NUS BBA 17 May 2018

Taking a gap year as part of my unconventional NUS journey

NUS BBA final year student Crystal Loh decided to take a gap year during her studies in NUS Business School. She calls it a “3+1” journey where she pursued a 3-year course in university and took two semesters off for internships. As graduation approaches, Crystal looks back and reflects on her experiences.

Crystal (right) at a Miss Dior EDP Mega Event at Changi Airport while interning for Dior

Choosing my university course

When I was choosing my university course after receiving my ‘A’ Levels results, I was torn between choosing what was practical for my career, and what I truly loved studying. I had a strong passion for History since secondary school, but I thought “why not try going into a business school”? On the flip side, I had always wanted to be a businesswoman all my life, so it might be easier to transit from business school to the business world? Plus, I had no clue what exactly business entailed. To give you an example of how clueless I was, I thought ‘Marketing’ was defined as the household chore that my parents had to do every weekend at the wet market in Ang Mo Kio. Without having any idea what I was getting myself into, I went ahead and chose NUS Business School anyway.

At the NUS Business Camp

A fish out of water: Struggling in my course

I struggled really badly when I first started out in NUS Business School. Coming from an Arts and Humanities background, the mathematical rigour in NUS Business School was beyond me. Apart from that, I simply could not see the value in what I was studying. Before university, I had always had a clear end goal in mind: to get into a good school for each phase of my education. However, with university being the last phase (I have never considered being an academic),  I was still figuring out what was my end goal after university. Semester after semester, I failed to produce results in spite of all the effort I put into my studies. With my lack of direction and passion towards my course of studies, I told myself, I need a break.

Taking baby steps: Garnier

At the end of my second year, I filed for a Leave of Absence (LOA), without any idea what I was going to do with the remaining six months of 2016. After considering a couple of options, I decided that taking on an internship would be the best option for me to gain exposure to the business world. Might as well get some idea about what I am studying for, right? I was not getting any call backs despite applying for several internships.

In May 2016, I received my first phone call for an internship interview – on the bus, while heading back to Eusoff Hall. I panicked and immediately got off at the next bus stop. It was a recruiter from L’Oreal and she started asking me questions about the beauty industry and L’Oréal’s brand portfolio. Finally, watching Youtube (and Michelle Phan) paid off for this phone screening, and I secured an interview with the hiring managers two days later.

Crystal (second from left) at the L’Oreal Urban Decay’s Vice lipstick lauunch

On the day of the interview, I was awestruck by the L’Oréal office’s interior design. Rows of L’Oréal products lined across the corridors adjacent to the reception area – it was beautiful! I remember every detail – waiting at the reception, HR coming out to greet me and leading me to the interview room, and stammering through the simplest of questions. However, the two interviewers were extremely kind and the interview progressively became more comfortable. Personally, I thought the interview went really well. And three hours later, I got offered the internship position with Garnier Development Marketing International (DMI).

The six months I was under the L’Oréal Garnier team was truly an eye-opening experience. I learnt a lot about decision-making and thought processes behind the creation of a new product. I was very fortunate to have worked on multiple projects during my stint. The most rewarding moment was when I saw the products I helped work on come into stores. It was truly a fruitful internship experience.

Returning to school

I thought that I would have a renewed sense of purpose after completing my 6-month internship with L’Oréal. However, I found myself hungry to learn more about Marketing. I wanted to take on another internship to continue the learning journey and growth process. I was scrolling through InternSG, I stumbled upon an internship opening with Parfums Christian Dior. Immediately, I texted an acquaintance that was interning at LVMH for the email of the HR in-charge. Eventually, I did receive an email inviting me for an interview.

Learning to sprint before learning to walk: Parfums Christian Dior

I distinctly remember being overwhelmed by the atmosphere in the Dior office. It smelt, expensive. During the interview, I was asked to share about the projects I worked on and my learning experience in L’Oréal. I was comforted to find out that the HR person-in-charge is an NUS Business alumnus, and she understood the struggles I had with my course. After interviewing with HR, the hiring manager spoke with me as well. She showed me a photo of a Dior back wall in Changi Airport and asked me to analyse it. Despite my limited knowledge of travel retail, I tried my best to give my feedback about the planogram.

Thankfully, I got offered the internship position about a week later and I started my internship after returning from my student exchange programme at Korea University.

Enjoying the sights in Korea while in Korea University for a summer exchange

My internship experience in Dior was a challenging one. Despite my weak numerical skills, I was assigned many tasks that involved the Sales In Sales Out (SISO) inventory system and competitor sales analysis. I was frustrated with the mistakes I made in my work, but my supervising manager helped me a lot with her constant feedback and tips on how to be more careful and rigorous in my work assignments. Over the months, I fought through the disappointments that I had towards myself and became a lot more comfortable with my work. I felt the most rewarding part of my internship with Dior was that in spite of my lack of experience, my colleagues still believed in my capabilities to concurrently handle multiple projects. By the end of my internship, I managed to work with almost everyone in the Travel Retail ASPAC, ranging from the Skincare, Makeup and Fragrance teams under Product Marketing, to the Trade Marketing teams. I learnt a lot about the Travel Retail business along the way.

Dior’s Travel Retail APAC team

My final semester in NUS

Throughout my final semester, I realised how passion was a huge driving force in motivating me every single day. I loved the brands that I interned with, and it is always a proud moment to see your work come to life. With a better understanding of the Marketing landscape, I felt that my last semester was more purposeful as I took modules that I genuinely found interest in. Thankfully, I also met wonderful group mates in my modules, which made school a lot more enjoyable. Truly, #lastsembestsem.

Presenting on Cadbury during as part of marketing module MKT1003

Conclusion

My journey in NUS was far from what I imagined it to be when I was a freshman, and I am thankful for the way things turned out to be. I have learnt how important is it to constantly keep your goals in check, and to evaluate the decisions that you make. I may not be a stellar student by the university’s standard, but at least I know that I am working on myself every single day.

For more information on the NUS BBA programme, please visit http://bba.nus.edu/.