story | Sim Yi Shien and Chia Jie Lin

photo | Sim Yi Shien

 

As Graduation Day draws closer, the urge to reminisce about our time in college grows stronger than ever, and we might find ourselves ruminating on how much we’ve changed since we entered Yale-NUS College. What kinds of people did we aspire to be? Have we become them, or have our priorities shifted drastically in the process?  

As part of an ongoing series, The Octant invited four graduating members of the Class of 2018 to reflect on how they have grown during their time here at Yale-NUS College.

 

Ed.: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

 

Clin Lai

Singapore

A physical change: My style of dressing became more Uniqlo-based and less a jumble of random pieces, I think.

An emotional change: I’d like to think that I’m less judgmental of people, and that I’m calmer. In the past, during stressful exam periods I would express my stress in unhealthy ways, like by snapping at people. But now, even if I’m stressed, I see it more as a part of life, and am able to see the stress in a greater context.

What else has changed since you started college?

I probably have become more idealistic and less focused on the pragmatic aspects of things. Interestingly, I entered college with a more cynical outlook on life than I have now. It’s not that accurate of a metaphor, but if you think of passion for life as a flame, I had none in the past. Life is just like that, I thought. But college gave me back that interest in life by encouraging me to pursue  things I’m interested in, like pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, a field which I would really like to contribute to.

I would tell freshman-me to be more open to unplanned opportunities, to be more spontaneous in doing things, and to be more open to different kinds of people. When you first meet people, I want to tell freshman-me to not just categorize and stereotype them, but to view them as their own person.

 

Han Chong

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A physical change: I’ve definitely put on weight. It comes from my sedentary lifestyle of coding all day in front of the computer and telling myself that I will go to the gym next week. In some semesters, I have done better, and I would be able to go to the gym regularly. This semester was not one of them. I also guess my haircut’s gotten worse. I have been cutting my own hair, and while trying new things is important, they don’t always work out.  

An emotional change: One of the things that I have learned while living in a place like Yale-NUS is the importance of making time for yourself. It’s so easy to get caught up in  a community that feels very important to you, to get overwhelmed by too many responsibilities in college. It becomes easy to neglect self-care. So, for me, self-care  means that I may have to turn down certain activities or requests simply because I need to make sure that I have enough time to do the things that are important to myself as well. I’ve also realized the importance of not draining ourselves emotionally.

Sometimes, when you throw yourself into something to the point where it affects you personally, you are not able to perform the tasks you need to do. In my junior year semester one, I was taking very difficult courses while at the same time working three or four jobs. I was very stressed in that semester to the point where it was affecting my ability to work effectively in any of those jobs or classes. My exchange at Yale University helped me to take a break from everything that was piling up at Yale-NUS College. When I came back from my exchange semester, I decided that I would just focus on one job. My senior year has been a lot more balanced and as a result, I feel more happy with myself.

What else has changed since you started college?

I have gained a greater perspective of things, and I have been exposed to a greater variety of views in the college than  I definitely would have had a chance to otherwise. I have gained more empathy for people from very different backgrounds to my own. That is one thing I am grateful for, in my experience here at Yale-NUS College. Being able to get to know different people and their life experiences really puts my own experiences into perspective as well.

Ying Tong

Singapore

A physical change: For me, it would definitely be the hair. Around the start of senior year,  I decided to chop off my almost waist-length hair. For me, it symbolized really coming into my own, and not trying to approximate some kind of feminine ideal ‘l’.To be perfectly honest, I cut it after a break-up, but other than the heartbreak, at that point I realized that I want to do things for myself and define myself, instead of trying to fulfil someone else’s expectations. Right now, I just feel more myself than ever—I always liked being a little bit different and I feel way more comfortable in my own skin with this hair.

An emotional change: I think it’s probably related to the hair. The biggest change is that now I do not compromise, I’ve learned how to say no,  to respect my own limits, and to realize the importance of self-care. I think everyone goes through that realization phase, and for me, that happened during sophomore and junior year, where I tried to be everything to everyone. At one point, I was in five different student organisations and doing research on the side. Whereas now, I’ve realised that it’s about quality over quantity, and I’ve realised that you should do things that give you strength and that you derive meaning from.

For me, senior year has been about planning about life after college, so I’ve been very careful about making my next steps and I’m very excited to join company that is socially responsible and fights for social justice (Ying Tong will be joining ThoughtWorks as a Graduate Software Developer).

What else has changed since you started college?

I would say that I’ve grown intellectually. I didn’t come into Yale-NUS thinking I would be a physics major, but going through the Common Curriculum and a variety of courses and having the opportunities to do research, has made me more intellectually daring. The whole thing about learning how to learn—it’s a real thing. I now feel more confident in picking up new things and really going for what I’m interested in. For instance, I picked up computer science relatively late in my college career, but that didn’t stop me from stop me from applying for a job in software development. It’s very inspiring to be in such an intellectually diverse, interdisciplinary and daring environment.

I’ve also definitely learnt more about the feminist movement, and I read more about intersectional feminism—the nuances and complexities of the issues. I can say that I identify as a feminist, and am definitely starting the journey of understanding what that term means.

 

Weiliang

Singapore

A physical change: I think I still dress the same as I did in freshman year.

An emotional change: I feel more secure – I know what I want to do, I have a group of friends, and I don’t have to be conscious about what other people think about what I say, how I look or how I behave. I’m a lot more comfortable, and Yale-NUS feels like a second home.

What else has changed since you started college?

One of the memorable things I did in college was to go to Alicante, Spain to learn Spanish for two months, but when I went I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. I just applied for the CIPE Summer Language Scholarship and went along with it when I got accepted. The first week  there was the most nerve-wrecking week I’d experienced in all of college, probably. When I arrived, I came with a piece of paper explaining who I was in Spanish—Alex Pont ‘18 wrote that for me, because I visited him before starting the program. Then I just showed this to my host. Learning a new language when you’re older is crazy, especially when you need the language for survival. But after the third week, I was able to have basic conversations in Spanish. My Spanish is bad now though – I can’t string together coherent sentences, but I understand roughly what people are saying. That’s probably the most radical thing I’ve done in college.

 

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