30 April 2019: Yale-NUS Alumni Study Awards: A serendipitous connection

By Denise Tan 

Photo by Ashbel Chioh.

The ties between Terence Wang (Class of 2020), Foo Zhewei (Class of 2019) and Associate Professor of Science (Life Sciences) Khoo Hoon Eng, Rector of Saga College, run beyond their hometown of Penang, Malaysia. In what Terence terms a “serendipitous connection”, both students are the inaugural recipients of the two need-based Yale-NUS Alumni Study Awards that Assoc Prof Khoo established in 2015 to honour her parents, Mr Khoo Teng Chye and Mdm Toh Saw Keong.

Assoc Prof Khoo’s parents had their studies disrupted by the Japanese invasion of Malaya. While Mr Khoo was able to complete his GCE ‘O’ Levels, train at a teachers’ college, and eventually become the principal of a secondary school in Penang, Mdm Toh was unable to do likewise as her parents were unable to afford her school fees. She therefore began working at a young age, selling kueh and using her talent in math to organise cooperative lending clubs in her village.

Despite their own challenges in education, Assoc Prof Khoo’s parents supported her academic journey to the best of their abilities. Thanks to the generosity of several donors, she was able to attend a liberal arts college in the United States before pursuing a postgraduate degree. Having benefitted from both a liberal arts education and the generosity of donors, from whom she received funding to pursue her education, she decided to establish the two study awards at Yale-NUS to honour the sacrifices her parents had made in supporting her educational journey.

“I strongly believe that a liberal arts education builds stronger citizens and individuals who will contribute to their societies by making life better, not just for themselves but also for others wherever they may live,” said Assoc Prof Khoo, who has also made gifts to her alma mater.

When Assoc Prof Khoo met Terence and Zhewei for the first time to share her motivation behind establishing the two study awards, both recipients were particularly excited to find out that their benefactor hailed from the same hometown as them.

“Learning the identity of my benefactor, Assoc Prof Khoo, and the context of the study award was a great pleasure, as we both grew up in Penang and still feel a strong connection to our hometown,” said Terence. Zhewei concurred, adding that receiving the study award was made even more special because of the connection to and support of a fellow member of her community, after having been away from Penang for a long time.

Terence, who majors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), is currently spending a semester abroad at University College London. Prior to entering Yale-NUS, university costs played a large role in his decision-making process on where to attend college. He was adamant that his education should not financially burden his family, and thus rejected or did not apply to many colleges “on the sole basis of cost”. However, receiving the Yale-NUS Alumni – Khoo Teng Chye Study Award at the beginning of his sophomore year has enabled him to pursue his college education to the fullest.

Terence visited Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, during his semester abroad at University College London. Photo provided by Terence Wang.

“Receiving the study award has helped ensure that I can focus on actually living and learning, rather than constantly worry about supporting my education, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that,” said Terence. “It has similarly meant being able to enjoy my exchange now in London without being in constant anxiety over the high cost of living.”

These sentiments were echoed by Zhewei, a senior majoring in Economics, who will be graduating in May.

“I would have been much more hesitant to attend programmes or extracurricular activities that would require extra spending if I did not have financial support for my tuition from the Yale-NUS Alumni – Toh Saw Keong Study Award,” said Zhewei. “My summers and holidays would have also been geared towards making money instead of participating in activities that I found meaningful.”

With the support offered by the study award, Zhewei has been able to pursue overseas opportunities, such as attending a Yale Summer Session, during her time at Yale-NUS. More recently, she was able to travel to Andalucía, Spain on a Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) programme. There, she learnt about the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and explored the Peninsula’s architecture as well as social challenges.

Zhewei visited Andalucía, Spain for a Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) programme. Photo provided by Foo Zhewei.

Assoc Prof Khoo hopes that both the inaugural recipients of the study awards – as well as future recipients – will make full use of the doors that the awards have opened for them and eventually pay it forward in the future by helping others.

“My other dream is for others who read about this to make their own contributions to Yale-NUS, so that more students can attend the College with the financial aid that they need,” she added.