Tour Guides, School Pride and Bridging the Great Divide: reflections on the Yale-NUS faculty incubation in Singapore from Kevin Low, Yale-NUS College ’17

By Kevin Low, Yale-NUS College ’17

So I’m currently working at the Yale-NUS offices as part of the Year One Initiative (YOI) and my job is generally to get paid to do awesome things. And one of these awesome things that I was involved in this past fortnight (two weeks, if you’re metric), was being enlisted into helping out in the Singapore leg of the Faculty Incubation Workshop.

As most of you who are reading this would already know, Yale-NUS College is a completely new university starting in 2013, and with a new institution comes the chance to come up with a completely new curriculum. This workshop brought most of the already-hired faculty together for the first time to discuss the common curriculum and teaching pedagogy. After spending two weeks at the Yale campus in New Haven, the professors were shipped over to sunny, sweltering Singapore to continue their discussions at the campus of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

I won’t bore you with the details of what I did backstage; like drawing up name lists, providing technical support, and coordinating transport and catering. What I will bore you with are the exciting job benefits that come with having to shift bottled water every day. For example, I’ve had arguably the most interaction with the faculty amongst all the prospective students, and I’ve gotten to know this group of amazing and intelligent people who, like many farmers, are experts in their fields.

Seriously, though, I am honored and grateful to have been able to contribute in the planning stage of my inevitable curriculum, and I’m sure many of my peers will agree with me. In the middle of the Singapore workshop, on Saturday 11th August, the faculty met with a number of prospective students, informing them about what they have been discussing over the past couple of weeks, and also to get feedback from students regarding certain aspects of the curriculum and teaching methods. This is exciting both ways: students got the opportunity to share with their educators their learning styles and preferences, which is something not every student in the world has the privilege of doing; and the fact that teachers and professors are willing to get feedback on teaching styles and pedagogy is like steak cut straight from the cow – very, very rare.

Another interesting and enjoyable thing I was lucky enough to be a part of was the excursions organized for the foreign faculty members to see the wilder, less urbanized side of Singapore. The professors were invited to go on a number of field trips to the Singapore Night Safari, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, as an alternative to the conventional eating and shopping and then eating again that most tourists do. These were settings for interaction which were even more informal than the meet-the-student sessions, and allowed the professors to ask questions about Singapore outside the realm of education, like ecology and urbanization and society and politics. It was basically a great opportunity for me to be an ambassador of my country without the usual hassle of foreign policy or fear of assassination. I got to talk to them as friends and equals, which I think was a great experience.

The last thing that really impressed me and sold me even more into the Yale-NUS dream was the fact that the professors that have already been hired were all so undeniably and unimaginably awesome. As a relatively sheltered kid growing up in Singapore, the educators and intellectuals you come into contact with, while being really great and outstanding people in their own right, are quite beaten down by the hectic pace of life and very traditional education methods. The faculty members coming from overseas still have that idealism and passion and innocent curiosity that I think will play a big role in defining the learning culture at Yale-NUS College. These people are just so indecently enthusiastic to share what they know with other people; the important keyword here, I think, being “share”, and not “impart” or “transmit” or “hint at what is coming out in the test”.

I also marvel at the diversity of the professors who will be in charge of our curriculum. Over the past two weeks I have met literary classicists and philosophical experts, historians specializing in medieval Britain and Southeast Asia, genomic biologists and material scientists, arachnologists, astrophysicists, anthropologists, and dozens of other –ologists of arcane and obscure –ologies, the names of which I probably don’t even know. Again, you realize that the world is full of amazing and wonderful and wildly unique people, all out there going about their daily lives which are so much more fascinating and vastly different from yours; and the simple beauty of it all is that even though there is so much about the world that you don’t know about, about the billions of people swarming over hundreds of cities on a tiny rocky planet hurtling through the dark frightening chaos of space; you come to the realization that, somehow, everything still works.

Then you go back to shifting bottled water.

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