STORIES
OBS – The Outdoor Classroom

by Jodie Wong

Zhan Eng on the sailboat during his 21-day Leadership & Service Award Programme

Often known as the once-in-a-lifetime experience, our Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) programmes are conducted in all weather conditions, out in the rugged landscape of Pulau Ubin. However, for Chew Zhan Eng, he was fortunate to have attended two OBS programmes – the 5-day MOE-OBS Challenge (MOC) Programme in 2017 and the 21-day Leadership & Service Award Programme in 2019.

“Back in Secondary 3, I swore to myself that I would never return to OBS ever again,” laughed the Year 2 Singapore Polytechnic student. 2 years down the road, he found himself applying for the Leadership & Service Award before his polytechnic semester began. This scholarship is offered to youths with outstanding contributions in leadership and service to participate in the internationally-renowned 21-day OBS Classic Challenge Course, after which they are obliged to fulfil a 3-month Post-course Service Project.

“Like the majority, I took on part-time jobs right after receiving my O-Level results. However, I found myself not spending my time well. Hence, with my ample leadership experience from my secondary school CCA, I decided to apply for the Leadership & Service Award for some self-reflection and self-discovery,” explained Zhan Eng.


Journey to Self-Discovery

No doubt, OBS programmes have a strong emphasis on self-discovery as you are often encouraged to step out of your comfort zone to try new things. Like most individuals, Zhan Eng found himself struggling with his internal fears during both OBS programmes.

“I had doubts about myself and my capabilities. There were moments during my 5-day and 21-day programmes where I asked myself – Why am I here when I could be taking a nap on a warm bed with fresh and clean clothes,” said Zhan Eng, when asked about the difficulties he faced during OBS.

He elaborated: “I was afraid to take up leadership responsibilities whenever my group (called a watch in OBS) had to choose an in-charge (IC) for the day. I was afraid to interact with others as I’m introverted by nature, and I wanted to avoid social interactions due to the possible arguments which might surface with others.”

Zhan Eng (left) receiving his Leadership & Service Award graduation certificate from National Youth Council Chief Executive, David Chua

It was heartening to hear that he overcame the difficulties mentioned, against all odds. Zhan Eng took on the role of the IC in the Singapore Polytechnic Adventurers training team, his outdoor adventure Co-Curricular Activity (CCA). Subsequently, he will be asked to join the Singapore Polytechnic Executive Council in his final year of polytechnic.

He said: “I came to realise that I needed to change my mindset and learn to embrace differences amongst humans to overcome my fears of social interaction. Nowadays when I start doubting myself, I will always recall the times spent during my 21-day programme where I learnt to interact with people from all walks of life. It serves as a reminder that the incompetent feeling is momentary and I should just do everything to the best of my ability.”


Memories with OBS

OBS aims to create meaningful learning and lasting memories for all participants, and Zhan Eng was one of our beneficiaries. Upon being asked about his most memorable moment in OBS, it triggered many of his fondest memories.

Zhan Eng reminisced: “I vividly remember that particular night in Batam with my Leadership & Service Award watchmates. It was the night before we had to sail around Bintan for our final expedition. Everyone just decided to lie down and gaze at the stars. As compared to Singapore, there was lesser light pollution in Indonesia, so we could see many stars in the night sky!”

Zhan Eng (right) holding selfie stick, taking a watch photo with Instructor Zul (left)

Besides stargazing, Zhan Eng could never forget the innovative recipe that went wrong during outdoor cooking. “It was the second last day of our final expedition, and I was the IC for the day. My watchmates who were said to have better culinary skills, cooked a pot of rice with seawater by accident! So, we got our instructor, Zul to have a taste of our signature sea-salt rice, and he exclaimed that we were trying to poison him,” chuckled Zhan Eng.

He wrapped up by emphasising that one should “never be complacent” at any time, even in the things you are confident in.


Learning from Adventure

At OBS, one key learning objective of our programmes is to help youths build resilience and character through mental and physical challenges. The process of overcoming their fears and challenging their limits helps youth to acquire important life skills, such as communication and problem-solving. “I was definitely more resilient after attending both OBS programmes. I have applied resilience in both my academics and CCAs by putting myself in uncomfortable situations and recovering from them quickly,” shared Zhan Eng.

Zhan Eng also mentioned being process-oriented was a skill that he learnt from OBS programmes. This was reflected during his sea expedition to Bintan, where he realised that a lot of considerations were involved during the planning stage. He said: “Instructor Zul did not get involved. Instead, he empowered us by equipping us with the necessary knowledge and information, before letting us decide how we wanted to complete the expedition. Eventually, I came to realise that no matter what decision we made, our final objective of reaching Bintan still remained.”

On what he would do differently, if given the chance to attend OBS again, Zhan Eng expressed that he would “push himself more and take up more responsibilities”. “I would also bring along a bucket hat and a pair of amphibious trail shoes if I ever return to OBS again,” laughed Zhan Eng, as he recalled having to deal with neck sunburns and a disintegrated non-waterproof pair of shoes.

Having gone through two OBS programmes, Zhan Eng encouraged future OBS participants to “not be afraid to take the first step in committing to an OBS course”. Citing what he had previously mentioned, he said that it will be an experiential journey of self-discovery in which “you would discover more about yourself that you otherwise would never see”.

“OBS also taught me to appreciate nature more, not to overpack, and to be physically fit before and after the programme,” concluded Zhan Eng on his tips to future OBS participants. OBS is proud of what Zhan Eng has achieved and how much he has grown after attending both OBS programmes. He has clearly shown what it means to strive to be a better version of yourself, and not to yield to self-doubt.

OBS will continue to inspire more youths and transform more communities. If you are interested to serve the community, strive to improve yourself, and not yield to challenges, look no further and apply for the Leadership & Service Award now!

Click here to find out more!