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HDB – Building Dreams

Terence Chan

Learning never ends with HDB Scholar Terence Chan.

When I graduated from Junior College, I had little clue as to what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. All I knew was that I have always been interested in Economics and Public Policy, which spurred me to apply for scholarships in the public sector. The next few months were a blur of interviews and psychometric tests but one interview remains clear in my memory: the Housing & Development Board’s (HDB). Unlike interviewers from other agencies, the interviewers from HDB were warm and engaging. I fondly remember having a spirited discussion on the merits of Keynesianism, an economic theory, during that interview. A few days later, I received the phone call that I had been waiting for. I was offered the HDB Undergraduate Scholarship.

A Whole New World
With the scholarship in hand, I left for the University of Chicago (UChicago) in September 2006. As a fresh-faced student arriving in the United States for the very first time, the initial weeks were a series of crash courses on essential life skills as I had to learn to do my own laundry, shop for groceries and cook basic meals. However, the difficult beginning was well worth it; overcoming homesickness, learning to live independently and acclimatising to the midwestern winter paved the way for a fulfilling and life-changing four years of learning and self-discovery.

Although I had initially applied to UChicago due to its strong Economics programme, I quickly learnt to embrace and love the eclectic and rigorous liberal arts curriculum that defines a UChicago education. A typical week involves sequencing DNA on Monday, having a heated discussion on the intricacies of Aristotelian morals on Wednesday and proving mathematical theorems for calculus class on Friday. The broad exposure to a wide range of academic disciplines also piqued my interest in other areas of study. Within a span of four years, I attended political science classes conducted by the world’s foremost expert on offensive realism, took Aikido lessons, learnt Spanish and along the way picked up a second major in Sociology – all of which would not have been possible if not for the open-mindedness of HDB’s managers.

Periodic term breaks brought their own adventures. I managed to trek the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, backpacked across Europe, camped in the middle of the Sahara and took in the bright lights of New York City. Upon returning home from Chicago in the summer of 2010 to commence work with HDB, I wondered if working life could ever match up to the wonderful experiences I had as an undergraduate.

A Promising Career At HDB
Having worked six months in HDB, I quickly realised that analysing and predicting housing trends can be more challenging than solving complex differential equations; that the work done in HDB is as multi-disciplinary as a liberal arts curriculum; that HDB’s senior management can be as approachable and receptive to my ideas as the professors I had; and that as much fun can happen in the workplace as in college.

As an Estates Officer in the Housing Market Analysis Unit, my primary job is to analyse trends in the housing market and provide timely market reports to the management. The complexities of the housing market require me to have intimate knowledge of HDB’s policies as well as the latest statistical tools which constantly reminds me of how much more I have to learn. Another interesting aspect of my job is its multi-faceted nature. I could be proving the theoretical relationship between prices and cash-over-valuation with a colleague in the morning, and explaining in feeble Cantonese the upcoming transformation of the Dawson estate to an elderly resident in the afternoon.

The opportunities rendered to returning scholars and the receptiveness of our supervisors to our suggestions also make working in HDB an extremely rewarding experience. Even as a new staff, I had the opportunity to be part of an inter-departmental project team tasked to study and make recommendations on the strategic direction of the organisation. Beyond work, there are also many recreational activities organised for staff; the multitude of inter-departmental games is evidence that it is not all work and no play at HDB.

It is often said that the years spent in college are the best years of one’s life. This is not necessarily true, as you can tell from my working life. With the right scholarship, you can have your cake and eat it too.

TERENCE CHAN
HDB Undergraduate Scholarship
Age: 25
Now: Estates Officer Attained: BA in Economics and
Sociology from the University of Chicago, USA
From: Raffles Junior College