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Sunday, July 21, 2024

What if?

story | Paul Jerusalem, Guest Writer

photos | Ly Nguyen, Vasudha Kataruka (cr. Gemma Green), Brian Bohme and Eun Jung Min (cr. Ignatius Tay)


As I approach my final days at Yale-NUS, I could not help but replay memories in my head and construct a narrative about how my different choices made huge impacts on my life.

I turned to my schoolmates in the Class of 2019 to ask them about their formative experiences at Yale-NUS, whether in the classroom or beyond, as well as some of their “what ifs”.

I spoke to Ly Nguyen, Vasudha Kataruka, Brian Bohme and Eun Jung Min.


What is one Yale-NUS College class you took that has changed your life?

Jung Min: Scientific Inquiry 1. It made me see beyond the confines of my subject of interest and that everything is somehow connected. Furthermore, it served as an impetus for me to explore and ultimately realize my major.

Ly: I think, as cheesy as it sounds, there are many classes that have impacted me deeply and helped me grow into who I am today. However, if I had to choose a class, it would be a tie between Professor Anju Paul’s class, International Migration, and Professor Valentina Zuin’s Water and Waste Management class. What I got out of these classes went beyond rigorous content and rewarding assignments; in both classes I learnt to be a compassionate and understanding scholar, not only towards those who are commonly viewed as disadvantaged, but also to policy makers and bureaucrats who face extraordinary dilemmas. As much as we are empathetic towards the poor, I have come to realize that service providers and policy makers often face a fair share of challenges despite having good intentions. If I want to eventually make changes in the world, I need to constantly work on being more charitable to the people I serve and the people I seek to work with as well.

Vasudha: Global Health: Challenges and Promises was a special seminar that we took in the first semester of sophomore year. As for how it changed my life— around that time I had decided that working in a lab in the life sciences was not for me; I was more inclined towards the social sciences. But I did love biology and medicine a lot. The week-long seminar with Professor Kaveh Khoshnood introduced me to the concept of global and public health, in which medicine and social science come together. As a result, the class made the concept of interdisciplinary study tangibly real for me.

Brian: Without a doubt, the class that changed my life the most was Introduction to Computer Science (CS). Prior to taking that course, doing CS wasn’t even something I had dreamed of pursuing. I didn’t even know what a line of code looked like! By the time I took it, I was falling out of love with mathematics and was a little lost on what I wanted to major in. I took Intro to CS mainly because another class I had wanted ended up being cancelled, and I needed a last minute replacement. This (not even exaggerating) changed the course of my life; I fell in love with the meticulousness and creativity and problem solving that CS demanded. Since then, I’ve never looked back. Most of my Yale-NUS education, career and future was shaped by that one course! Second place is Introduction to Poetry and Advanced Poetry. Larry (Ypil) is my savior.


What is one Yale-NUS class that you wish you had taken?

B: One of the fiction or creative nonfiction courses. I had written poetry for awhile, but I thought that poetry was the extent of my interest (and skill) in creative writing. However, in senior year I took Introduction to Playwriting and realized that my love for creative writing extended beyond the poetic form. I wish that with more time I could have indulged in even more creative writing forms and started my creative writing journey outside of poetry much earlier in my college career.

JM: Kazimir Malevich and the Black Square. I had an eye opening experience after taking a class on Orientalism by Professor Maria Taroutina. Not taking her earlier course was a missed opportunity.

V: Another World is Possible: Ecotopian Visions. Or any Environmental Studies class, really.

L: I wish I could have taken Professor Anju Paul’s Migration Policy class. Having taken International Migration, I feel that my journey into migration studies would’ve been much more complete if I had a chance to take Migration Policy and apply the issues, lessons, and resolutions we had learnt in International Migration to policy-making.


What is one Yale-NUS extra-curricular activity that has meant the most to you?

V: I actually have two. Theatre and Elm College Council (ECC). Working in different aspects of theatre, I realized my love for project and event management. And at ECC, I got to put those into practice and build community hands-on.

