Chris Home is one of the most powerful, yet misunderstood concepts in any language.
You don’t believe me?
Like a magnet, home both attracts and repels. People can feel homesick for it or run away from it. You can be permanently exiled from your homeland, or you may lose your life defending it. That’s powerful stuff.
NS Men We will preserve and protect the honour and independence of our country with our lives.
Chris We misunderstand home because it’s so personal. Home to me will never be the same as home to you. This is not because we don’t live together, but because we relate in different ways to the people, places, and things we call “home”. Since ‘home’ can refer to a residence, a neighbourhood, a city, a nation, or even the Earth as a whole, home will mean something different to each of us.
I’m Chris McMorran, a professor at the National University of Singapore, and you’re listening to HOME ON THE DOT. Over the next ten episodes, this podcast will explore the power and meanings of home in today’s world, all through the stories and lives of my students.
The title, Home on the Dot, refers both to the podcast’s theme of home and how the island nation of Singapore appears on world maps. It was once dismissively called an insignificant “red dot” by a politician from its massive neighbor, Indonesia.
Indeed, Singapore is tiny. At about 700 Square km or 470 square miles, it is roughly half the size of the City of Los Angeles or Greater London. However, this former British colony has spent its short, five-decade history as an independent nation consistently exceeding expectations.
It has become a global shipping, finance, and technology hub with one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. Over time, Singaporeans have turned their neighbor’s insult on its head, wearing it with pride.
Former US President Barack Obama acknowledged this pride in August 2016, during a state visit to the White House by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Barack Obama But Singaporeans pride themselves on being the little red dot. The little red dot on many maps, but with a very big impact on the world
As current Minister Lee Hsien Loong once noted, “The little red dot has entered the psyche of every Singaporean, and become a permanent part of our vocabulary, for which we are grateful.”
I have lived on this little red dot for seven years. I’m a geographer who thinks deeply about the cultural meanings people assign to the places around them. So in some ways, the topic of home is academic to me.
But as an educator, the topic of home is very personal. A few months ago a colleague asked, what is the single most important step we could take to improve student learning? I answered immediately: What we need is an ethnography of our students.
Before we decide what or how to teach, we need to understand our learners; not only what they know, but what they value, what motivates them, and what pressures and obligations from their everyday lives promote or hinder their learning.
In other words, for me, learning about the homes of my students was an essential first step to becoming a better teacher.
I began taking that first step several years ago, when I proposed a new course simply called Home. I conceived the course quickly, over the span of an afternoon. But as I began planning my lectures, I realized two things:
First, the concept of Home is way more complicated than I thought. It’s one of those words – like nature, culture, or even love – that you use everyday and think you know what it means. But once you start digging you realize it means so many different things to so many different people, both past and present. It begins to dissolve before your very eyes. How could I teach about home when I couldn’t put my finger on what it was?
Second, I was unsure what home meant to my students. Despite living in Singapore for several years, I had only visited the residences of two Singaporean families. How would I teach about the concept of home when I didn’t know the first thing about my student’s experiences with home? Did they feel the same way about their bedrooms, their houses, their neighborhoods, and their countries as the scholars we would read?
Chris I hope this is not too much trouble.
Woman No no no no it’s no problem, no problem. Everybody’s at home
Chris Hi, I’m Chris
Man I’m Raymond
Chris Nice to meet you, Raymond
Ryan’s sister Hello!
Chris I heard you had a good laugh.
Ryan’s sister Thanks ah bro! Gossiping about me.
The only path forward was to assign scholarship that started a conversation about home, and to ask students to figuratively and literally open the doors of their homes to each other and to me, thus revealing what this concept means to them.
Home on the Dot explores the complexity of home through concrete examples from my students’ lives. Listeners will learn about what home means to young people living on this dot called Singapore, and they will be invited to reflect on the meaning of home in their own lives.
In each of the ten episodes we explore different controversies related to home, including public housing, unpaid domestic work, migration, and even death. Each episode includes interviews with students and scholars, as well as the exciting sounds of Singapore.
So please, join me on this journey as we explore Home on the Dot.