story by Assistant Professor Stanislav Presolski, Guest Columnist

Weak 7.001

Wow! This is a common exclamation one hears on our beautiful new campus. From the overall architecture and the ultra-modern facilities to the diverse student body, which brings incredible talents and unexpected sensibilities, Yale-NUS College is a place of wonder. But while we proudly show off our new home to the world, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we will be able to turn all that great raw material into something of value without much work and dedicated effort. Sadly, the level of complacency I witnessed at the Week 7 Symposium cast a long shadow on the ‘learning across boundaries’ aspect of our education.

As a first-time observer, I was naturally excited to see what the first-years have been up to and like many outside visitors. I was amazed at the wealth of travel and exploration opportunities they had. Yet on multiple occasions, my thirst for depth and context was not quenched. Instead, I was met with blank stares, a lack of integrity, and disinterest.

How can one team draw intricate maps of villages, but be unable to say where those are situated with respect to Shanghai, Beijing or Xi’an? How come many photos were lifted from the Internet without any reference? Why were many groups unable to give me even a basic explanation of how the fancy machines they used work? And how could others think they can convince me that the Chinese were advanced, when they were at a loss about which century, scratch that, in which millennium the astronomical instrument anchoring their whole trip was created? Upon further inquiry, I often heard, “I am not a science type,” as if that was an excuse, followed by glances at their cell phones, but mind you, not for finding answers on the Web…

Am I expecting too much of students who have just started college and have barely slept the night before preparing their posters? Of course I am. Do I expect my colleagues and I to catch and rectify the lack of context and depth, the misconceptions about “science types,” and most importantly, the docile acceptance of ignorance as they manifest themselves in and out of the classroom? Absolutely—not only because we are the student and teaching elite, but also because our lavish temple of learning with its many perks and benefits costs a lot of money. Money that was given to us in good faith that the returns for society at large will be significant. So if for whatever reason you missed the opportunity to become a better citizen of the world, i.e. if you did not benefit intellectually, spiritually or culturally from your Learning Across Boundaries—and I mean in at least an order of magnitude more than any other excursion without running water—then honestly, this whole Week 7 thing was just an expensive holiday trip.

As a recipient of over $300,000 in scholarships, I often ask myself whether I have been worthy of this generosity, and whether this money would have been better spent on the proverbial primary schools in developing countries. I’ll admit that it is not practical to always dwell on this, but I believe that if nothing else, we should be cognizant of the costs of our education. This cost of giving us the comfort to pursue our mission is borne by someone else.Thus, like it or not, we must hold ourselves to much higher standards, here “in Asia, (because notice, Yale-NUS is not just for ourselves, but) for the World.”

 

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