History of the Sea, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. Even textbooks like Jenny Clack's Gaining Ground, Tom Kemp's The Origin and Evolution of Mammals, Clive Hambler's Conservation, and Zofia Kielan-Karowoski's Mammals in the Time of Dinosaurs. I also got into the habit of sleeping early and waking up early, at least up till exams ended (since then, everything's gotten a lot more haywire). I've also had a lot more time for prayer and reflection, and a lot less admin to deal with.


Down Pembroke Street
But I didn't manage to finish a whole term of weekly dance classes (always gave up halfway), didn't pick up any form of martial arts/self defence, never mastered my ukelele, barely practised the piano, and became a lot less fit than when I first arrived. One of my biggest regret is that I never learnt to trad climb, and didn't climb enough. If you're a climber going to university, my advice is don't stop climbing. Seriously, I should have climbed on more weekends the past year. It might have made me feel a bit better about my grades.

I guess the problem was I came in perhaps subconsciously expecting that I would be able to graduate with top grades if I just worked hard enough. I don't like comparing myself to others cos I know that's not healthy, but when I'm surrounded by friends who've all got top grades, top in the university etc, it's hard not to feel inferior, at least in intellectual merit and capability. I know, our worth is not based on grades and exam results are a poor measure of who we actually are and what we're capable of. I do think though, that it is a shame I didn't manage to write essays which are critical, clear, concise and well-structured/well-evidenced that actually answers the question. But I've learnt much more as well and I know I'll keep honing my writing skills. Perhaps in the future, down the road, I will be able to fully appreciate being a Cambridge graduate, even with less than perfect grades.

Grey heron at Coe Fen

After three years here, I really will miss Cambridge with all its quirks and wonders. I quite like the traditions, and the names we have for things (like plodge and pidge, natsci and landec and stash). I'm going to miss Fisher House the most, the wonderful people and events that have made my spiritual life so much richer. I'm going to miss the academic environment and the variety of talks and events I can attend, the supervisions and lectures. I'm going to miss the familiar streets and buildings, sitting in lecture theatres and rooms that have been used by centuries of students, some of whom became well known figures in the field. I'm going to miss being part of Cambridge.

Peterhouse Gisborne Court

Now, while I still wouldn't say I am not occasionally intimidated or still feel like an outsider, I feel much better about going around and being more confident around others. Supervisors, lecturers, professors and porters no longer scare me as much as they did in first year. When I first arrived, I wondered why these top-notch world-class researchers would care about me or what I said, and people in authority just intimidate me in general, so I was shy about speaking up and airing my views/opinions, or even just having a casual conversation. Now, I realise they're all actually quite nice, decent people and are humans after all, and I wish I talked more. And most actually really do care about what you say.

Everyone's experience is different, but I feel like majority of the Cambridge graduates' experience of their time here revolved around their college, and perhaps department. I sometimes wish I could say the same, but I still had a very enjoyable 3 years here nonetheless. I just never really felt like I fit in my college, or with my year mates, though I sometimes wonder if things would have turned out differently if I was a little more thick-skinned in the first term of first year and tried to make better friends. Perhaps my minor regret for my time here is not having made better college friends, especially as I scroll through Facebook and see graduation photos being shared. Fisher House, the Catholic chaplaincy, felt a lot more like a college to me, or perhaps even a home.

