23 October 2020: Experiencing a ‘semester abroad’ on home ground

By Ethel Pang

Recently, Yale-NUS College welcomed 17 visiting students to its campus, many of them being Singaporean or Singapore-based international students who remained here in the new semester.

While visiting students are typically international students who are new to Singapore and want to experience a new culture and environment, the move to host a high proportion of Singapore-based students was part of a new programme by local universities to accommodate students who were unable to travel back to their overseas universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a number of these visiting students, their ‘semester abroad’ experience at Yale-NUS College has turned out to be more rewarding than they had expected.

Niu Yutong, visiting student from Pomona College. Image provided by Yutong.

Niu Yutong, a second year student from Pomona College, shared that being able to attend classes in person was a big pull for her. She said, “That’s the part of college I was looking forward to the most – building connections with my classmates, spending quality time with them on a daily basis, and really submerging myself in the academic space of college.”

Lee Tat Wei, visiting student from Yale University. Image provided by Tat Wei. 

For Yale University student Lee Tat Wei, he has always been curious about experiencing the Singaporean college experience like the rest of his local friends. Additionally, he had previously interacted quite closely with many of the Yale-NUS students who visited Yale on their semester abroad, so he was keen on further deepening relationships with the students here.

Reflecting on how their time at Yale-NUS has been thus far, the visiting students all unanimously spoke of their appreciation of the College’s unique academic offering – an interdisciplinary, liberal arts and sciences training firmly rooted in the context of Asia.

Many of the visiting students were themselves from liberal arts and sciences colleges in America, so in many ways, Yale-NUS provided an academic environment that was similar. Yutong liked the familiarity of the small class sizes and engaging seminar discussions, while remarking that the course material and classroom discussions here offered a refreshing shift from Western-centric sensibilities.

Speaking of a module that she was taking this semester, Globalisation on the Ground, she said, “I really enjoy Associate Professor Anju Paul’s class, and appreciate how she, as an expert of migration in the region, brought examples from Singapore, Hong Kong and India into our class discussions. In the US, if I were to engage in a class discussion about migration, it would largely be focused on issues like the US-Mexico border, for example.”

For Victoria Lim, a Singaporean student in her final year at Yale, taking Singapore and Southeast Asia specific classes on the environment were especially appealing to her and enriching to her growth in the Environmental Studies. In a similar vein, Tat Wei really appreciated how his Chinese Foreign Policy class with Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Political Science) Chin-Hao Huang offered a different perspective to understanding China, especially in a classroom situated in Southeast Asia.

“Hearing the halls fill with Singaporean accented-English as we speak of Foucault or Aristotle was an exciting moment for me,” he said.

Visiting student from Yale University, Victoria Lim (right), with her suitemate Natalie Ng in their suite in Elm Residential College. Image taken by Darren Ang for Yale-NUS College. 

And sometimes, it really is the seemingly small but nonetheless fruitful interactions they cherish. Victoria said, “I really enjoy the campus here. I love my suitemates, and I love the people I met through my extracurriculars – I’m in the frisbee and badminton teams and a couple of identity collectives.

People are just really welcoming, and I’ve managed to enjoy so many serendipitous connections here. A recent close friend that I made is actually a first-year student whom I bumped into at the lift lobby on the first day of classes. Now, we do yoga together every week or so!”

Lindsay Allen, Senior Associate Director (International Programmes) at the College’s Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE) shared about turning COVID-19 into an opportunity, “Even in this time of travel restrictions, our students will benefit from the new perspectives and ways of thinking these local visiting students will bring from their campuses to ours. For their part, these local visiting students will forge friendships and expand their academic and professional networks here in Singapore.”