Singaporean fresh graduates: Quarter-life crisis

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The cost of living in Singapore is a spanner in the works for many young Singaporean graduates, according to a student-initiated campaign that helps young adults survive their ‘quarter-life crisis’.

The campaign, ‘The Next Stop’ is a youth-movement by four final-year Nanyang Technology University (NTU) students. The group said the campaign aims to stir discussion about the concerns of young adults after graduation.

One of the campaign organisers, Chan Long Teng, said: “We feel that the choice between ‘passion vs. practicality’ comes up [when picking a path after graduation] because of the cost of living in Singapore.”

24-year-old Lee Jingwei is one who has faced the ‘quarter-life crisis’.

Lee has held many dreams after graduating with an honours degree at Monash University, Australia.

“I (originally) wanted to take one year off to teach English in China and do some travelling around Asia. I wanted to do my post-graduate degree in the United States and I also wanted to work as a journalist,” Lee said.

After graduation, she returned to Singapore in the hopes of pursuing a high-powered journalism career.

But when her job hunting resulted in unpaid work and uninterested responses, she began aggressively looking outside the news industry.

“I have definitely lowered my expectations because I have learnt to be more realistic about my job prospects in Singapore as a fresh journalism graduate,” she said.

“Our culture [in Singapore] values high salaries, status and prestige. It makes us disconnected from reality; that when we graduate, we are actually not very valuable. So I think we just need to eat some humble pie, be willing to learn in any job, and then plan our life as we go along,” she added.

“You don’t have to lose your dream, it’s just that your first job will unlikely be a dream job, but it can be slightly related. A dream job will come.”

But for now, Lee has to put food on the table.

In a 390-tertiary-student survey conducted by The Next Stop last year, 55 per cent of students were ‘very concerned’ about finding a job whereas only 37 per cent of the students were ‘very concerned’ about building a career.

Among these students, more than 70 per cent of them were afraid of making a wrong decision after graduation.

“Not all jobs pay equally. If a young adult in Singapore has to think about paying off tuition fee loans, saving up for a HDB flat or plan to start a family in the future, the pressure to start earning enough for the future would understandably steer him or her towards a job that pays more,” Chan explained.

This would mean working in a field that may not necessarily interest them, he added.

“Having to make a compromise, in this case, would put more stress on a young adult’s decision,” he said.

Thus this stressful crossroad between ‘passion’ and ‘practicality’ may paint a quarter-life crisis for many modern youth, according to the campaign organisers.

Associate Professor Ho Kong Chong from the Department of Sociology at National University of Singapore said this is because youth today have more choices than previous generations. However, the abundance of choices can be difficult. Ho said: “In the past, life decisions were taken away from youths because adults took an interventionist approach in their [children’s] lives. But in modern societies like Singapore, young people go through extended education, enter the workforce later and generally have more autonomy in making life decisions. Ironically, the transition from school to work is complicated by the abundance of choices. The complexity of our economy leaves open the question of ‘where to go’?”

For 26-year-old Shawn Tan, he has made the choice to leave Singapore for a job opportunity in Darwin, Australia. He said: “Previously, getting a job in Singapore was good enough, but now that I have seen a bit more of the world and been more exposed, I realise there is more to just working 15 hours a day in a job that I may not like. I want to be able to afford stuff I never get to use.”

Shawn refers to the high cost of obtaining an apartment, car and COE in Singapore, and compares this to the better wages in Australia that more than offset the high costs of living, allowing him to work in a job he enjoys and at the same time, enjoy a lifestyle beyond securing the bare necessities of modern livelihood.

Shawn understands that Australian life is not all cats and roses. He knows of the fierce competition from people all over Asia that may have better skills than he does in his job as an economic policy consultant.

Yet, he said he holds on to his dream of someday emigrating permanently to Australia with his family.

Do you have any burning questions about life after graduation, or are you concerned about how you can prepare yourself to handle finance and career-related concerns? Join the team from The Next Stop for A Casual Cuppa, a forum-style chat event designed for young adults emerging into adulthood.

Date: 15 Mar 2014, 1:30 – 5pm
Place: Lowercase @ LASALLE College