For most students, college life is a full schedule of lectures, projects, sports, club activities, volunteer work and hopefully, a bunch of parties.
Swimmer and three-time Paralympic gold medallist Yip Pin Xiu, 25, is no stranger to rushing between studies and after-school activities. Born with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease – a type of motor and sensory neuropathy – she has been swimming competitively since the age of 12. She continued her post-secondary education at Republic Polytechnic and recently graduated from Singapore Management University (SMU) with a degree in social sciences, majoring in political science.
“I had to take five years to graduate, because I took some time off. Some semesters I took a lesser load just so I could train,” she said. Last year, she received a hero’s welcome after winning two gold medals in the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
The irregular start times in university and group project meetings were a challenge compared to the regular rhythm of secondary school.
“It was difficult because training was very early in the morning or later part of the evening. When it was very early in the morning, I’ll be very tired during those 8.30am classes. Then, [because of] evening training I would have to miss a few of my group projects – it was not ideal.”
“My years in SMU were a bit of a rush. Rushing to school to training, school again. But I think because I’ve been doing it in secondary school [and] polytechnic, it kind of helped. I know how to manage my time. It wasn’t easy.”
In an interview with Esquire, Pin Xiu admits that her sport helped her find balance between work and leisure. “Swimming allowed me to excel in school, because only through swimming did I find the determination and the discipline to do well. It teaches you to prioritise something and sacrifice all others.”
The American-style education provided in SMU means cosy-sized classes of maximum 40 students, active participation in classes, and several group projects each semester. Pin Xiu enjoyed the small classes and the opportunity to do meaningful internships.
“I did my internship at Goldman Sachs, in the services team. What I really enjoyed about my internship [was that] I had a couple of projects to do. It was something useful for the company and something they would eventually use. It was a lot of real life exposure. I got to talk to people from the American and London offices to collaborate. It was really cool.”
Although pursuing further education is “too soon” for now, Pin Xiu is confident that her degree has given her enough (“communication skills, how to write, analyse, general knowledge, how you think about the world, strategies”) to enable her to work in the sports industry. “I think it’s applicable to anything,” she said.
“I plan to train full time until 2020. After that, I still want to be in the sports industry, because I feel this is where my passion lies. I tried doing things before that I was not passionate about, but I didn’t go far. I decided I need to stick to what I enjoy.”
As for what she liked most about college life, she jokes that she hated “the amount of readings”.
“I really couldn’t finish all my readings. Too much! I did some but I didn’t do all. I scraped through lah [laughs].”
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