NUS News

High-flyer surmounts obstacles

Faizal Bin Abdul Aziz is not a scholar who chooses to stay on the safe and well-trodden path. Firstly, he arrived at NUS via an unconventional route. Secondly, a week after receiving his first-class honours degree in Geography at the Main Commencement ceremony on 7 July, he will take to the skies as a Singapore Airlines cabin-crew member instead of taking up the offer to pursue a graduate degree at Cambridge University.

“I just want to put my Geography degree and language skills to use. This job gives me the opportunity to see the world too,” said the 26-year-old, who speaks Arabic and French. The young graduate received his primary and secondary school education in a madrasah or Islamic religious institution, where most of his studies were conducted in Arabic, while he picked up French at NUS.

“At first, I thought I wanted to continue studying, but upon reflection, I don’t think I am ready,” he explained.

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Faizal had not been afraid to take the unusual route in achieving his goals. To get into the mainstream education system, he had to master nine O-Level subjects within nine months—five of which were entirely new to him—through self-study and tuition. His results enabled him to enrol in Catholic Junior College for A-Levels, and from there, proceeded on to NUS.

The Geography major, who was on the Dean’s List every single semester, had been awarded numerous bursaries and scholarships, such as the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Overseas Double and Joint-Degree Bursary, Shaw Foundation Scholarship and the Ooi Jin Bee Scholarship. He was also one of four students across five disciplines who were accepted into the NUS-University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (NUS-UNC Chapel Hill) Joint Degree Programme offered by his Faculty. He has also been awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal for his overall academic achievement and the NUS Geographical Society Gold Medal for being the best Geography student based on his Honours examination.

The year he spent in the US was one of the best experiences he had while at NUS, he cited. “It was a life-changing experience. I got to know real college life, like what is shown on TV.”

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Academic success came as a result of sheer hard work, Faizal said, but he still found time to be a deejay on student radio station NUS Pulze and hold down a 20-hour a week job in the food-and-beverage industry. These experiences were chosen intentionally, as they were endeavours that supported his aspirations—he had toyed with the idea of becoming a newscaster and, at the same time, wanted to build up experience in the service sector, which he said helped him land the cabin-crew position.

Faizal is realistic, though, on how far his cabin-crew job will take him. He views it more as a job than a career. The far-sighted Geography graduate, who is very interested in international relations, said he is eyeing a possible diplomatic career in the future.