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Exclusive Interview: Featuring NUS Alumna Miss Eunice Olsen

Photo of Miss Olsen, courtesy of her Manager Frances Chong

Former Miss Singapore Universe winner in 2000, Miss Eunice Olsen, coupled with a string of other accolades attached to her young and vibrant personality, has produced a film titled “3.50 The Movie” – depicting stories about human trafficking in the streets of Phnom Penh. As the first feature film co-production between Singapore and Cambodia, The Ridge is honoured to find out more about what inspires Miss Olsen to pursue her beliefs relentlessly and learn more about her endeavours in NUS while she was studying philosophy and political science.

1. Tell us more about the activities you undertook in your university life.

I stayed in Kent Ridge Hall from my second year onwards and was involved in hall activities like the hall band, the musicals and plays. I was also in the Political Science Society, the Philosophy Society, the Catholic Students society, Electronic Music Lab that added so much joy and fun to my days. I also worked at the Grinning Gecko during my last semester. Outside of school I taught Piano as well. I remember my band in hostel performed at charity events once in awhile.

2. What prompted you to start venturing into volunteerism?

Volunteering was something I discovered after I joined the Miss Singapore Universe pageant in my final year of NUS. I wanted to do something useful with my title of Miss Singapore Universe. The American ambassador to Singapore at that time, Mr Steven Green, was very supportive of my reign. He introduced me to the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre who then put me in touch with the Singapore Girl’s Home (at that time they were known as the Toa Payoh Girls’ Home). That pretty much started the ball rolling. My mum always said that I liked to give my money away when I was young.  I have absolutely no recollection of that.

3. I understand that you completed a double major in philosophy and political science in NUS. Were they any major challenges you had to face? Share with us 1 significant event where you felt completely helpless but you managed through it eventually.

I almost failed all my exams when I found out that I won the pageant. The story was I won the pageant after the cut off date to withdraw from exams. My responsibilities required me to attend the Miss Universe pageant in Cyprus during my final semester’s exams in NUS. So, I had to appeal to the registrar through the Dean’s office to withdraw from the exams. At that time, the Dean of Arts was Professor Tong Chee Kiong, and he was really supportive of me going for the pageant. Unfortunately, the registrar had rules about withdrawal after the cut off date. I was told two days before going to Cyprus that things were not looking good and I might get an “F” for all three remaining papers I had to sit for instead of “Absent”. I was going anyway. Three hours before I left for the airport, I received a call saying I had been granted a leave of absence. Needless to say I was really stressed and extremely worried because that was my final semester and I would not be able to graduate. Coupled by the fact that I had no money and had ten days to prepare for the pageant and I had to sit for one history paper during the ten days.

I told my parents that I was prepared to put everything at risk because I had a responsibility to represent my country. So I had to ask myself what was more important – and I chose to represent my country.

Until today I am eternally grateful to Professor Tong and the Arts Faculty for supporting and endorsing my decision to go for the pageant. The rest of my time in NUS was a blast. It was the best years of my academic life and I miss hostel life very much.

As for how I overcame the stress, no one ever does anything alone. I had my family and friends to support me during that time and for that I will always be grateful.

4. Were there any moments of limbo you had to face during your varsity life? And, what is one life lesson you took away from NUS?

It is perfectly natural to go through periods of time where you feel completely lost and aimless. There were times I’ve felt like that too and the last time was in 2010. I don’t expect that to be the last. It’s during these times that you start asking questions and you go back to basics. Here’s what works for me. You start to remember the things that are important to you. Ask yourself, what kind of person do I want to be and what do I want to be remembered for? It might be a very simple one worded answer but it can help anchor where you want to go from there. Don’t be afraid of bad times. Sometimes it’s in the most difficult of times that you learn the most important lessons in life. Carry these lessons with you and share that with people you meet along the way.

It’s alright to be afraid of the unknown. Life is a journey. If you think about it, everything that is going to happen IS an unknown. Nothing is ever certain. If you read many success stories and do a little bit of research, they speak of trying many times before getting it right. You might find somewhere along the way that something really doesn’t work and you have to move on to the next thing. But as they say you never try, you never know. It’s not only about pursuing your passion and dreams. It’s what kind of person do you want to be in this world. What are your values and what is important to you. Take it from there.

The one thing I learnt from NUS is that having an education is so much more than what we think it to be. It’s about finding your voice, experiencing different challenges, forming and affirming friendships, and about keeping your mind and your heart open to others around you.

5. Regarding your film, 3.50 The Movie, was there any major challenges you faced during the production of the film? What motivated you to keep pushing through?

I wouldn’t say that I have experience in social work. I have so much more that I need to learn and I have nothing but complete admiration and deep respect for social workers and the amazing work they do. The knowledge regarding social work is of those I learnt from them and from the people I’ve met along the way.

What I am is a volunteer. I have been privileged to work alongside many amazing people and learn about the different issues out there. I’ve always been fascinated with learning about issues on the ground and field work as that’s where you learn the most. I am constantly challenged again and again with what I see when I’m on the ground. There are difficult times when you ask yourself what can I possibly do to change the state of the world but over the years I learnt one thing which I hold very close to is that it’s the little things we do together that make the bigger difference. I wouldn’t say my confidence was shattered in any way but it’s more about challenging myself to think beyond what I already know.

3.50 was an amazing experience. With all projects that require a huge commitment, there are ups and downs and some difficult moments but some great moments as well. There were a series of challenges from doing the research, to getting the right story, to the censorship, to finding the money, to finding the right locations, to finding the right actors, to post production. They were good challenges. It is through being involved in the entire process that you learn in depth about what making a movie is like, more about human trafficking and how much more we need to do to address this issue. We should do a screening of 3.50 at NUS. I promise to show up and talk about the movie.

6. You see so many under-privileged people in different parts of the world. How do you cope with the emotions that you face when you see their situation?

I think I wouldn’t put it that way. I have had the privilege to serve many people who may not be as fortunate as I am. Sometimes I feel anger or sadness but as I go along, I start to feel a sense of just wanting to be useful and constructive. As my mother says, your tears won’t help anyone including yourself. Feel but get over it and do something about it. That’s my mum.

7. Lastly, what are your thoughts regarding students’ journey on an identity search? More haste, less speed, one step at a time to figure it out on their own?

That’s the perennial question I guess that even nations struggle with so it’s entirely okay; we’re not alone. It’s a journey and along the way, you’ll discover bits and pieces that will all add up to who you are. Might not be one glorious answer but the exciting thing is discovering it along the way. All you can is focus on what you can control, why you do what you do, the work, and the rest will fall into place.The most valuable learning experience is to never stop learning.