Hammock in the Fisher library :) PC: Alex Fisch

Anyway, having graduated means people wish you well for your future, and sometimes make expectations of you changing the world, making it a better place, and doing something useful with your life. Fr Mark, in his homily during Leavers Mass, reminded us to never doubt the power of faith, or underestimate the possibility of faith to change lives, or to underestimate the power of little things, small graces.
God has paid you the immense privilege of collaborating with him, and you have played your part courageously and devotedly at Cambridge. You have spread the branches of God’s Kingdom in this place. Now, you are called to go forth, to help his Kingdom to increase even further, armed with a quiet confidence that faith has sustained in you. Here at Cambridge, at Fisher House, the seed has been nurtured, and the Kingdom has grown within you. As you go forth, believe in that and in yourself, believe God has equipped you to accomplish great things. Go forth, and change lives. 
- Fr Mark Langham, 14 June 2015
Rooftop garden dedicated to Mother Mary at Fisher House

I'd like to think I've been fairly useful all my life, and that people don't go off thinking that that arbitrary line between being an undergraduate and a graduate is one that divides useful and 'useless' people in society. But it is a powerful reminder indeed that with our blessings and privileges, we can (and I think should) do things that would change the world for the better, and change lives.

Graduation 24062015




And to end off, here are some quotes by Lemony Snicket from a Thought Catalog article:
There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself. 
If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.
There is a kind of crying I hope you have not experienced, and it is not just crying about something terrible that has happened, but a crying for all of the terrible things that have happened, not just to you but to everyone you know and to everyone you don’t know and even the people you don’t want to know, a crying that cannot be diluted by a brave deed or a kind word, but only by someone holding you as your shoulders shake and your tears run down your face.
A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.
One can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways. 


While I will be closing this chapter of my life, of going to Cambridge for my undergraduate studies, I am glad I will not be closing the chapter of living overseas. Coming here 3 years ago was my first time properly living overseas, and I've quite enjoyed being on my own. I'm glad I will be coming back to the UK for the MRes in Ecosystems and Environmental Change at Imperial College London. I quite like the weather (though it can be dreary and grey most times, but oh how glorious when the sun makes an appearance!), the architecture and history, the gardens and quiet places, the convenience provided by trains and all. And I think I do prefer the British accent to the American. It also feels a lot safer here, it's much easier making ethical choices and there's a great recycling programme.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Before and after.

It's been more than a week since class results came out. Some people might have known that right after my exams ended on 29 May, I flew to NYC for my older brother's wedding and graduation, followed by a short trip to Vermont, before going back to Cambridge on 9 June just in case I was called for a viva the next day. Thankfully I wasn't, though I realised by then that perhaps, I might not have gotten what I wanted. Results were supposed to be out on 11 June, and the afternoon was spent rather anxiously refreshing Camsis (the internal portal) while trying to relax. Fisher dinner (the annual May ball equivalent social event for Fisher House) was that night, and it turns out that results were posted on the Part II Zoology notice board first, and I dropped by to check on my way to FH.

And indeed, I did not get what I wanted. Less than stellar results. Decent of course, good grades. Essentially what (almost) everyone else got. It wasn't surprising, and I've been semi-preparing myself for it since months ago, though I don't think that made me study any less. But I realise even up to now, I'm still not entirely over it. I'm not angry, nor do I regret anything (regarding academics). I did try my very bestest to get the best result. And I failed in that objective, and so am resigned to admitting that perhaps I am really just not cut out for that grade. But occasionally, I still do catch myself thinking why is it that I just can't. I honestly don't know what else I could have done, and I wish I knew.

I've been having a packed schedule which had been distracting me, with meet-ups and socials and packing to do. And then a disaster of a morning after St John's College May ball on 17 June trying to get to Barcelona to meet my parents and some somewhat-distant relatives of ours who live there. Currently in Barcelona now, after a day of visiting La Sagrada Familia, La Rhumbla and then peach/apricot/nectarine picking in said-relative's friends orchard, getting back only at 2am. Was trying to sleep, when thoughts drifted back to my grades, and I thought okay perhaps it's time I tried to get this out.

So much for 'the point of exams', I will admit I am still rather obsessed with grades. It is the first time I'm graduating, after sitting an important exam (ie RGS' sec four examinations didn't count), when I did not get the top grades, and that feeling does kinda suck, even though I know it doesn't really matter. Life goes on anyway, and I am actually really interested to know what I think of this matter many decades down the road.