21 April 2020: Students gain diverse insights through semester abroad programmes

By Lim Tian Jiao

During semester abroad programmes, Yale-NUS students enrich their learning in various fields and return to the College with new insights, whether in academics or community-building. Last semester, some students used their semester abroad to explore their interests across three diverse fields.

Suyeon, pictured while on internship with The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as part of her semester abroad programme. Image provided by Lee Suyeon.

Lee Suyeon (Class of 2021) spent last semester learning about refugees, health and humanitarian action at the School for International Training (SIT) in Jordan. Her four-month programme featured visits to health centres in rural Jordan, a module in basic Arabic, and an internship with The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in addition to classroom learning.

“I have always been interested in forced migration,” said Suyeon. “However, this niche interest is hard to pursue in Yale-NUS, especially in the Singaporean context where there are no refugees. Going to SIT allowed me to have a semester-long experience, focused solely on this issue.”

In Jordan, Suyeon gained a better appreciation of how states and non-governmental organisation (NGO) actors interacted around international migration issues. “Through a month-long internship with the UNRWA, I was able to experience first-hand the limits of change I might be able to enact as a humanitarian actor in an international organisation. Ultimately, the most concrete decisions come from state actors,” Suyeon remarked.

Image: Winnie (left) visits Musée Rodin in Paris during her semester abroad at The New School: Parsons Paris. Image provided by Winnie Tan. 

Meanwhile, Winnie Tan Yi Jun (Class of 2021) went to The New School: Parsons Paris, studying under the Strategic Design and Management major. There, she took classes in contemporary art and fashion history, and fashion business design.

Semester abroad was a platform for Winnie to explore her long-time interest in fashion. “From a young age, I have loved the craft and the industry, but had no idea how I could be involved in it,” said Winnie. “As I seriously considered my semester abroad options, I decided to apply to the one school I had always dreamt of going to.”

One of Winnie’s highlights in her time abroad was working for a showroom during Paris Fashion Week. There, she learnt to discuss sales with potential buyers and clients, understand designers’ visions, and work with bosses to strategise and deliver those visions.

“I was heartened to see my academic and professional interests align during this time,” said Winnie. “Paris Fashion Week was a wonderful and exciting week of watching fashion shows and meeting people from the industry, from all over the world.”

“I have always wanted to work in the fashion industry, and this sliver of an experience only made me crave for more.”

Image: Yi Ming (centre) poses with his friends from Amherst College. Image provided by Ng Yi Ming. 

Ng Yi Ming (Class of 2021), on the other hand, decided to spend his semester abroad in Amherst College in Massachusetts, USA.

“I wanted to experience the fullest of a liberal education in the US, in a different setting with a wider variety of majors,” explained Yi Ming. “Also, Amherst has a unique drive towards community-building through engagement and inclusion — these motivated me to apply here.”

For Yi Ming, being thrust into an unfamiliar and temporary environment gave him an impetus to reach out to people, more so than he would have otherwise. This led him to connect with the local senior centre director in the area, who was pushing to redefine the community’s view of seniors as wise and independent ‘elders’, rather than needy dependents. Yi Ming later worked with her to organise an ‘Amherst Elders’ Life Advice Stand’ in the Amherst College library, where students could drop by to ask volunteer seniors for advice, giving both parties a platform for greater mutual understanding.

Yi Ming was also impressed at the sheer diversity of student organisations that Amherst had to offer, from singing groups to fishing and mycology clubs. One club in particular, the Humanist society, caught his attention by hosting several dinner discussions on humanism and how humanists can work with traditional religions.

“In Yale-NUS, existing student-organisations only represented the ‘traditional religions’, such as Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam,” said Yi Ming. “There wasn’t a club for secularists and humanists.”

Upon returning to Yale-NUS, Yi Ming set up ‘Humanism.Yale-NUS’, the College’s first society for secular spirituality. The club has since organised several dinner discussions and formed a partnership with the Humanist Society Singapore to engage with Singapore’s wider humanist community. A collaboration with NUS Interfaith is also in the works, to represent secular NUS students as well.

All three students stress the importance of being open to new experiences and connecting with people on their semester abroad experience.

“I learnt to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” said Suyeon. “Making friends from totally different cultures gave me a new perspective when I came back to Yale-NUS, and that’s only possible if you’re willing to be open.”

Added Winnie, “Parsons Paris is an extremely small community, and I knew I had to be intentional in expanding my social circle. Put yourself out there! The world is your oyster and you just have to take the first step.”