B: Working with Admissions. People will think I’m crazy, but working with Admissions was one of the highlights of my whole college career. I absolutely love giving tours and meeting new people. But most importantly, I emphatically believe that the admissions team is the best group of people on campus. Working with them from the start of freshman year was the one activity I never wanted to leave even once throughout college.

JM: Ballroom. It helped me keep my weight in check… at least for the first two years.

L: The Residential College Advisor role, if I could classify that as an extra-curricular activity, has meant the most to me. Seeing that I could somehow use my experiences, mistakes, and takeaways in the past three years of college to benefit an incoming student, and to see them open up to me and to witness them grow, figure out what drives them and become each other’s support system, and watching them become a better and happier version of themselves is the greatest reward.


And what is one Yale-NUS extra-curricular activity that you wish you had participated in?

L: Perhaps a competitive sport, such as Tchoukball, would have been fun! I never had the upper body strength though.

V: Any sports. I wish I had tried out more activities outside my comfort zone. And sports is as far out as possible.

JM: Archery. It runs in my blood. (Check Olympic records.)

B: Tennis, Yale-NUS Ballroom or Society of Yale-NUS College Dancers (sYNCd). Most people probably don’t know that I’ve had dance training in the past. I was also a big tennis player, but I left all my creative and athletic ventures after high school because I had done so many of them in high school that I was a little tired of them, to be honest. I think I was so focused on doing entrepreneurial extracurriculars when entering college because I had no chance to do something of the sort in my tiny high school that I forwent any of these athletic, creative, or social types of clubs. I now wish that I had gotten involved in them because I’m realizing how difficult it’ll be to rejoin these types of activities in the future! Plus my tennis abilities probably suck now and my high school self would be sorely disappointed.


What is one off-campus activity that has been extremely beneficial to you?

JM: Eating out. It kept my sanity in check but not my weight.

B: This isn’t a formal activity per se, but eating off-campus has been my lifeblood throughout college. Sorry dining hall food, but being able to indulge in all the food in Singapore has kept me sane and happy throughout these four years. Oh, and Starbucks. These “activities” have been the most beneficial to me without a doubt. I think anyone who knows me can attest to my fiscally-irresponsible habit (but important self-care!) of eating out.

V: Volunteering at HealthServe. Not only did it help me connect with Singapore outside of Yale-NUS (which is important as an international student on the Tuition Grant Scheme), it also familiarized me with health issues and social injustices that migrant workers in Singapore face. It influenced my interest in working in the intersections of migration and health. Plus, I got to explore Geylang and eat good beancurd!

L: For me the most beneficial off-campus activity was my short field trip to Madrid, Spain last year. Taking up a project completely in Spanish, I got to interview a Madrid urban planner, the head of a participatory neighbourhood planning initiative, and Spaniards in a small neighborhood bar about how best to support neighbourhoods for the elderly. The experience was intense, extremely challenging but, exactly because of that, incredibly fulfilling!


And what is one off-campus activity that you look forward to after graduation?

V: Cooking in my own kitchen. Owning a pet cat. Gardening.

L: Spend more time for hobbies I have slacked on during college: play the piano, do more urban sketching and perhaps embark on my little oral history project documenting the disappearing remnants of the streetscape of old Hanoi.

JM: I am going to try helping out at a soup kitchen in New Haven. Cooking to help people in need? What’s better than that?

B: Eating off campus 24/7? But in all seriousness, I plan to write poetry a lot more in my free time. My goal is to produce some sort of chapbook soon, and I want to use the time I have outside of work to attend more workshops and enter more competitions for my poetry. In college I’ve gotten to take advantage of the writing scene here, which has imparted me with the joy of writing in a non-academic context. I’m glad that now writing can and will always be an escape for me, but I want to still push myself to produce and share work even if I’m not a full-time student/writer. Hopefully it’ll provide good balance for the craziness of #corporate life.

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