Letter from an American student with no name whose father is a dear friend of mine and who this year starts his University adventure. In Singapore.
Lettera (in inglese) del figlio di un mio caro amico americano al suo primo anno di un programma universitario di eccellenza a Singapore assieme alla University of Yale. Il mondo marcia, vola nella sua offerta di una nuova Università anche basata sull’interdisciplinarità. E noi?
… first, some boring stuff: I spent most of my senior year applying for college and fooling around until I got admissions replies back. Eventually I had to decide between three different schools: Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale-NUS. I’m not sure if you’ve heard about Yale-NUS before; its a new liberal arts college that is jointly established by Yale and the National University of Singapore to be the first of its kind in Asia (its not a branch campus of Yale and offers its own degree) and this year was the inagural year for the college. After striking Dartmouth off the list pretty fast, it took many hours of thought before I finally submitted my confirmation to join the first class of Yale-NUS.
Why, you might ask, did I decide to fly halfway across the world to attend college? Most of it goes back to the Experience Yale-NUS weekend (EYW), where they flew a bunch of us down to Singapore just to check out the country and the college itself, where I met the most amazing group of students I had ever met in my life. Every one of them possessed a level of analytic thought, global awareness, and genuine curiosity that I had never seen before. In just a few short days I explored deep political and philosophical questions with each student offering a unique viewpoint. I realized that this is what I really wanted in future classmates and I didn’t have anywhere near the same level of conversation when I visited the American colleges. In the end, it came down to this: If I attended Duke, I could see myself constantly clicking to the Yale-NUS page and see what the students over there were doing and regret not attending out of uncertainty. And as its turned out so far, coming to Singapore has been an amazing experience.
I could write for pages and pages and still not go over everything that has happened since I left the United States (I’m still struggling to write it all down in my own), so I’ll just go over a few points. The first week we came to Singapore, the main event was the Amazing Race, which was a full two day race around various landmarks, with an overnight stay at a beach. It was a lot of fun and gave me a chance to bond with my classmates, especially the Singaporean ones who arrived at the college later than the internationals. Right after the race, they flew all of our class off the Yale, where we spent three weeks attending different lectures from a variety of topics including sustainability and epics. The Yale Summer Immersion acted as a great bridge between summer and the school year: we were starting to ease back into classes, but in a very relaxed fashion. There were many different events offered during the three weekends at Yale; I spent the first in New York City, the second going home for my mom’s birthday, and the third listening to Ban-Ki Moon speak at the UN and attending a dinner at the Yale Alumni club. The three weeks passed incredibly quickly and before I knew it we were on a plane back to Singapore.
After we got back, there was a week off before classes started for the Singapore students to home and everyone to recharge. I spent most of this week just getting some general affairs settled – setting up phone, bank, etc. School officially started five weeks ago. Everyone is currently taking four classes together, Scientific Inquiry (SI), Comparative Social Institutions (CSI), Philosophy and Political Thought (PPT), and Literature and Humanities (LitHum). Admittedly, SI is my least favorite course, but that’s only because I enjoy the other ones so much. We’ve explored a number of different concepts in SI, such as cosmology and atomic theory, but the most exciting thing about my other courses is how well they’ve build in both Eastern and Western ways of thinking.
In CSI this week, we examined South Indian family relationships and how they relate to the current debate in the US about gay marriage. In PPT, we spent the past few weeks learning about the great Chinese Philosophers before transitioning today into Plato’s Republic. In LitHum, we first studied the Indian epic Ramayana and just recently started reading the Odyssey; it is remarkable how many similarities can be drawn between the two epics across such different cultures. The best thing about Yale-NUS though is still the students, who come from so many different countries with distinct cultural backgrounds. Every class discussion looks at issues from an amazingly vast array of viewpoints. When an American student tried to put forth the notion that love was a key feature in the ideal marriage in CSI, there were instant rebuttals from many different people about how arranged marriages had been an important part of their culture.
These classes and people have exposed me to so many different ways of thinking that I had never experienced before and are a truly unique feature of my new college. At the risk of sounding very cliched, coming to Yale-NUS has shown me a whole new world.
Classes and learning aside, its been a ton of fun as well! Since starting the school year, I’ve done everything from joining a business case competition to attending the Ramadan Night Festival to sitting and talking on Arab Street until 2 AM. And the future holds much in store. At the end of next week, I’ll be flying to Indonesia with four friends to go mountain climbing up an active volcano during our week-long break. And the following week, I’ll be returning to Indonesia again for another week to work on a school project: Reconstruction in Banda Aceh, a region that was devastated by a tsunami back in 2005 and some of my other friends are heading off to Greece to study the history of some of our texts. I’ve even already made plans to stay with a new friend of mine in New Delhi for a week at the start of the winter break. At this rate, I’ll probably be back in Italy visiting you before long!