13 November 2018: Mind the gap semester: Yale-NUS students venture beyond campus to pursue their ambitions

By Daryl Yang

At Yale-NUS College, learning takes place both inside and outside the classroom. For some students, it can also go beyond the campus as they take time off from school to pursue their ambitions. Also known as a gap semester, this affords students the flexibility to explore their interests.

Denise See (Class of 2019) spent six months at Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a Marketing Program Intern with the Asia-Pacific, Japan and China (APJC) team. It was a deeply fulfilling experience for Denise, who had the opportunity to work closely with leading professionals in the field.

“My direct bosses were the Global Marketing Response Center (MRC) Director and the Head of MRC for APJC. Working in such close proximity with them gave me immense visibility into understanding how a multinational corporation like AWS operates on both a regional and global scale,” she said.

Denise (left) with her boss at the AWS Summit 2018 in Taipei, Taiwan. Image provided by Denise See.

On why she decided to take a gap semester, Denise shared that she feels most empowered “when I am in fierce pursuit of professional growth, beyond the walls of what college can offer.”

“As a Global Affairs major with no computer science background, it never crossed my mind that I would ever be qualified to work in the tech industry, much less for a tech giant. When that opportunity knocked on my door, it scared me so much to try something way outside of my comfort zone that I knew I just had to do it,” she said.

The courage to step outside her comfort zone was something that Denise has been slowly building over the past few years.

“Diving headfirst into a three-month internship in New York City via CIPE (Centre for International & Professional Experience)  for my very first summer at Yale-NUS kickstarted my personal growth journey. Since then, I have been chasing after things that scare me, so that I can conquer them and not be scared anymore,” she said.

Another student who took a gap semester was Andre Chan (Class of 2020). He spent the time at his church organising programmes and outings to help the less privileged, including a conference for young adults to learn about opportunities involving elder care, befriending people with illnesses, repair work for the elderly and financial support for students.

He was also involved in the church’s efforts to partner with young people to expand its community outreach efforts, as well as volunteering with the marginalised.

“I did visitations to people with illnesses and gave tuition to a financially needy student who was on our church’s financial support network.”

All of this added up to a refreshing change from his college routine.

“I enjoyed being a part of and contributing to my church’s committee that works to achieve justice for students, elderly, people with illnesses and needy families,” Andre said.

Like Andre, Cassidy Clark (Class of 2019) decided to take some time off before graduating to pursue something she had always wanted to do – learn German, Hindi and Tamil outside of a classroom setting.

To achieve these goals, she first spent five-and-a-half months in Berlin, Germany, where she interned with the Einstein Forum, an institute that hosts interdisciplinary academic conferences, workshops and lectures for public audiences.

She then spent the remaining time in Bangalore, India, where she worked for Common Purpose, a non-profit leadership development organisation.

Cassidy has found it more challenging to practise Hindi and Tamil because she spoke mostly English at her office, but she said she has found plenty of opportunities to use both languages outside of the workplace. “I have learned a lot about the power of necessity as a motivation for language learning while living and working in both cities,” she said. “When I needed to use a language to buy groceries, navigate the city, or not make a fool of myself at work, I really picked it up much faster than I would have in a class. I have a lot more respect and empathy now for other people who have had to learn languages this way.”

Cassidy (first from right) celebrates Onam, a Malayali festival, with her coworkers at Common Purpose. Image provided by Cassidy Clark. 

While the experiences were ultimately rewarding, Denise and Cassidy missed the Yale-NUS community during their time away.

“During my internship, I missed my close friends the most, and the intellectually stimulating conversations we would have. While I was now constantly stimulated in terms of professional skills, I felt starved of academic stimulation,” Denise said.

Cassidy said she was glad to have one more semester at Yale-NUS with peers and professors. “There is hardly a day that goes by where I don’t have challenging conversations that push me to think deeper or differently about something.”

Deciding to take a gap semester can be daunting given the risks and sacrifices involved. On what advice they would give to Yale-NUS students thinking of taking a gap semester, Andre said that it is important to weigh the decision carefully.

“My mum told me that education is a lifelong thing and you don’t need to rush through it,” he said. “If you need to take a break and rediscover yourself, you should do it.”