story | Sim Yi Shien, Contributing Photographer

photos | Sim Yi Shien

Do you ever have moments where you just stop and assess your life and realize that you’ve turned out nothing like what you expected to? That has happened to me, a lot, especially as I near the end of my time in college. In my bid to find out if anyone else has experienced this and what they make of it, I talked to two people from the graduating class to find out how their four years at Yale-NUS College has changed them.

Ed: Responses have been lightly edited for brevity.

Julianne Thomson

Colorado, USA

Julianne in 2014 (left), Julianne in 2018 (right)

A physical change: The most obvious change is my hair. At first, I cut my hair really short, when I was going through some stuff, some real stuff. Then, I dyed the tips black, which to me was like putting my foot in shark-infested waters. And then, I realized I love swimming in the shark-infested waters! And so I just dove in. I don’t know where this metaphor is going, actually. But I love my black hair. I think it’s really fun, I just get so much joy from it. I feel like it’s a logical evolution of me.

An emotional change: I feel like I have emotional autonomy now, because my emotional autonomy was compromised a lot when I had blonde hair. Which is a really terrible, weird way to describe it, because it assumes that as a blonde person, I couldn’t handle my emotions. But maybe that’s what I need right now — to externalize my emotional state onto my hair. I don’t think it means I’ll never be blonde again though.

What else has changed since you started college?

It does feel like my time in college has been one big cliché because I can feel myself now. I can feel who I am and where my boundaries are. That has all been in the face of things, mostly adverse things, over the past 3 years. Some really amazing things have happened, though, and they do balance out.

Before I came here, I didn’t have anything pushing my boundaries, and anything I did felt so beyond me. I didn’t feel old enough, I didn’t feel mature enough. I didn’t even know what it’s like to feel mature or how it’s like. I didn’t know how to speak properly. And suddenly, I have found words for my feelings; I have felt new feelings that I don’t have words for, but I’m finding them as I go and I know that I can find words for them. That is one big life change.

Gabe Ibasco

Manila, Philippines

Gabe in 2014 (left), Gabe in 2018 (right)

An emotional change: I’d say my aesthetic transformation has definitely come hand in hand with an emotional one. My bolder looks have shaped an attitude that’s much bolder about not fitting into society’s mold. Now I’m more comfortable with embracing my intrinsic differences as a queer woman, and with that, I’m okay with things not turning out the way they have for other people.

A physical change: I have changed my aesthetic a lot. I’m wearing women’s clothing, and I never used to do that. I’m a lot bolder with my appearance, I show more skin than I used to. Freshman year was the first year where I was comfortable wearing short sleeved things, because I was so insecure about my arms being small. And a lot of guys before would make fun for me for not being manly because I had skinny arms. But I’m owning that now, so I’m just living the skinny legend life.

I really like high heels, I wear a ton of makeup, it’s basically day drag. It feels uncomfortable when I dress normally, actually, which is the opposite of freshmen year where I was like, if I blend in, that’s better.

What else has changed since you started college?

As much I’ve suffered from coming out as trans, nothing has been better than being able to say, yes, that is me, and I know what I want, and there’s an end goal that I can vividly imagine, and that’s not something I could say back in freshman year. I know what I want exactly: to be in a place where I’m loved and accepted, and to express myself through aesthetics and beauty in a way that feels authentic.

This is so cliché and generic, but I now have a better idea of my identity and who I am. Coming into freshman year, I identified as a bisexual man, and now I’m a straight woman. So there’s that. Clearly, anything can change in four years of college.

4 Years’ Time will be an ongoing feature until the end of the semester. If you would like to be featured, or would like to suggest someone to be featured, feel free to reach out to Sim Yi Shien at sim.yishien@u.yale-nus.edu.sg.