When she was 21, Clara Lock knew she wanted to travel the world.
She was bitten by the travel bug during her university exchange in Taiwan and has since turned her wanderlust into a career by chronicling her journeys to various places.
“In Taiwan, I backpacked and stayed in a hostel for the first time. I learned what it meant to see new places and meet new people, and to enjoy it,” said the 26-year-old freelance writer.
“So much of what comes out of North Korea is like a caricature, but these were people with real lives.”
Today, Lock has travelled to 30 countries, including North Korea, India and South Africa. She details these visits on her travel blog, and is particularly fond of long form pieces which immerse readers in her experiences.
“It’s really rewarding to to be able to work and fund these trips for myself at the same time,” said Lock, who makes a living by working on freelance writing projects and selling her stories to national publications. For instance, she has written travelogues on Pyongyang, North Korea and Amritsar, India, which were recently published in The Straits Times.
Recalling her trip to Pyongyang in July this year, she said, "North Korea was so different from anything that we know.”
“Admittedly, we don’t get to talk to the locals so we only speak with the guides. Yet, they are people who really live there and their perspectives were very interesting. So much of what comes out of North Korea is a caricature, but these were people with real lives."
Other travels include fulfilling a childhood dream of going on a safari trail at Kruger National Park in South Africa, where she “saw a lot of wildlife” and wrote an article on how to plan a budget safari adventure.
Her first solo trip, she recalled, was a five-day visit to Yogyakarta, Indonesia in the summer before her final year at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. During the trip, she overcame her initial fear of solo travel and picked up tips on travelling alone.
“If there’s one piece of advice, it would be to trust your gut on whether a situation or person is dodgy. Even though in that moment, you might feel like you don’t know what to do, go with your instinct,” said Lock, who usually travels alone about two to four times a year.
As the former editor of Navy News, the Republic of Singapore Navy magazine, Lock was also deployed on overseas operations during her time there from 2013 to 2015. These included counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and the search for AirAsia flight QZ8501, which had crashed into the Java Sea.
“The QZ8501 search was probably one of the most physically challenging things I had done in the Navy”, she recalled. “Everyone was searching for the bodies. It was wet and cold, and at times I was really seasick. But in hindsight, the whole experience was meaningful and I would still do it again.”
She also accompanied servicemen on regional socio-civic missions, such as a medical mission to Tinombo, a coastal village in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi. Specifically, she remembered watching a five-year-old girl born with a cleft lip undergo surgery.
“I wondered whether she was old enough to know the significance of what was happening. But I thought that her family would always remember this day when she got a new appearance,” said Lock.
“That was very special to me, to see first-hand how lives are being changed and then to get to write about it.”
“If there’s one piece of advice, it would be to trust your gut on whether a situation or person is dodgy.”
Clara Lock on travelling alone.
Looking back on her time in WKWSCI, she has vivid memories of her final-year project, a feature writing package on how perceptions of history have changed over time in Singapore.
The project helped her develop the necessary skill sets for her work as editor, her first job after graduating from WKWSCI.
“When you do a journalism FYP, you are trying to not just write but create a whole package. You don’t only want long form journalism, but also infographics, side bars, and shorter profiles. That was really useful when I was thinking about the Navy magazine.”
She also recalled one of her first reporting assignments at The Nanyang Chronicle - a roundtable interview of indie rock band Florence and the Machine.
“When it came to my turn, I was very nervous. Someone else helped me ask a question, but I knew I had to take courage. I eventually managed to ask a question and write the story.”
Laughing about the incident, she advises students to have confidence even though they might doubt their abilities sometimes.
“When you graduate and start working, you’ll realise that you’re able to do your job, even if you’ve never done it before.”
Going forward, Clara hopes to continue improving her skills as a writer.
“I don’t feel weary about my work. It’s always, ‘There’s a lot of work to be done so I’d better work hard tomorrow.’ I realise that not many people get to find that feeling in their 20s, and I hope to keep doing it.”