Photo above: Jia Ying (middle) in her element in the African Acapella group.
Name: Jia Ying Teoh
Course/University: International and Global Studies (Economics and East Asia Region), Middlebury College, United States
Experience: African Acapella group member and future president
“Wanderlust”, a word commonly used by Gen-Y, is defined as the strong desire to travel. Having lived in four different countries and travelled to many others, I have what some may call an incurable case of wanderlust. Evidently, I love travelling, but more accurately I thrive on adventures and on embracing the unknown.
Two years ago, my Swazi friend suggested that I try out for the African Acapella group at my college. I had only ever sung in the shower, I was (and still am!) an introvert who gets stage fright, and I had little to no knowledge of African songs.
1. Being courageous
Just saying “why not?” is easy, but to find the will to attend rehearsals in which you sing in a language completely unfamiliar and have to work up the nerve to perform to a crowd of 100 people takes a lot of courage. Being a part of the African Acapella group, something completely new and different to me, has challenged me in a variety of ways.
Singing languages before learning to speak it is like learning to run before one can walk. With languages such as Zulu, Swahili and Kirundi, especially the languages with clicks, there was a constant fear of butchering the languages of my fellow acapella members.
However, when attempting something new, having the courage to make mistakes and to learn from them is the best way to succeed.
“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” – Benjamin Mee, We Bought A Zoo
It is courage that helps us face challenges, to experience and to absorb new ideas.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask
While explaining the story behind a song, my Burundian friend compares a woman’s beauty to a cow. This left me puzzled, as in the culture I was brought up with, I learnt that the comparison of women to a cow as a pretty offensive insult.
After asking him for further explanation, I learnt that it wasn’t just me, but many others – including those from Northern Africa – who were equally as puzzled by his statement. He explains that in Burundi, cows are seen as a form of wealth. Thus, a woman is compared to a cow to insinuate that she is desirable to have.
There are no stupid questions; actually there are a few, but most aren’t! I’ve always found that it’s okay not to know, and asking goes a long way.
Being honest and asking not only helps you learn new things and clarify miscommunications, but it also builds trust within groups, creating stronger bonds between group members.
3. Finding passion
I find it important to be passionate in whatever it is that you commit yourself to.
As I learn of the meanings behind the songs we sing, and listen to the stories of my Acapella friends, I develop a growing passion for African Acapella.
This passion is what makes me strive to improve at singing, to better understand cultures in Africa, and to work together successfully to better the acapella group as a whole.
In short, having passion can make something good, become something great!
My ongoing two-year journey with my acapella family has been one I would have never imagined having. It has been an adventure full of challenges and difficulties, but also of learning and really great friendships.
Being a part of this lively group is always exciting and full of surprises – such as being elected president of the African Acapella group this coming year.
My advice is to be courageous in embracing the unknown, and you’ll be surprised by what you may find.