Memoirs of the Halcyon
story | Vasudha Kataruka
photo | Anshuman Mohan, Bozy Lu, Yale-NUS Admissions
From RC4 to the New Campus
Growing from 150 students to a full house in the past four years, there has been a large evolution of the Yale-NUS experience. For the Classes of 2017 and 2018, one of the most noticeable differences was the move from their temporary lodgings at RC4 to our beautiful, new gated campus. Changes in physical spaces often underline the more intangible ones. Living in a single building, and an open environment, RC4 felt more like a dorm, said Regina Hong ’17, as compared to the ‘homely’ feel fostered by the design of by our current suites. Another often spoken of variation was the availability of kitchen spaces in RC4, where there was a kitchen present every three floors. Home-cooked meals were not only common, but also became a central social activity. In addition, the proximity of RC4 to the NUS student body led to more organic interactions, something our current ‘gated’ campus is said to lack.
As the campus shifted its physical location, how has the Yale-NUS experience changed, and what can be said about the bonds between the inaugural batch when one college effectively split into three? It is hard to say. Like many other questions, this is one that would receive differing responses from different people, as the following edited transcripts show.
On the shift from RC4 to the current campus, Matthew Bolden ’17 shares his thoughts.
“Back in RC4, specifically the first year of Yale-NUS College, I had this same conversation with the professors, and I think it was a shared sentiment for a lot of people that Yale-NUS College at that first year was not a College. It was a Summer Camp.”
“I remember distinctly when I first landed and walked up to it from Changi, carrying all my suitcases, and I was like “Oh my god, we have a campus!” There is a sign on a map that says Yale-NUS College . It’s on a map! It has to be real.”
“When we were at RC4 and we identified ourselves as a start-up, it was a promise, it was something we were all on-board together for, it was a project. And now, when people say, ‘oh, we’re a startup, it’s not a promise anymore. It’s an excuse. And sometimes it’s a very valid excuse.”
“In the early days, there was a constant sense that if anything bad was published or said about the school, the notion was that, “Oh god, oh admissions is gonna die next round. Oh god.” Now we have an established reputation due to the good work of the students and faculty in the past few years. We aren’t as easily triggered if there is something bad written about us, and that is going to be even more established once seniors get out in the workforce and start doing work.”
“I think just because somebody says it is a solidified process now doesn’t actually make it a solidified process. And I think the biggest change hasn’t necessarily been the solidification of different processes. It’s been the rhetoric of solidification.”
The Perennial Upperclassmen
From being the only child, to becoming the eldest sibling, the Class of 2017 has been unique in that they were always the oldest, always the upperclassmen. Sometimes it has been fun, sometimes enlightening. But this experience was not necessarily easy. All these ‘firsts’ we keep recounting are somewhat cliché now. Still the fact remains that these ‘firsts’ were important. As an underclassman, relying on the knowledge of my upperclassmen was a natural thing. It was ubiquitous. It makes me curious as to how our seniors fared.
Labels like ‘guinea pigs’, ‘adventurers’, ‘pioneers’ have been ascribed to them. But, what do these labels mean? Ronald Chen ’17 shares his experiences of this role and position with us.
“We started the common curriculum. There was no other batch to test it for us. And after that, we had our first electives, and no one has ever taken electives before. And after that I went to NUS to take my first language courses, and no one had taken any courses at NUS before. And then I went to the NUS library for books from RBR book section, and no one had ever done it before.”
“There wasn’t anyone else above us who was going to tell us, “Hey you know, you should be doing an internship in your first year or you should be doing a language scholarship in your second year.””
“Sometimes it means that people don’t really understand what we’re going through as well. There is no one else to guide us, no one to tell us what to do or how to do it. But for us, we just had to figure it out along the way. It’s good and bad.”
“What I actually do know is that at no other institution would I have been able to learn three languages, do so many international programs (in Nepal, India, Jordan, and Indonesia), spend so much time doing research and being guided by my professors.”
“So all in all, I’d say it was a great four years. It was challenging sometimes. Maybe there wasn’t that much hand-holding or people to follow. But I don’t think I am much of a follower anyway.”
“Because we can do it, because life is short and because Yale-NUS is all about taking those chances. Everything from the legendary Barney Bate moment where we all stand up in the lecture and dance to ‘We are Family’…There are these moments at Yale-NUS where a lot of the zest for life and zest for adventure comes out. I hope we keep that, and I hope that remains a part of the Yale-NUS identity.” -Bolden ’17
“We should have the courage to stop and say ‘No, we should stop now and we should do something else’. For me that was one of the biggest lessons that Yale-NUS has taught me. It’s never too late to sit down and reevaluate what I can do differently if I’m not very happy.” – Hong ’17
“While we are busy trying to figure out our future, it’s worth taking some time to remember those who didn’t make it to the end with us – Professor Barney Bate and Dennis, but also the other students who started with us in 2013 and are graduating later. It’s good to think about the journey we took together; why some of us didn’t make it to the end, and how we did. And I think we deserve to pat ourselves on the back and realize that we’ve done pretty well.” -Chen ’17
Growing pains and awkward policies aside, there has been much that this ‘startup project’ has given to us. We did not have a 100-year legacy to behold. Rather we have moved forward without that weighing down on our backs. Instead, we create our own history as we progress on this journey, our party growing as new companions join on the way.
Of course, there will be mistakes. So we ask: How do we sally forth the imperfections in our past actions, even as we mature? Perhaps, that is the biggest lesson we shall receive within these halls.
Dear Class of 2017,
The task on your shoulders is not light by any means. It never was. But remember, that despite the responsibility, you have always flown high. For that grace and courage, thank you. And so, I am certain that even as you take on ever new challenges in this brave new world, you will leave an indelible mark wherever you go.
Now go and fly, Kingfishers.