During Spring Break, Tyree Meadows and I were given the opportunity to participate in a social network research project in Singapore with the Raffles Institute. The Raffles Institute, which is an elite government funded school, educates children and young adults from ages 13 to 18, or from about the 7th grade through a junior college level of education. While this school accepts the top three percent of the population, the student body is skewed in terms of ethnic demographics. The largest population represented at the school claims Chinese heritage, followed by a significantly smaller Indian origin, and finally, the least represented, Malay background. With these differing levels of ethnic representation there comes a question of whether individuals of various backgrounds are intermingling or primarily associating with people of a similar ethnic origin. As a country with an extremely diverse population, Singapore is actively seeking to reach racial harmony between the various subgroups in order to protect the future of the incredibly young country. To reach this harmony, the government of Singapore is actively placing individuals and families of certain ethnic backgrounds in close proximity in order to create additional contact between the groups. The purpose of our trip was to examine the social network between the students at Raffles and determine whether ethnic integration has or is occurring in the population at Raffles.
In our examination of the students, we planned to use various social networking principles to better identify the relationships between the students. Specifically, we used network homophily to assess which students were connected in friendship networks. Through the use of surveys and coded data, we were able to build networks that represented the three classes that we observed on our trip. These classes also participated in an outdoors immersion experience, which acted as catalyst for generating relationships among the students. During this experience, Tyree and I acted as participant-observers in order to gain a stronger understanding of the bonds between the students and to get an idea of the level of integration that was actually occurring during the trip. We joined the students in a variety of exciting activities that tested them both physically and mentally. These events included waterfall repelling, a challenging hike, and river scrambling. As the students moved through these events, we saw the students work as teams to help each other along the way, begin to form new relationships, and strengthen the ones already in place. When our observation time was over, the classes seemed much more united than before and also became much more comfortable in the outdoors. The Raffles students impressed us both with their extremely positive attitudes and willingness to try something new.
In addition to learning the cultural dynamics of the Raffle students we worked with, Tyree and I also made time to learn more about Singaporean culture at large. We spent time eating traditional dishes, visiting historical landmarks and spending times talking to natives. We also had the opportunity to bike around Singapore with some of the Raffles staff and learned so much more about Singaporean history than we ever expected from a bike trip. We had an absolutely fantastic experience learning about Singapore, the Raffles Institute and, most importantly, about the people of this wonderful country. So many people made us feel right at home in a country on the opposite side of the world from our home. Singapore was definitely one of the most interesting places that either one of us has ever traveled to. We would love the opportunity to visit again sometime and reunite with our new Singaporean friends.