Daughter's 1st overseas trip without family will teach her independence

One of the benefits of secondary schooling is that it forces overprotective parents to loosen the reins on their children.

Compulsory boarding and overseas field trips are some ways schools prod their students to learn to take care of themselves and their mates.

At my older daughter's school, Year 2 students are required to undertake a four-day learning journey this week to different parts of Malaysia.

The assigned destination for Yanrong and her classmates is Malacca.

The aim of the trip, known as Rice - short for regional immersion and community exploration - is for students to learn about themselves and neighbouring countries.

"Haven't we been to the Kedah Paddy Museum? What more about rice do you need to know?" I asked Yanrong facetiously.

"I don't remember a thing from that visit except for the panoramic exhibition," she retorted.

While she has not been to Malacca, she is not unfamiliar with Malaysia, having made numerous trips north to visit her paternal grandparents, aunts and an uncle in Ipoh, Butterworth and Kuala Lumpur.

A few years ago, a family trip took us as far north as Alor Star, which has a rather informative museum about rice cultivation. Alor Star is the capital of Kedah, an agricultural state that is commonly described as the rice bowl of Malaysia.

The museum's piece de resistance is a viewing gallery that sits on a revolving platform from which visitors can admire a 360-degree wall-mounted diorama and mural.

The itinerary for Yanrong's trip, which begins tomorrow, includes a visit to a kampung, heritage trails and rubber and oil palm plantations.

So while cultural and agricultural insights are the mainstay of her experience, I am hoping that this will also be a journey of self-discovery for her.

Specifically, I'd like her to learn how to fend for herself without mummy to fuss over her.

To be fair, this isn't the first time she will be on her own. When she was in primary school, she had an overnight camp in school on two occasions. But going overseas without the family will be a first.

It's something of a paradox that the more closely knit a family is, the less independent a child is likely to be. The fault, if anything, lies with the parents.

It is only natural for Yanrong to be overreliant when it is mummy who wakes her up for school, packs her lunch bag, cleans and irons her clothes and so on.

As for her dad, well, I don't consider myself an overprotective father. But left to my own devices, I will probably cocoon my two daughters from the big, bad world until they are ready for university.

So funnily enough, I welcome the compulsory overseas trip for students minus their family members. The presence of mum or dad will only get in the way as I found out last June, when the family participated in a spiritual retreat in Kota Tinggi, Johor.

I thought the activity-packed programme would help my daughters become a little more independent. But it didn't work out the way I hoped as the girls would seek refuge with familiar faces at every opportunity, particularly my very introverted and, dare I say, timid, older daughter.

Yanrong is a chip off the old block in this respect.

Like me, she is not good at making small talk. She takes a while to warm up to strangers and has little to say to them until the ice is broken. Her natural reticence is often mistaken for aloofness.

Fortunately, she will be among friends in Malacca. This ought to help ease any home sickness she may have.

To be sure, I don't expect her to become more assertive and independent overnight as a result of this trip.

When I was a teenager, I embarked on numerous out-of-town outings, but they didn't make me any less shy when it came to approaching strangers.

My first job, a part-time one, came about after my mother, fed up with my lack of initiative, inquired at a neighbourhood car workshop if there was an opening. She came home to tell me I was hired.

I spent a fretful weekend horrified at the prospect of reporting to the workshop proprietress who had a fearsome reputation.

Despite the traumatic start, the stint turned out rather well. My new boss soon trusted me enough to make me her personal driver as she - the owner of a car-related business - couldn't drive, an irony that was not lost on me.

Unlike my mum, I will never spring such a shock on my daughters.

I shall leave it to them to decide when it is time to get a job. And when they do, I'll probably chip in to help get the work done.


This article was first published on March 8, 2015.
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