story | Bilge Arslan, Contributing Reporter
photo | Elesin Teo, Chief Photographer
We all go through a transition as freshpeople, as we move from places we call “home” to Yale-NUS College. Most of us will sleep, eat, have fun, burst into laughter and sometimes cry here. The impact of this experience on the upperclassmen, who were once in the same shoes as the Class of 2022, endures to this day.
Will these experiences change our definition of home? What is home in the first place? These are very personal questions, but I will share with you three different voices from the Yale-NUS community.
Bianca Chua ’22 was born in Singapore, but lived in Shanghai for the last six years. She lived in Hong Kong and Thailand as well before moving back to Singapore for college.
Rachelle Peroni ’22 was born in New Hampshire, U.S. and lived there all of her life until she moved here for college.
Christabelle Ong ’20 was born in Singapore, but moved to New York before she turned one. Her father is a Singaporean and her mother is a Chinese American.
Ed: The following interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What is “home” for you? What features of this place make you call it “home?”
Bianca: For me, home is a secure place that I would want to go to whenever I want to feel better. Now I can’t use the phrase “going back home,” because Shanghai is no longer a complete home for me.
To be honest, I can’t think of a place I can call home now because all of my close friends have left Shanghai for college. In fact, none of them have real roots in Shanghai; I see this city as a pit stop in each person’s journey. I believe that people have the power to transform anywhere into their home.
Rachelle: I’ve been living in New Hampshire for eighteen years. I used to live in a small community and I could recognize most of the faces I saw in the local grocery store. It’s actually similar to seeing familiar faces from our small Yale-NUS community at FairPrice. My surroundings consisted of wild animals, the woods and mountains covered with snow during winter. Here, skyscrapers replace high hills. I miss the bright red foliage, apple picking, eating apple cider doughnuts in fall and swimming in the river.
Christabelle: Home doesn’t necessarily have to be a place. For me, it’s more of a feeling, a feeling of safety, comfort, support, love, and acceptance.
Do you feel like Yale-NUS/Singapore is or will be your new home?
Bianca: I am currently trying to build my new home. Meeting new people really helps, but I should say that I still can’t call Singapore or Yale-NUS home.
(Here, she hesitates and seems confused.) I have rejected Singaporean culture, because I don’t fit or feel like I belong to it. When I tell people that I was born in Singapore, I feel the need to clarify myself by stating that I’ve been living in other places. I feel like people would use the stereotypes of a Singaporean to assume things about me, which wouldn’t be true because I don’t feel like one. For instance, I don’t know Singlish. This isn’t about me being ashamed of the Singaporean culture, it’s just that Singapore doesn’t define my identity.
Rachelle: For me, familiarity is the determining factor of home. Having friends and exploring places help me feel more familiar about this new environment. People matter for me and make the difference in the significance of places.
Understanding cultural differences is also a crucial element in my transition towards being able to call this place home. So, I think that I need more time before fully considering this place home. There are many things I don’t know. Sometimes I still feel clueless about Singapore, or even Yale-NUS.
Christabelle: I think Yale-NUS definitely feels more like a home after two years here. I’ve gotten into routine that is comfortable and familiar and I have suitemates and friends that I can rely on and hang out with often. There is a sense of normality in being here now.
I’m not sure I could call Yale-NUS or Singapore my home though. While I do feel it has aspects of what I consider to be a home, it still feels very temporary. As an international student, while I have found my sort of “place,” I don’t think I identify with Singapore very much. I think my feelings of home are still very tied to my family, and they aren’t here.
While I wouldn’t call Yale-NUS home, I still do appreciate it as a place I will live and exist in for two more years. This physical space has been the setting for a lot of personal growth, and I am thankful to have met amazing and wonderful people here whom I can call my friends. And I think it’s ok for Yale-NUS to not be home to me.
What have been the difficulties and gains of transitioning into a new life in Yale-NUS?
Bianca: Despite all of my opinions, I ultimately wanted to come to Singapore for college instead of going to the UK because I felt like it was time to embrace my own roots. Here, I aim to learn to accept and live with my own culture.
College is my chance to get in touch with friends in Singapore, to build strong relationships and a lasting social network. Of course I’m still open to going overseas and meeting new people, but I want to know that I’ll always have friends in Singapore. That way, I’ll hopefully be able to call this place my home.
Rachelle: Living in a city, diversity, weather, language and the food are unfamiliar things that I try to incorporate in my life. When it comes to gains, I now know some Turkish words which probably wouldn’t be the case in New Hampshire. (Here, she smiles at me and lists some of the words she learned.)
Leaving home and coming here made me want to get a tattoo illustrating New Hampshire. The design of the tattoo consists of trees, a river, the sun and the coordinates of New Hampshire. I think where you live leaves a mark on you and I want to have the mark in the literal sense.
Christabelle: I think one difficulty has been seeing some of my Singaporean friends go home on the weekend. I think that Yale-NUS can get very draining at times and not having the ability to spend an extended period of time or even a weekend away from it can be difficult.
I’ve been able to learn more from being exposed to different perspectives and have become more open-minded. But sometimes, being able to really resonate with people and their experiences being similar to yours is a source of comfort. I’ve grown through all the difficulties of transitioning. That growth and the person I’ve become have been the greatest gains.