30 December 2016: Dispatches from Abroad

By Callysta Thony & Joella Lopes-Lam | Images as credited

Semester abroad programmes are enriching and highly rewarding experiences for students at Yale-NUS College, who return with stories and lessons to share with their peers back in Singapore. These trips provide valuable opportunities for students to pursue their academic interests while being exposed to different cultures and college experiences. With the help of various philanthropic gifts to the College, a number of students were able to participate in a wide variety of semester abroad programmes earlier this year.

Brian Huang (Class of 2017), who flew to England to study mathematics at New College, Oxford University, was one of those hoping for a different college experience abroad. “I wanted to experience learning at one of the strongest institutions for mathematics in the world and to learn how best to manage a highly independent education during my time at Oxford,” he said, referring to the larger class size he experienced at Oxford, as compared to small seminar-styled classes that Yale-NUS offers with its small faculty-to-student ratio.

Despite being challenged by the unfamiliar learning environment, Brian reflected that the experience, which included engaging category theory tutorials and opportunities to attend a number of talks at the Mathematical Institute, gave him greater exposure to mathematics and increased his confidence as a mathematics major. However, Yale-NUS was not far from his mind as he longed for the intimacy and vibrancy of the Yale-NUS community as well as its style of education. “While going through Oxford’s system was a valuable experience, I still do enjoy working with friends on homework and having constant opportunities to chat with professors,” he explained.

brian-huang_photoBrian (left, seated) punting on a river with fellow Yale-NUS students, a long-standing Oxford tradition. Image provided by Brian Huang.

Meanwhile, inspired by a Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) trip organised by CIPE in her sophomore year, history major Regina Hong (Class of 2017) spent her semester abroad in Japan participating in the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies (KCJS) programme administered by Columbia University.

Eager to improve her mastery of the Japanese language during her time there, Regina took courses in Japanese, history, as well as migrations to and from Japan. She also volunteered at the Kyoto Institute of Technology Museum under KCJS’ co-curricular programme, giving her a glimpse of corporate culture in Japan. These experiences enabled her to significantly improve her Japanese writing and speaking abilities.

Outside of the classroom, Regina enjoyed various memorable and meaningful cultural experiences, such as viewing the annual sakura light up at Kiyomizu-dera Temple during the height of the cherry blossom season. “Viewing the sakura at night was surreal, and my favourite view of all in the temple was when we came to a pool that had the sakura reflected in it. A literal reflection of the transience of the world, as the poets might say,” she explained.

regina-hong_photoRegina is pictured with sakura (cherry blossom) flowers in Kyoto. Image provided by Regina Hong.

Over in the United States, Yale University, well-known for its top-notch undergraduate economics and graduate environmental studies programmes, played host to many Yale-NUS students, who relished the experience of meeting industry leaders and enrolling in courses that proved to be both exciting and challenging. “I was learning about monetary policy from William Nordhaus, who chaired the Boston Federal Reserve during the financial crisis. Additionally, the opportunity to enrol in an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) course in competitive strategy was an amazing and very challenging experience, which made me realise that I want to pursue an MBA in the future,” said economics major Alex Pont (Class of 2018).

alex-pont_photoAlex (second from left) and his classmates had the opportunity to discuss financial economics with Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Shiller at the Yale School of Management’s café. Image provided by Alex Pont.

May Tay (Class of 2017), who studied at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), shared that her semester abroad enabled her to experience environmental studies beyond the classroom and better evaluate her post-graduation options. “A few serendipitous conversations with classmates at Yale F&ES led to opportunities to help organise two conferences – one on green careers in science targeted at high school girls, and another on sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean,” she said. “As a rising senior, I was also starting to think about life after college, and taking classes at Yale F&ES really illuminated for me the myriad environmental professions one can embark on. After my semester abroad, I became clearer about wanting to attend graduate school and pursue an environmental career.”

may-tay_photoMay (front row, extreme left) poses with her Yale suitemates in Trumbull College.

However, like many other students on semester abroad programmes, Fatima Diaf (Class of 2018), who pursued Global Affairs during her semester abroad at Yale, also missed the close-knit Yale-NUS community back home. “Getting used to a large institution was challenging at first, especially when it came to large lecture classes since I was used to seminar style classes. However, learning to navigate this change has been an important take-away from my time at Yale. And while I appreciated being part of a large student body, I missed the feeling of community and familiarity that comes with our college,” she said.

fatima-diaf_photoFatima (left) celebrates some much-awaited sunshine on the Yale campus. Image provided by Fatima Diaf.

“As I follow our students’ pathways from applying for semester abroad programmes to completing them and then sharing their experiences back in college, it is heartening to witness their personal development,” said Goh Fang Wei, Programme Manager for International Programmes at Yale-NUS’ Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE).

“Our students have pursued their interests, which range from learning Chinese intensively in one semester to taking studio-intensive arts coursework. Gaining such valuable exposure overseas also gives them fresh insights into their passions and prepares them for their future careers.”