It’s Okay To Be A Penne
NYLF 2022 Fellow Nicole Sim reflects on her fellowship experience

It was June 2021, and we were plunged into Phase 1: Heightened Alert as a nation with the emergence of the Delta variant.

Unlike other June holidays, I had to spend more time at home, and started to take a liking to cooking.

“How much longer should I wait for it to become al dente?”
“What should I add?”
“Will it taste horrible?”

A flurry of questions surfaced in my head. While waiting for my spaghetti to cook, I decided to divert my beginner’s anxiety by checking my inbox. To my huge surprise, I received an email that read, “I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected as a Finalist of the National Young Leader Award 2021 (NYLA).”

No. Possible. Way.

One thing led to another, and NYLA became one of the best experiences of my life. It helped me rediscover myself and achieve self-growth that I never thought was attainable.

Fast forward to one year later in June 2022. I was invited back to be part of the inaugural batch of the National Young Leaders Fellowship, and my past experience with Halogen in 2021 made me say yes almost immediately.

he National Young Leaders Fellowship 2022 Fellows at Induction
All smiles at our Induction Ceremony in June 2022! (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sim)

Going into Induction, I was extremely excited by the thought of meeting and learning from new and like-minded people.

Stepping into the bustling room, there were so many new faces, and so many things happening concurrently. The room was drenched in extrovert-levels of excitement – with loud laughter, uninterrupted chatter, and the energy level being raised by the minute. I too had the desire to blend in, but the room unfortunately prompted my introverted instincts to kick in. I was overwhelmed. Listening to people in the room introducing themselves, I felt small. I was no Head Prefect, no Founder of a Non-Profit, and definitely not an extrovert who could spread her energy immediately upon arrival in a new environment. I was just… plain Nicole. It was as if I was an odd piece of penne hiding in a bowl of spaghetti – was this where I really belonged?

A plate of pasta
Much like how different types of pasta are cooked for varying durations to become al-dente, people have different paces when it comes to building relationships. With both, being patient is key! (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sim)

Daunted as I headed into the Fellowship, I decided to get to know new people at my own pace. I did not want to rush into building faster but potentially shallower relationships. Like how different types of pasta require different durations to become al-dente, people develop relationships at different paces, with patience being key to the process. While taking things slow, I felt more comfortable in my own skin, and managed to get to know people as a person before a leader, as they felt more comfortable opening up. This slowdown brought out genuinity in my interactions, allowing me to build closer relationships with more people over the course of the fellowship.

One thing that bound my whole Fellowship journey was unique experiences. An inquisitive teenager, I love learning more about my society and the people around me. I’m always fuelled to discover differences and the reasons behind why they exist, and to uncover hidden stories.

The NYLF 2022 Fellows on a learning journey in Geylang
An eye-opening learning journey during the Induction Programme with Geylang Adventures (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sim)

In this community, I had the privilege of being submerged in the concentrated boiling waters of impactful conversations that brought inspiration, comfort and warmth. I’ll never forget going to Geylang and witnessing a different way of life, nor my team’s narrow scope of view, shaped by our privileged backgrounds, being pointed out at our first pitch for a social event. Not forgetting the chats we had worrying about our futures, and the periods where we found motivation in studying together. These organic experiences wove us closer together as a community, and shaped my understanding of myself and the greater world around me. Like how pasta softens with cooking, the myriad of conversations helped me to “cook” faster, making me more malleable and open-minded. It was also key to enhancing the flavour of the penne I was – this community brought out the good in me, and reminded me of what I have to give.

NYLF 2022 Fellows making a pitch at the Ideathon
The Fellowship gave us the opportunity to be a part of events such as the Ideathon, where we conceived and pitched the National Young Leaders’ Conference 2023! (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sim)

Every chef has his own signature style of cooking, and it’s okay to be a different type of pasta. Through these precious 9 months, I have grown to embrace being different – being a penne instead of a spaghetti – and am proud to be an unconventional leader who leads with a genuine heart of nurturing relationships. I no longer feel pressured to be like someone else. After all, all types of pasta have the ability to be delicious! It’s this diversity that seemingly divides us, but neglects the fact that deep down, we are all the same: full of passion and conviction to serve, and wanting to be a blessing to those around us.

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Leaving this fellowship and heading into young adulthood, all 30 Fellows will continue on their journey of navigating life’s valleys and hills. The road ahead may look daunting, but what is certain is that we will always find comfort in this close-knitted community that we have proudly built over these past 9 months. If you find yourself wanting to achieve growth on another level, and enjoy being in a community of unique individuals bonded by a burning passion to serve and be of meaning to their communities, do consider signing up to be part of the 2023 cohort of the National Young Leaders Fellowship at halogen.sg/fellowship!

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Written by Nicole Sim


Nicole was a part of the National Young Leaders Fellowship 2022, a leadership programme that recognises and develops outstanding youths, and provides them with the resources to broaden their perspectives and hone their leadership skills. Find out more about the National Young Leaders Fellowship here