When asked if I could contribute a piece to the School of PEP’s website, I responded immediately with a resounding “yes!”– yes to my beloved alma mater to which I owe a debt of gratitude.
Growing up in Singapore, where freedom of expression is limited, York was my first foray into the concept and practice of freedom of speech and critical thinking. I’ll never forget the day when my politics tutor, quoting John Stuart Mill, said he might not agree with the arguments I presented, but would defend vehemently my right to express them. In my environmental politics module, although I was not the most diligent student, the passion of the tutor and his fierce intellectualism left a deep impression. The experience changed me from a Greenpeace-Rainbow-Warrior-wannabe into a lifelong advocate of animal rights, social justice and the environment through my work as a journalist, questioning policy-makers on climate change, food production, land-use, rampant corruption and forest burning. In a nutshell, studying in York has made me a more mindful human being. For that, I feel tremendously privileged to have been taught and influenced by some of the most highly regarded academics in the field.
On a practical level, knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of political and economic theories have equipped me with the dexterity to report, investigate and defend any stories that I produce. It surprises me sometimes how the study of epistemology has worked its way cognitively into how I present my reports. When I left Al Jazeera Network to pursue a career in film making, my news editor said he was sad to see me go because I was his best producer. That compliment is one which I attribute, at least in part, to York - for instilling this intellectual rigour and discipline in me. The discipline acquired from years of saying no to partying when you have a mountain of reading to plough through and essays to write.
But fear not, I did not turn into a nerd. Socially, I dare say PPE graduates have an above average rate of return as dinner party guests because of our ability to flit in and out of any topic of discussion. This nimbleness has also enabled me to navigate around hostile environments such as Somalia, where I made a short documentary that was nominated for the student academy awards (AMPAS) in 2013.
The most precious gift the School of PEP has given me, however, is the friendships formed over three autumns and stretching into a lifetime. It is here in York that I met my best friend and ‘partner-in-crime’, with whom I have just brought to screen in Malaysia a unique English comedy-drama. We are far from saving the world, but plodding along life’s journey in the hope of creating more meaningful stories and letting our minds wander where our imagination takes us.