By Evannia Handoyo, Yale-NUS College ’17 – See bio
What do most people say when you tell them you’re going to Yale-NUS College in the fall of 2013?
“You mean NUS?”
“No, I mean Yale-NUS.”
With all the media attention Yale-NUS received last April (and the months thereafter), it is still quite a shame how many people do not know about this exciting educational adventure. The underlying theme in most responses is confusion. I’ve always wished for more time to explain to the sirs/ma’ams/aunties just what Yale-NUS College is….and what my hopes are for what it will become.
I would say, Yale-NUS College is going to be the first liberal arts school to be built in Singapore, offering a unique common curriculum. The educational scope in the first two years of study will include topics such as scientific inquiry, literature and humanities, political and philosophical thought. At the moment, a team of select faculty are “incubating” at Yale University designing this common curriculum. It will not only cover the Western basics of a liberal arts education, but also emphasise Eastern schools of thought. Works like the Analects of Confucius, the Ramayana, and The Art of War will not only be a feature but a core part of the student’s learning. The vision is this: “A community of learning, founded by two great universities, in Asia, for the world.”
So that’s the core idea behind Yale-NUS College. However, ideas are nothing without the people who realize them. Experience Yale-NUS Weekend, held on January 18-20, 2013, was my chance to finally meet these people. As prospective students gathered in Singapore from 20 different countries, unbelievable things occurred. It could only be described as nothing short of magical. After three short days, I left with two impressions from the people I met and the things I experienced.
The first is that we found kindred spirits in each other. Not that any of the students or faculty members were exactly the same—there were students from AP classes, public schools, and the IB Program; there were concert pianists and charity founders and fashion entrepreneurs; there were foodies and music enthusiasts, and science geeks; there were archeologists and biologists and classicists—yet we all found common ground. We found no competition or arrogance, just a shared excitement and passion in learning together and from each other. Yale-NUS will be a place where knowledge is not just repeated from a lecturer to his/her students, but where knowledge is shared, discussed, processed, experimented with and applied. It will be a place where professors and students sit together in classes, where “any question may be asked, and any answer discussed”.
The second impression I came away with was the profound reality of beginning with tabula rasa—a completely blank slate. Once we realized that Yale-NUS doesn’t have an identity or a set of traditions or a set of rules…the possibilities suddenly became endless. Are written exams the only way of assessing knowledge? What is the purpose of having a student government with a student elected leader? Who will be our mascot, the cute Brazilian mammal or the clever star of SouthEast Asian folklore? We get the unique chance to ask these questions, and we get to decide—we get to invent new ways to structure our extra-curricular activities, plan our student government, and give feedback to the faculty. Most important of all, we get to bring our diverse backgrounds and experiences together to decide who we are as a living, breathing, learning unit.
I remember how dull, uninteresting, and repetitive it was to fill out my school applications a year ago. School rankings, reviews, and identities blurred into one big blob in my head. Yale-NUS was the road less traveled by. When I look back at the resistance it has faced, it is clear that the resistance has helped shape Yale-NUS into what it is today. Risk is present in any great adventure; moreover, it is essential in any great adventure.
In this day and age, who can put a price on being part of the founding of a new college? When I begin to doubt my choice in accepting the offer to go to Yale-NUS, I remember a (future) classmate’s remark: “Ask yourself, will you regret not choosing to grasp this opportunity in 10 years time?” Take the red pill and tumble down the rabbit hole. You definitely won’t regret it.