I will never forget the day when I walked through the tall, white steely gates along Orchard Road.
As I snapped back to reality and edged towards the security post, the gun-wielding officers looked at me for a brief second before one of them asked with a smile: “Are you the new intern?”.
I looked around nervously and uttered yes. It was only when I got on the buggy that took me through the compounds and to the main building – as we whizzed past gardens, ponds and historical buildings – that it hit me …
I was interning at the Istana.
FIRST DAY, FIRST IMPRESSIONS
On my first day, I got settled into my role as a Media Strategy and Communications (MSC) Intern in the President’s Office (PO). I met my lovely colleagues, and soon enough, my first task was assigned.
Understudied for Mdm President’s International Women’s Day held at the Istana!
My confidence was accompanied by a sense of nervousness. After all, here I am – a polytechnic student working in the office of Singapore’s President.
However, when I saw Mdm President up close for the first time, I was starstruck.
To be right there, in the Banquet Hall of the Istana building, I felt honoured to be hearing her speech, which was for the 7th Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
To be in the same hall as the first female President of Singapore and distinguished women, on International Women’s Day? As a young woman, that moment instilled feelings of empowerment and inspiration – feelings that I still remember today.
WHERE HISTORY AND NATURE MEET
There were times when I whizzed through the Istana grounds on a buggy or poured through books about it as part of my work in developing social media posts. It was then that it dawned on me that my five months internship was only a tiny speck in the vast history of the Istana.
The grounds of the Istana used to be a nutmeg plantation and subsequently, the residence of colonial governors. Today, it stands as the official residence of the President and has received foreign dignitaries, held meetings between leaders, hosted state events and welcomed Singaporeans from all walks of life.
Here, nature co-existed with history – unmoving, withholding the test of time as men and women came and went. The oldest tree on the Istana grounds was about 150 years old, which is approximately the same age as the Istana building itself.
One could only imagine the events that have unfolded over time that the building and tree have witnessed.
Madam President has introduced initiatives to make the Istana more accessible to the public. Prior to my internship, I had never stepped foot into the Istana grounds before, and upon witnessing the beauty and rich history of the place, it just felt right to join the initiative through my role in curating social media posts on the flora, fauna and places in the Istana.
One of my personal favourite memories of observing nature in the Istana grounds was when I was leaving the Istana after work, and the famed otters that trawl through our city started making their way in through the gates.
One of the security officers then went: “Look at them! They don’t have a visitor pass!”
The biggest takeaways for me during this internship were not only the practical things that I learnt about public relations and government communications, but the advice and stories that I received from the people I met at the Istana.
Being surrounded by professionals, I came to realise how young and green I was having just entered the working world. Whenever I revealed that my IC (Identification Card) number started with a ‘T’, eyes would widen with surprise at my age.
The most common and important advice I received? Enjoy your youth while you can – do the things you love, take your time to figure out your career, and to explore the world around you at your own pace.
Till today, I feel extremely thankful to have the opportunity of crossing paths with everyone at the President’s Office and the Istana. It is a long list of names – from the friendly butlers who always greeted everyone with a smile, the experienced photographers who would always share their myriad of experiences with me, the professional Aides-de-Camp (ADC) who were often a joy to be around, to my close colleagues for their unwavering support and patience in guiding me – I cannot thank them enough.
The biggest honour of it all was being able to meet Madam President, and to have the opportunity to witness the compassion, grace and authenticity she displayed in her role as Head of State.
On the last day of my internship as I got on the buggy and left the Istana building for the last time, I felt a sense of melancholy and yet fulfillment, knowing that I had made the best of my time here.
As the Presidential Standard flag fluttered on top of the Istana in the distance, proud and unwavering, I knew that deep down in my heart, I would do this all over again.