HE HAD a choice to skip full-time national service (NS) and go straight to university after his A levels, but 19-year-old China-born Luo Sheng chose not to.
Instead, he applied for and received his Singapore citizenship just before his preliminary examinations last year.
He was enlisted together with all his buddies at National Junior College in January, and is now a Third Sergeant with a Singapore Armed Forces infantry unit at Pasir Laba Camp.
Upon completion of national service in 2010, he will read accountancy at the National University of Singapore.
The Jinan native, from Shandong province, is one of thousands of China-born students who have come here for primary and secondary school education, often accompanied by their mothers, better known as peidu mama or study mamas, since the late 1990s.
But in Sheng's case, he was not accompanied by his mother, a gynaecologist trained in Western medicine, but his father, Dr Luo Futeng, 48, a Chinese linguist. Dr Luo came here to teach at a junior college in 2000, and is now head of Chinese programmes at SIM University.
A year later, he brought his son, then 12, over and enrolled him at Greenridge Secondary School. They shared a rented three-room HDB flat in Jurong, as well as household chores such as cleaning and cooking.
After school, Sheng would prepare the ingredients, so that Dad could cook dinner right away upon returning from work. Together, they worked on their English, which was Sheng's weakest subject.
It paid off. Four years later, Sheng aced his O levels, scoring five As and four Bs, and went on to score three As and three Bs for his A levels last year.
That year, both father and son became Singapore citizens. His mother, Dr Sun Yunying, 47, joined them here and is now a qualified practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. They live in a five-room flat in Jurong East, which was bought four years ago.
Of course, many of his classmates asked why Sheng did not skip or defer national service simply by delaying his citizenship application.
But his reply is: 'I have heard NS turns boys into men, and since my parents and I have decided to call Singapore home, I want to be like the rest and do what any Singaporean male needs to do first.'
After nearly a year in the army, he says the experience has been 'invaluable', especially for a new citizen like himself.
'Besides vigorous physical training, the stint has not only taught me to fight for and defend the country, but also instilled in me feelings for the nation.'
He adds it is a privilege to meet, live and work together with fellow citizens across different races, social and cultural backgrounds.
'The experience can help us achieve social cohesion and a sense of purpose as a nation, something very important for all Singaporeans,' he adds.
'Plus, I think I have matured a lot over the past 10 months in the army and learnt more about Singapore than in my six years here as a student.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 22, 2008.