Thursday, April 15, 2021

No More Trips to South Africa and Europe: Yale-NUS President Explains Future Plans for Week 7

Xie Yihuihttp://yihuixie.com
Yihui (Class of 23) is the editor-in-chief at The Octant. She enjoys losing herself in nature, a movie, a book or a conversation.

Story by | Xie Yihui (she/her/hers), Editor-in-Chief

Week 7 Learning Across Boundaries (LABs), experiential learning trips that are part of Yale-NUS College’s Common Curriculum, will in the future be restricted to Asian destinations, Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS, explained in a meeting with The Octant on Feb. 9, 2021.

Week 7 LABs are co-curricular programs designed by the Centre for International and Professional Experience in collaboration with faculty members to allow them to share their scholarship with students outside of the classroom and create an opportunity for students to explore the curriculum in broader, real-world contexts.

The earlier iterations of this program saw students going to Vienna, London, India, and South Africa; however, this year’s Week 7 trips were limited to local destinations, due to prevailing COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

Students from “The Mindful City: A Flash Nonfiction Writing Workshop for a Healthy Environment” posing after picking up trash at a beach near Yishun Dam. Credit: Fannie Koh ‘24

However, it is unlikely that future Week 7 trips will take place outside of Asia even after travel restrictions are lifted, the president said.

The primary reason for keeping the trips local and regional is that the cost and administrative challenges of running the far-away trips outweighed the academic benefits, according to Prof. Tan.

“We asked ourselves: Is it productive to have those Week 7 programs get to spend two to three days in the location before making the long flight back again? We did not think this would be very productive.”

The president also cited the high carbon footprint of the flights as another concern, raised by more climate-aware students.

Aside from the financial and environmental cost, Prof. Tan said that keeping the trips within Asia aligns with Yale-NUS’s vision of being “In Asia, for the world”, and also takes advantage of the many resources and learning opportunities in the region.

“There’s a lot to discover in Asia and ASEAN—anything you want to know from evolution to climate change, to governance, to urbanization,” he said.

Students from “The Past and the Present: History and Memory in Singapore”  heading towards the National Museum of Singapore on Feb. 26, 2021. Credit: Billy Tran ‘24

“And then also you get to explore a region which I think is going to be very important,” he added. In the future, he would “expect to see a combination of local topics and international hopefully focusing on ASEAN or China, India.”

This is not the first Yale-NUS overseas travel program that was scaled down or slashed in recent years.

Residential College Excursion (RCX) involved freshpeople of each Residential College (RC) traveling to different parts of Southeast Asia—such as Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos, and Yogyakarta in Indonesia—for three to five days of exploration and group bonding activities.

In the early years of the College, the college-wide trips to various destinations in Southeast Asia would cost an exorbitant $300,000 per RC each year to cover the travel expenses alone, Prof. Tan revealed. 

Overseas trips also created exclusion, as not all international students were able to obtain their visas in time and had to be left behind in Singapore.

After deciding that the trips were “expensive and disruptive” and “not sustainable,” the college decided to replace RCX with a day of outdoor activities planned in and around Singapore, dubbed RC Teambuilders.

It is not hard to discern that the Yale-NUS experience has gradually become more pared-down over the years. Many of the initial generous offerings are no longer available, such as need-blind admissions for international students.

As the college’s tenth anniversary nears, Yale-NUS is still experimenting and exploring which experience is indispensable, and which can be scaled down or done away with entirely for the sake of inclusion and efficiency.

1 COMMENT

  1. Damn sad. I personally came to Yale- NUS *for* the international experience, not to get a sole focus on Asia. That would’ve been strikingly similar to American elite schools whose prime focus is America, which to me, was downright offputting.

    With the college paring down many of these international experiences, I feel that this will fundamentally alter the kind of applicants they will attract.

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