As we take stock of our lives in these times, we're embracing fresh attitudes, appreciating the things we used to take for granted, and equipping ourselves with new skills in order to thrive. Three woman share how they've been transformed – and what comes next.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Contracting the virus in London was a wake-up call for undergrad Nadia Tan, 22. 

My Reading Room

It was worrying whenever I came across articles of (young) people disregarding social distancing rules just to visit their partners during the Circuit Breaker. I'd stop to think about their flippant attitude, urging my friends to stay home through text messages and social media, and organising Zoom parties to support one another. 

What I went through after getting infected by the coronavirus in March was life-changing. I thought I was living my best life in London as a foreign exchange student and I told myself, "Nah, I won't be that unlucky to get infected." But I did.

Surviving Covid-19 changed my perspective on life 

In early March, I received an e-mail from the University at Buffalo, which organised the four-month programme, to return to Singapore quickly. The programme was cancelled due to the spike in the number of Covid-19 infection cases in London.

I was upset at the thought of going back so soon... here I was, only half way through the programme and contracting the virus was pretty much the least of my worries... Ignorant as I was, I went about my usual routine in London, going out and meeting friends. At that time, no social distancing measures were in place in the UK until the lockdown began on March 23.

On March 20, a day before I left London, I experienced a mild sore throat (one of the symptoms of Covid-19), and by the time I arrived in Singapore, I had a blocked nose. I tested positive for Covid-19 at Tan Tock Seng Hospital the next day, after my family doctor wrote a letter to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases about my case.

I felt so guilty for not getting tested earlier when I landed at the airport in Singapore... I had unknowingly put my parents and others at risk. My parents tested negative. But the news hit me like a brick... the spread of the virus was more serious than I had thought... it was life-threatening.

I'll never forget the scene at the hospital... doctors and nurses moving in and out of the waiting rooms urgently to attend to so many patients. I recovered a month later and in early April, I finally went home – I felt joy like never before! But a big part of me has since grown up. I now see the strict measures, like social distancing, contact tracing and mandatory isolation, as a necessity. The “old” me would've groused (endlessly) about the sheer inconvenience.

These days, my family and I stay home more often, compared to how much we used to go out in the past. I've also become more conscious about personal hygiene such as washing my hands, because recovering from the virus doesn’t guarantee that one is immune from it.

But my friends and I are most worried about our future. We graduate in a year's time, and each of us go to bed every night wondering if we could land a job like our seniors once we graduate. What if the unemployment rate is at an all-time high... what then for us? These are very real scenarios... I figure I'll take things as they come. Despite my worries, I keep myself focused. I've adjusted to the stay-home routine with to-do lists, and by chatting with friends on Zoom and spending more time with my family. I've also become more intentional about connecting with people who matter to me, rather than just indulging in social activities and having fun outside of home. 

Madeline Hui was among those who got laid off during the pandemic, and the 25-year-old is taking her “joblessness” as an opportunity to upgrade her skills. 

My Reading Room

If you asked me six months ago if I was worried about finding a stable job, my answer would've been "no". I was then working for a non-profit organisation as a programme coordinator, and what I liked most about the work was that I could give back to the community through the arts. It was my dream job. 

I lost my new job after two months

I loved it more than my previous role as a primary school music teacher (I got a Grade 8 from the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music), which I did after graduating in 2017 with a commerce degree from the University of Melbourne.

But the unimaginable happened. In March, I was laid off. I was in shock... and never felt more scared in my life. I was thinking, "OMG, why must this happen to me?" How long more I can help my parents with household bills?

My father was slightly upset... he was worried. My mum encouraged me to continue applying for jobs and not give up. I was stressed out at first and wondered how soon I could find a full-time gig... my peers could only empathise with what I was going through. I had some savings to get by, while contributing less than the usual $300 a month to household expenses, and cooked at home to save money.

In the last few months, I've applied for more than 30 full-time marketing positions – and heard from none. Truth is, the prospect of finding a job will be a lot harder now because many businesses have stopped hiring. Some have gone bust, or have had massive lay-offs, as a result of the pandemic. 

I have to be better equipped as a job-seeker. And the problem I faced while job searching was that I lacked technical skills in other areas of the marketing scope. With fewer jobs out there – and more people looking for work – the market is more competitive than before. Instead of mulling over my "joblessness", I used the stay-home period to learn new skills and beef up my portfolio.

I've never invested so much effort in learning new things until a few months ago, spending up to five hours a day attending digital courses. I signed up for the Adobe Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator courses by training centre Acadia Training, using my Skills Future credits of $500. Being able to do simple digital posters is now an added skill on my resume.

Every day, I do my design homework and take notes (and Instagram pictures) of the food I cook to document my progress. Though these are small upgrades, I feel good about myself, and I'm eager to re-enter the workforce with a new set of (basic design) skills.

I'm well aware that the economy will take some time to recover post-Circuit Breaker, and my back-up plan, if I'm still jobless, is to give piano lessons through digital classes by September.

But I'm keeping my fingers crossed as I actively look out for job opportunities every day. What I have learnt in the past few months is that I have to continue to upgrade myself in order to be a "desirable" job candidate. The whole experience has also taught me to be more prudent in spending and to save up even more (in my next job) for a rainy day. 

Social worker Elizabeth Quek, 35, has learnt many life lessons from the people she has helped in recent months. 

My Reading Room

Social work has always been my passion, because I get to understand social issues and help those in need. I’ve been a social worker for 11 years, and I’m often amazed by the resilience and resourcefulness of those from low-income families. 

I’ve spoken to about 50 families who were affected by the pandemic in the past few months. It has given me mixed emotions... some were afraid to reach out for help, while others have to make tough decisions to survive. 

What have the past months taught me about humanity? 

When faced with a situation where I’m unable to help for whatever reason, I used to get frustrated and emotionally invested in their problems. I’ve since learnt how to be objective when it comes to dealing with various cases. As a social worker, it’s my job to enable and empower them with options and resources in the community and within themselves.

I split my time between being a social service manager with the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), and managing the Community Childminding Network with charity organisation Daughters of Tomorrow (which matches low-income women who want to work with childminders in the community for after-school hours). I'm also a part-time tutor at my alma mater, the National University of Singapore. 

I also manage Aware’s S.H.E Project shelter, a service that provides support for low-income single mothers. And I work with a team of volunteers for the collective fund Mind the Gap (MTG) set-up by various non-profit organisations.

During the difficult times, it heartens me to see the generosity of Singaporeans, whether through donation or volunteering... we are a nation with compassion. And I've seen an increasing number of people coming forward to offer donations.

Some 571 people donated on Give. asia to MTG. In April, it surpassed its fundraising target and raised $1.1-million, and the funds will be distributed by various non-profit organisations to underprivileged families affected by Covid-19.

As social workers, the hardest part is preparing people for rejections they may face in their appeals. I recently handled a case involving a single mother who was laid off.

I guided her through the appeals to several government channels... there were moments when she wanted to give up... it was very difficult for both of us emotionally.

One volunteer went the extra mile to be her guarantor. Now, the single mum wants to help and empower others just like her. I was so touched that I teared up. In spite of her challenges she has so much to give back with her (big) heart.

In my journey as a social worker, I've met many people from different walks of life who try so hard to make a difference, and they give me the inspiration every day to help our communities.