Coming from a small country, Junhan Tan wanted to expand his horizons on different issues that affect the world and the diversity of other cultures. As a result, his studies as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California have also been diverse. "I‘m a double major in planning and development, and also in cinema and television in critical studies," he says.
On the one hand, he is concentrating on urban planning and design. "I was first drawn to urban planning because I had always been interested in architecture," he recalls, "but I believe that urban planning allows me to explore more of the ideas concerning bigger geographic space. And it goes beyond just architecture...also dealing with urban issues and human geography, which I have always been interested in."
But Mr. Tan has always had an interest in the media, as well, "and how people read visual information," he says. "USC has a very good cinema school, and I decided to enroll in it just to learn more about cinematic techniques as a way of expressing the different cultures and urban issues that people are faced with.”
Mr. Tan says his studies in cinema and television have given him a more critical view of the mass media. He has also come to respect the freedom of speech that Americans enjoy. “I do think that, in the U.S., there is definitely a greater freedom of expression in the media," he says. "Taking classes at USC has really taught me to be a lot more critical at receiving all this information, because there are a lot of news media and information outlets in the United States compared to where I came from, and I think one really has to be critical in analyzing the information and not just take everything for granted and pay attention to the source of the information."
Mr. Tan compares the U.S. media to the situation back home. "In Singapore," he says, "there is a lot less competition and it is more regulated by the government and people do tend to just absorb everything -- which I find can be problematic, especially if people do not really understand what exactly is being transmitted to the public.”
While he says it has been a wonderful experience living in Los Angeles and attending USC, he notes that Americans have some pre-conceived notions about Singapore. "I think most people are familiar with Singapore as a country that is very strict," he says. "I mean, every time people meet me, they will ask me, 'Is it true that chewing gum is banned in Singapore?' Singapore is very regulated, but it is a very peaceful society and people are very fortunate to have a very stable government and a very stable economy and also job opportunities.
Mr. Tan calls his country a gateway to Asia that includes a large mix of different cultures. "Asian cultures have less Western influence in Asia," he says. "And it is a great location for people who want to get acquainted with Asia to visit. And Singapore does offer a lot of different perspectives -- a very multi-cultural, multi-religious society. And I think it is a fascinating place for people to visit.”
As for Singapore's ban on chewing gum, Mr. Tan says it was true...the government used to ban chewing gum in an attempt to fight litter. But those regulations have since been relaxed. ”Chewing gum really isn’t banned in Singapore...it’s just that the sale of chewing gum is banned," he says. "And with the recent signing of the free trade agreement between the United States and Singapore, the government of Singapore is relaxing that ban.”
The USC student says he has "really had a great experience in the United States." But, after graduation, he will be going back home to Singapore to work.
"I feel that there is so much I have learned here that I want to contribute back home," says Junhan Tan, "especially in terms of urban issues and urban designing and planning policies. So I do look forward to working back in Singapore and hopefully will deal with the field of media in the near future.”