29 January 2014: HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visits Yale-NUS College

Written by Clare Isabel Ee | Photo by Samuel He for Yale-NUS College

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It was a quiet morning, as it usually is on Sundays before lunchtime at Yale-NUS College. At the driveway of Residential College 4 in University Town stood a party of Yale-NUS  leaders, faculty and staff members, including President Pericles Lewis, Executive Vice-President (EVP) Professor Lai Choy Heng and EVP Mrs Doris Sohmen-Pao. They all watched expectantly as a motorcade began to arrive in the driveway; flyaway hair was smoothed, suits adjusted. The Guest-of-Honour, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, was here.

Her Royal Highness’ visit to Yale-NUS College on 19 January 2014 began with a presentation by President Lewis, introducing the College, the Yale-NUS Common Curriculum, residential life, and the diversity of students and faculty. She then took a tour of the temporary campus, including students’ living quarters as well as facilities like the Multi-Purpose Hall, Reading Room, and the buttery.

The students who run the buttery – more affectionately known as The Shiok Shack – were both nervous and excited on the day of the visit.

“It was such a pleasant surprise to have a Princess want to see our small operation,” said Timothy Lim, part of the group that runs the buttery. “She kept a copy of our menu! We didn’t really know what was going to happen during the visit, so we only had some old menus lying around. It was nice to know she didn’t mind, and even kept it!”

Her Royal Highness’ interest in education is well known, as seen from her solid Arts education, including two Masters of Arts in Oriental Epigraphy (Sanskirt and Cambodian) and Pali & Sanskrit, and a doctorate in Development Education, not to mention years of other courses and experiences. Over the years, she has been heavily involved in community and social development in Thailand, and has dedicated much of her time to such causes.

Dean Charles Bailyn, astrophysicist and Dean of Faculty at Yale-NUS, who was part of the group that accompanied Her Royal Highness’ tour, enjoyed a lengthy conversation on science and academia with her.

“Her Royal Highness was very well informed on educational matters, and interested in what we were doing,” he said. “We talked about the Yale-NUS curriculum and its structure, and also about the current state of astrophysics and efforts in Thailand to build up that area.”

After the tour, Her Royal Highness sat down for a dialogue session with a few faculty members and students. Students and faculty alike were more than happy to answer her queries on the different aspects of Yale-NUS life – from the curriculum to residential life.

It was significant for Assistant Professor Andrew Johnson, whose academic interests have focused on Thailand amongst other Asian cultures.

“The visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was quite an honour for our institution, and was significant for me personally, as Her Royal Highness has been a key patron of the humanities in general and anthropology in particular in Thailand,” the cultural anthropologist said.

Her Royal Highness was on a two-day visit to Singapore from 17 to 19 January, during which she also attended the opening ceremony of Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS), visited the National Research Foundation and the TUM Create laboratory.

“Princess Sirindhorn seemed very interested in the particular choices that we had made with our Common Curriculum courses, and asked specific questions about the thought processes that went into our curriculum design. […] My sense was that her main concern revolved around the Thai community living in Singapore, be they construction workers or college students. She said that many come to Singapore to seek opportunity at great personal and financial cost to their families. And at least from us, I think, she wanted to ensure that the educational opportunities in Singapore far outweighed those costs. My hope is that as a result of this visit, we might get a few bright Thai students to join Yale-NUS and enrich the educational experience for all of us.”
— Assistant Professor Shaffique Adam, a faculty member at the dialogue
“Personally, the highlight of the event was telling Her Royal Highness about The Peace Gong, a global newsletter on social change that I founded, and the many student-led initiatives that we are involved in. She asked several questions and was very interested in the role that student volunteers played to collect answers for the My World Survey which led to us winning the My World Partner award by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) in the volunteerism category. Her appreciation of our work was exceptionally inspiring and I hope I can continue to expand The Peace Gong in the future.”
— Spandana Battacharya (Class of 2017), one of the students at the dialogue