23 September 2015: Learning through international experiences

Written by Amelia Chew | Images as credited

For more than a week, a short walk through the Yale-NUS College Library would take you past display boards featuring photographs, write-ups, poems and reflections chronicling the summer experiences of various Yale-NUS sophomores and juniors.

Ranging from internships to summer school programmes, many of these opportunities were supported by Yale-NUS College’s Centre for International and Professional Experience (CIPE) and funded by donors to the College.

Learning on the job

For Janel Ang, Class of 2017, her internship at the prestigious Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy, was the first CIPE summer programme that she had undertaken. The internship was sponsored by Dr Alan Chan, whose gifts have not only aided financially-needy students, but also supported innovative student programmes such as this one at the College.

Janel, who considers herself ‘more of an artist than an art historian, critic or curator’, was initially apprehensive about delving into the other side of the art world.

That apprehension dissolved once she began work, where she had the opportunity to experience museology in a practical setting; her responsibilities included completing daily gallery operations such as ticketing, guarding and administration, conducting workshops for children, and delivering public presentations on works of art.

An added bonus was the opportunity to interact with an internationally diverse public and work with an equally diverse yet like-minded group of colleagues.

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Janel (right) giving a talk to her fellow interns during her internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum and one of the most popular attractions in Venice. Photo provided by Janel Ang

Students who participated in other summer school courses abroad were similarly thankful for the opportunity to situate their learning in local contexts.

Over the course of two months, Martin Vasev, Class of 2018, who is from Bulgaria, took Intensive Chinese Language classes with CET Academic Programs in Beijing, China, as a recipient of the Chinese Language Scholarship funded by the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation.

He was assigned a roommate from China, from whom he learnt about Chinese history, culture and politics, and who provided help whenever Martin encountered the challenges of living in a foreign place.

Beyond the language immersion, Martin immersed himself in local culture by taking up traditional Chinese activities such as calligraphy and wushu classes.

Similarly, Alaine Johnson, Class of 2018, who embarked on a Spanish language programme as a recipient of the Spanish Language Scholarship funded by the Santander Universities, engaged with her host family, Argentinian friends and even a taxi driver-turned-friend on issues ranging from politics to pop culture during her time in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Learning new languages was not just for students on language programmes, as Joshua Wong, Class of 2017, discovered when he participated in a Yale Summer Session (YSS). He was able to pursue his interest in Africa by taking up a module on Society and Politics of North Africa in Morocco, made possible by the J Y Pillay Global-Asia Programme.

Joshua initially thought that he would be able to get by with French, a language that Moroccans speak, he eventually picked up Arabic as he ‘realised that using Arabic opened up so much more of the country to [him]’ and discovered the ‘potency that language has to facilitate personal interaction and connection’.

Likewise, Martin and Alaine immersed themselves in the local culture by picking up new skills beyond the classroom.

While Martin engaged in traditional Chinese activities such as calligraphy and wushu classes, Alaine trained at a martial arts gym in Buenos Aires and learnt to dance the tango as well.

New skills and perspectives

Indeed, the opportunity to step out of one’s comfort was a common highlight of the summer experience for these Yale-NUS students.

For Daniel Soo, Class of 2017, the challenge was in the programme itself. He attended two consecutive week-long poetry workshops and four craft seminars at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado, an opportunity sponsored by Alice and Peter Tan.

“I had a fantastic experience with my workshops as my workshop leaders (award-winning poets Major Jackson and Kim Addonizio) led sessions that were deliberately uncomfortable for us — prompting us to ask the hard questions within our writing, to always dig deeper into the experiences that we often try to bury, and to come out of our comfort zones,” Daniel shared.

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Daniel (left, second row) with fellow participants at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, the largest non-profit literary centre in Colorado. Photo provided by Daniel Soo

Perry Kwan, Class of 2018, who attended the Inter-University Programme (IUP) for Chinese Language Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China as a recipient of the Chinese Language Scholarship funded by the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, discovered the value of ‘approaching an issue from multiple angles and considering the perspectives of different stakeholders’. He shared that this helped him develop into a more agile and adaptable learner.

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Perry (right) with his Classical Chinese teacher at IUP, who took the time and effort to explain the origins and development of Chinese characters, often drawing pictures to aid his understanding. Photo provided by Perry Kwan

Back to school

While the semester is in full swing now that summer has drawn to a close, the students share that their summer experiences have had an impact that will last well beyond the summer.

For some, this comes in the form of continuing the pursuit of their academic interests.

Joshua, who is majoring in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE), plans to count the course towards a minor in History, while Martin intends to pursue a major in Global Affairs with a focus on Chinese politics and international relations while continuing to practise his Chinese.

For others, their summer programmes prompted them to re-examine their choices.

Working at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection allowed Janel to learn ‘the importance of using art as a language to speak to audiences of a certain time and age’ and prompted her to make new decisions in her course selections to further inform her art-making in a more holistic manner.

Beyond the classroom, some have also sought to give back to the Yale-NUS community.

For example, Alaine currently tutors Spanish and is an active participant in the Yale-NUS College Hispanic Society, which aims to grow the presence of Latin American culture in the College.

Ultimately, what is apparent is that this collection of summer experiences exemplifies the reasons many choose to come to Yale-NUS College in the first place – the unparalleled opportunities to engage with individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds and cultures, acquire hands-on experiences and step out of one’s comfort zone.

And for many of these students, their summer experiences were but a checkpoint in what is ultimately a continual process of growth. We can’t wait to see what these students will go on to achieve thanks to the support of our donors!

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