The liberal arts experience at Yale-NUS College will not be one of ivory tower seclusion. Singapore is a hot, dense city. The farm towns, frontier outposts, and decaying midsize cities that support many of America’s best liberal arts colleges can be great places to study. For many students, though, I’m confident that Singapore will prove an exceptionally rewarding environment for intellectual and creative exploration.
NUS University Town. Yale-NUS’ permanent campus is under construction to the left of the lighted buildings in the foreground.
Here’s a fact: Singapore teems with an international, entrepreneurial, things-are-happening-here energy that very few cities in the world share and that 95% of American college towns definitively lack. This will enable you to link Yale-NUS with the broader activity of Singapore and the booming region not on a weekly or monthly basis but on a daily one. In case you’re non-Singaporean, or in case the curse of familiarity has got you down on your home island/city/country, let me point to a few more facts:
– Singapore is the third densest country in the world following only Macau (not technically a country) and Monaco (with only 35,000 people, barely a real country). In literal terms, there are few places on Earth with as many different people doing as many different things in such close proximity as Singapore.
– Singapore’s unemployment rate is… 2 percent. This is incredible. And it’s not selling out to admit it. My argument has little to do with finding employment after college. A 2 percent unemployment rate is a proxy for something much more important than job prospects: energy, vitality, and dynamism, qualities that have rubbed off on me and will infect anyone who takes their education here. And to the argument that Singaporean dynamism is undercut by its rigidly hierarchical corporate culture and resultant political apathy: gimme a few weeks and this Boulder, CO and Portland, OR-raised American will let you know what he thinks.
– Singapore has four national languages (English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay) written in three distinct scripts. This is indicative of so much that is right about Singaporean society and a topic that I’ll dedicate an entire post to in a week or two.
It’s all about fit: if you’re the sort of student keen (look, I’m localized!) to abandon the city and find calm in a small town, you can do so. But whether or not it suits you, urbanization is a fact (particularly in Asia) and opportunities come much faster in urbanized places than in rural ones (hence, urbanization). As an education for the 21st century and beyond, studying at Yale-NUS will teach you what I’ve only begun to learn as a college graduate: how to live with focus and independence in an environment of infinite distractions and stimulants from both within and without the campus walls. This seems to me an essential skill for tomorrow’s leaders. And for young Singaporeans who think they’ve already learned this, living at home is a very different matter than living on campus with fellow young adults. Look out for a series of posts on residential life in the next few weeks.