story Regina Marie Lee
photo Christopher Khew
In January 2015, Keziah Quek ’17 will be in London visiting art museums and galleries, while taking four modules in the Arts and Humanities. She is part of a group of 12 sophomores who will be the first batch of students from Yale-NUS College to do a semester abroad.
She said, “I’ll be attending Yale in London, taking modules such as Time and Place in Early Modern England and Modern British Drama. It’s a great opportunity to see a new city, not just for a week on holiday but for a semester.”
Other students are also headed to Yale University, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and University College Utrecht in the Netherlands.
For Quek, who plans to major in Art History or Curation, Yale in London was an ideal opportunity. “We’ll be visiting a ton of museums and I’m planning to network and talk to gallery owners, art dealers and people who make art.”
Others have less concrete plans. Adrian Stymne ’17, hopes to use the semester to take a step back and reflect. “It’s been a very intense one and a half years, and most sophomores are feeling like they’ve been so involved in so many things and haven’t taken a step back and thought about it. I will be using this sort of natural break to see what’s important to me, both in my majors and extracurriculars.”
Joan Ongchoco ’17 agreed. “Being part of such a small college really challenges you — you have to be invested and be involved. It will be nice to take a step back and figure out what I want without being too involved.”
Students are also looking forward to the challenge of living in an unfamiliar place.
Laureen Höllgeová ’17 explained, “I’ll be living on my own, off campus. Somewhat like post-college life, not within a bubble, so I felt like that might help me figure out what kind of life I want to be living.”
These students were selected based on their academic record, application essay and faculty recommendation, according to Ng Teng Kuan, CIPE’s Senior Program Manager of International Programs.
Those going abroad have a diverse range of interests they hope to pursue next semester. Ongchoco hopes to make full use of the resources at Yale. “I want to do research, talk to professors and read books, while carrying on with debate and dance.”
Höllgeová will be exploring education modules. “I am thinking if I should head in that direction, so I hope to take classes in things like curriculum design,” she said.
Stymne, on the other hand, hopes to rediscover his interests. He explained, “I will try not to get too deeply involved in one thing, but rather go to shows and experience life more broadly. I want the personal space to see what I really value and want to put time into if I don’t have any committed hours.”
Quek was happy for a change in environment. She said, “I think we’re all getting a bit of cabin fever in RC4 and the grass is greener on the other side.”
Others were more reluctant to leave. Ongchoco admitted, “It’s sinking in that I’m actually going, and I just got comfortable this semester and found my happy place here. Especially for dance, after doing Deck the Halls, I wanted to keep teaching and dancing with them.”
Höllgeová agreed. “I’m starting to be scared of leaving this place because I realised how much I like it here. I will miss my friends, especially if they go for a semester abroad after me.”
She continued, “I really don’t know what to expect [in Chile], as I don’t know anyone there. The only information I am getting is through YouTube videos. Still, I hope to use this experience to immerse myself fully in the culture, find Chilean friends and absorb the Chilean life.”
Learning from other student groups is also important to those going abroad. Ongchoco said, “In debate and dance, I want to learn from what they do, and benefit from having seniors, which is something that the sophomore batch has definitely missed.”
Stymne added, “We have re-invented the wheel and started all our student groups here from scratch, and I think that’s great. And I will also reflect on how student organisations work there and see if I could bring some of those ideas back here, if people will listen.”
A semester abroad is likely to be a transformative learning experience. After all, one is placed in an unfamiliar environment with many great opportunities and has to learn to adapt and make the most of it. Ng hopes that students will ultimately bring back “gifts of themselves”. He explained, “Perhaps more than ideas or projects per se, the best thing that students can bring back are the gifts of themselves – hopefully more thoughtful, wiser, and kinder after a semester abroad – to the Yale-NUS community. As Frank Laubach said, ‘What is man’s best gift to mankind? To be beautiful of soul and then let people see into your soul.’”