Opinion

The thoughts of a First-Generation Brown Kid, before choosing to attend Yale-NUS

Story By| Maleeka Hassan, Guest Writer

Photo by| Pexels 

The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: yncoctant@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Technically, the title is clickbait. Although never having done her bachelor’s, my mother did manage to complete an MBA at a local affiliate university. However, her acceptance and experience is ‘dodgy’ to me. (How did they allow her to do her MBA without a BA/ BSc?) The college application process is different for international students like me. I didn’t receive guidance from my parents on what to do, and my school lacked the resources to support me – I didn’t receive interview prep, didn’t know how to craft my resume to appeal to specific universities and my college essays were often reviewed by my classmates. Therefore, I still consider myself a first-generation student. 

From the beginning, my educational experience was in complete contrast to what other ‘brown’ kids seemed to go through. My friends told me horror stories of four-hour 5 am classes over the weekend and the threat of being grounded for every ‘B’ they got. In contrast, the big piece of advice that my father decided to impart on me right after my O Level results was, “Get a letter in the alphabet for your A Levels.” Quizzically, I reminded him of the fact that a ‘U’ was still in the alphabet.

 “I know. You got good O Level results, now I just want you to enjoy your last two years of school. I don’t care about what you get.”

I was touched by the innocence in his words. My poor father wasn’t aware of the fact that the world didn’t work this simply anymore. Every number I received on a test, every letter that was printed on my report card, would then go on to determine the trajectory of my life forever. Capitalism and the job market didn’t care if you enjoyed your school career, it cared about GPAs, extracurriculars, connections, alumni networks, and the ranking of your college.

So when I fell in love with Yale-NUS College after my interview, I realized I had a tough decision to make.

Yale-NUS is an incredible school. It has an ideal student to faculty ratio, and seemed to promise individual attention to each student, that a bigger school could never. Additionally, every blog post I read discussed the close knit, family culture they got to experience at Yale-NUS. Having been to a relatively small high school, this factor appealed to me. I loved the fact that you got to know everyone, and were able to build stronger relationships with more people than you would at a bigger college.

This highly selective school promised a unique liberal arts education in the heart of Asia and in one of the biggest business hubs in the world. Additionally, Singapore was well-known for being safe. This was incredibly appealing to me – a female. (This was an even bigger relief to my family, whose biggest concern, seeing the daily deluge of violent news from America, was that I would get shot for being brown and a Muslim.)

Singapore was also extremely familiar to me. It was a country I had visited before, and had a culture I was acquainted with, and often shared. From a love for pratas (spelt as ‘paratas’ in Sri Lanka) to similar family values (treating elders with deference, not moving out until marriage, etc.)

However, there were drawbacks to consider too. Being a first-generation college student meant that my parents lacked the college connections that most did. This meant that it was up to me to forge my own path and network, to eventually enter the job market. To me, the easiest way that most students do this is through their alumni networks and strong relationships that their colleges had established with companies over the years.

Looking at Yale-NUS, with its first class graduating in 2017, I was uncertain about the access to internship opportunities that it would have, in comparison to a school with a much longer history. Seeing how I would have to take on the Singapore government’s Tuition Grant Scheme if I wanted to attend Yale-NUS, connections and employability weighed significantly in my mind.

Additionally, there were several rumors and stories about how Yale-NUS was notorious for being limited in its perspective, and was often an echochamber, with the words ‘liberal hippie’ peppered in the Quora articles. While I agreed with most liberal ideas, I wanted to be challenged and presented with alternative perspectives that would change or strengthen my beliefs.

Then came the question of Singapore. My outspoken nature, combined with my passion for politics and righting the wrongs in the system, made me a ‘problem’. In Sri Lanka, I once jumped out of a ‘tuk-tuk’ to join a spontaneous protest for climate change. I realized this would not be allowed to happen in Singapore, due to the rarity of public demonstration.

However, upon consultation with the Financial Aid office and with current Yale-NUS students,  they reassured me that the Centre for International & Professional Experience offered immense support in securing internships and job opportunities for students. My fears of a limited perspective were also laid to rest after joining the Telegram group for the 2020 admitted students. There, debate over taxation models and socialism, Donald Trump’s economic policies and the impact of linguistics on culture made it very clear that there would never be a dull moment on campus, and there would always be a difference in opinion.

Finally, however, it was stumbling across the Octant that made the decision easy. From questioning the Singapore government’s decision to increase the Ministry of Manpower’s salary expectation for the employment pass, to gaps in the sexual health policies at Yale-NUS, it became apparent that the student body continued to use their voice to fight for what’s right.

Yale-NUS may not be perfect, but I clicked ‘attend’ because it is constantly aspiring to be.

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