Rocky Transitions: Organizations Suffer when Students Leave for Semester Abroad
story | Justin Ong, Executive Editor
photo | Justin Ong
When the Yale-NUS College Men’s Basketball team competed in an external league last semester, they often had to recruit players from outside Yale-NUS to make up the numbers. All this, just to compete as a team of five.
“Games were always really tiring,” said Jerald Lim ’19, who was captain of Men’s Basketball last semester. “We usually had just enough to make up the numbers and rarely any available substitutes.”
He said that five players had left for semester abroad in the fall, leaving “five or so” behind to hold the fort.
Just like with Men’s Basketball, many clubs and societies were left with large shoes to fill, with many executive committee (exco) members, team captains and club president positions handed over to sophomores and even freshpeople as “just over 100 students” — mostly from the Class of 2019 — left for semester abroad during the fall semester, according to the Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE).
Lindsay Allen, Associate Director of International Programmes at CIPE, said that in the first few years, the students who participated in the study abroad program were skewed more heavily towards Semester 2. “This was especially so last year,” Ms. Allen said, “when we had just over 100 students abroad in Semester 2, compared with approximately 30 in Semester 1.”
This left behind manpower shortages and sudden changes in leadership styles, with less experienced leaders having to quickly adjust.
These were the problems that plagued Yale-NUS Standard Ballroom, with three out of ten exco members stepping down from their roles to leave for semester abroad, including the captain, vice-captain and director of outreach.
Khang Huynh ’20, Vice-Captain of Standard Ballroom, said that the standard term of exco members is usually from September to May, and so exco members leaving in December for the fall semester abroad would mean by-elections had to be held to “fill in the vacuum.”
“There’s a change in leadership,” he said, “and the [freshpeople] take some time to get used to the change because they just got to know the [exco] for one sem and now they have to meet new [exco members].”
Former Climbing captain Crystal Yong ’19 had to pass down exco duties almost entirely to her juniors when she, along with another exco member, left for semester abroad. The other two members of the four-person exco also stepped down, having either quit or graduated.
With only one member from the Class of 2020, the new exco comprised of mostly members of the Class of 2021 — then freshpeople.
Just like Standard Ballroom, Yong said that “the previous captain implemented that the exco switch over during Semester 2, and so the transition period was fraught with juniors leaving (at the end of Semester 1).”
To make up for the rocky transition, Yong had to give instructions to her juniors while abroad.
Some clubs and organizations, however, had successfully taken preemptive measures in anticipation of their exco members leaving for the fall semester.
Brewhouse manager Natalie Sutanto ’20 said that members in Class of 2019 who founded Brewhouse did “pay very careful attention to recruit exco members from the batch below them.”
Sutanto said that the transition came about early on in the spring semester, so by fall semester when those in the Class of 2019 had left on their semesters abroad, the new exco was already in “very specific roles,” and that “their absence did not affect logistical matters.”
This was the same for the Society of Yale-NUS College Dancers (sYNCd), with the outgoing exco handing over their roles to their juniors at the start of Semester 1, months before any of them left for their semesters abroad.
Adria Lim ’20, President of sYNCd, also said that there has been a strong dance culture in the college which had kept members generally committed to the organization.
“We all want them to respect the craft and have fun but also be responsible and committed,” said Lim, who found it extremely tiring but worthwhile to helm the organization, which consists of 6 dance groups — K-pop, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Dance Hall, Bhangra and Contemporary — and holds its annual showcase in April.
“It’s about setting the tone straight from the start of the semester… to know that this dance group is not [for fun] but we want to grow together in terms of skills,” Lim added.
The aforementioned problems with keeping organizations are expected to abate, with CIPE implementing a new policy for AY2018/19 that ensures more balance in outgoing study abroad numbers, said Ms. Allen.
“This has resulted in almost 70 students studying abroad in the current semester (Semester 1 of AY2018/19), which will then mean much less of an imbalance from Semester 1 to Semester 2,” she said.
However, despite these measures taken to facilitate a smoother handover of leadership roles, some believe that the problems faced by certain organizations cannot be blamed purely on students leaving for semester abroad.
“Overall (in Yale-NUS) there is a symptom of people trying things for a semester, feeling that they don’t want to do it anymore, and then trying different things,” said Huynh.
“But [perhaps] what semester abroad did was give them a reason to quit,” he added.