In July, I learned the Malay proverb, “Sedikit sedikit lama lama jadi bukit.” Translated into English, it reads, “Little by little, over time, it will become a hill.” This saying reminds listeners to save money gradually, even in small amounts, in preparation for the future. Seemingly insignificant investments grow over time. This saying also aptly characterizes my Luce year in Singapore. Little by little, over time, penny-sized, daily experiences like finding and chopping a table during hawker center lunch-time madness, befriending neighbors, and perfectly timing an outing to catch the last MRT train of the day, have accumulated into a treasure chest of invaluable experiences that will forever enrich how I view the world.

Little by little, I am learning the intricacies of the Malay language. Despite having “newscaster” (read: unnatural) pronunciation and diction, the bits of vocabulary and grammar I have learned widen my understanding of Singapore’s geography and regional political history. The country became more physically accessible as I learned how street and neighborhood names map onto physical features and historic events (Jalan Bukit Merah means “red hill road,” while Paya Lebar was once a “wide swamp”). When traveling in the Philippines, I was delighted to discover Malay words in Tagalog like balik (return) and lelaki (man), evidence of a long history of maritime trade of goods, language, and culture in Southeast Asia.

Over time, I witnessed the interconnected roles that the medical research, public policy and social service delivery sectors play in creating a Singapore that is a cohesive kampong and city for people of all ages. As a research associate at the Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE) at Duke-NUS Medical School, I have the opportunity to collaborate with policy makers, service providers, and researchers to investigate what successful ageing looks like. Through research projects such as an evaluation of the National Silver Academy, a lifelong learning initiative, I’ve come to understand that research has maximum impact when conducted in collaboration with—instead of on—fellow community members. At CARE’s 2016 annual conference, researchers from Europe and Asia gathered to discuss the question “Are centenarians the realization of successful ageing?” I learned about the challenges of doing national registry validation in low-resource settings, the complexity of conducting coordinated research in multilingual contexts, and how standardized measures of frailty and mobility are affected by different cultural norms. I also had the privilege of meeting and reading interviews with Singaporean centenarians. They wisely taught me to “make good of the time you have.” This and, “You live better when you work with yourself” are two lessons that I hope never to forget.

Over the remaining months in my Luce Year, I’m excited to continue looking outward and experiencing life in Singapore, as well as looking inward and reflecting on my place as an American in this country. Little by little, I’ve started to make sense of the kaleidoscope of people with different nationalities, ethnicities, languages, beliefs, and life stories who now call Singapore home. There are pioneers who survived the Japanese Invasion, silently marveling at (and sometimes bemoaning) how much the country has changed during their lifetime. There are enterprising designers who turn their homes into high-fashion runways. There are overseas workers from across the world flocking to the “Little Red Dot” that is Singapore in pursuit of employment opportunities and new beginnings. There are local students, some optimistic, some nervous, about life prospects after school. I’m truly humbled by all the people whom I’ve met and who have touched my life in Singapore. Because of them, little by little, over time, it has become a hill.

by Elizabeth Linton on February 11, 2019