story | Ethel Pang, Contributing Reporter
photo | Elesin Teo, Chief Photographer
As a “true-blue” Singaporean, I find that I can easily flit between two (very different) worlds with ease. Within Yale-NUS College, I feel like I can explore a world beyond our tiny island; our small, diverse community is very much unique in that aspect. Just as comfortably, I can step out of the gates of Yale-NUS and lapse into “Singlish” when hanging out with my other Singaporean friends from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Conversation flows easily, with our shared cultural heritage and common life experiences an easy, unspoken assumption.
Existing in this sweet spot between two worlds, I believe I am able to adopt a unique perspective on the infamous tension between the Yale-NUS and wider NUS community. This is an issue that has been well-charted by previous articles (such as “Revisiting the Yale-NUS Bubble” and “Is Yale-NUS Elitist?“), and this seems to prevail till this day. However, being someone who feels like she has a vested interest in both, this gives me a strong desire to see a greater melding of the two communities.
From the perspective of a typical NUS student, it is understandable why Yale-NUS can seem elitist and isolationist. The literal gated community of Yale-NUS, which exists so closely alongside the rest of NUS, exacerbates certain stereotypes that I believe many Singaporeans subconsciously harbour. In “Revisiting the Yale-NUS Bubble,” Terence Wang ’20 pointed out how international schools in Singapore are usually elevated and separated from their local counterparts, drawing similarities to the terse relationship between NUS and Yale-NUS College. This particular analogy really resonated for me personally.
Prior to college, I attended a Junior College that had a sister international school that was situated within the very same school compound – which made the disparity all the more apparent. For one, the shared swimming pool and spanking new alumni building were built a stone’s throw from the international school. They also had a food court and cafe in place of a standard school canteen.
As a 17-year-old student who frequently trudged past the shiny new facilities at the “international side” on the way to school, I never really considered that maybe the reason they got to enjoy such prime facilities was because they paid higher tuition fees; rather, I was simply just struck by how differently they seemed to be living their schooling years.
The impression that there exists this “elite” international population in Singapore is also compounded by certain property patterns. Many private estate neighbourhoods (such as condominiums, bungalows, landed property) tend to have large foreign communities, while the majority of the Singaporean population resides mainly in cheaper, more modest public housing (also known as HDBs).
Of course, it is important to note that by law, foreigners are not allowed to purchase HDBs and actually have little choice other than to purchase private property instead. However, it still does not detract from the fact that due to these systems and regulations in Singapore, the international community tends to exist in their separate bubble, disjointed and distinct from the general populace. Therefore, I think Singaporeans tend to have this skewed perception that all internationals are rich, “elite” foreigners who are either unable or unwilling to integrate into the larger Singaporean society.
Perhaps you may now see how Yale-NUS College may evoke some feelings of unsettlement for the average NUS student. As Alex Koh, a Year 2 Business student who lives in one of the University Town (UTown) Residential Colleges (RCs), explains, Yale-NUS seems very detached. “The other RCs have shared dining halls, and [in some cases] even have shared curriculums. This really allows for more interaction between students of different colleges,” Koh said. “Despite being in such close proximity, Yale-NUS seems very separate from the rest of UTown.”
Beyond that, Yale-NUS students tend to actively want to separate the name of “Yale-NUS” from “NUS,” leading me to pose the question: where’s the NUS in Yale-NUS?
While it is very natural and normal for us to want to maintain our distinct college identity and protect our small community, this can really be seen as isolationist and elitist behaviour by the rest of the NUS community.
I understand that, especially from the perspective of an international student, there is a more practical reason for staying within the gates. My American suitemate recently told me how she has received several “long, drawn out stares” from presumably local students when she studies at the Education Resource Centre.
When asked if she felt if there was a need to bond with the other RCs of UTown, or generally take part in the larger NUS community, she responded that as an international student, she did not mind the association with NUS but did not really see a point in engaging. “I want to learn more about Singapore in general, but not really spend time learning about a whole different college,” she admits.
While I agree that there is firmly no need for total assimilation, I would like to argue that more chances for interaction and integration between the two communities would be beneficial for everyone involved. So many opportunities for exposure, mutual understanding, and learning can be created if Yale-NUS students were more receptive of the NUS community, and vice versa. Quite a few of my international friends here have expressed interest in learning more about this country in which they will reside for the next four years, and I firmly believe that NUS is a good place (if any) to start. And at the same time, I believe the wider NUS community can really benefit from interacting with the culturally rich and diverse community of Yale-NUS.
I really hope that we can bridge the gap between these two worlds. This can be achieved through small actions, like taking an interest in some NUS clubs or events, participating actively in the Intercollege Games and Inter-Faculty Games, or even simply just making the rounds around UTown during the intercollege Halloween celebrations. Generally, I would advocate for paying just a little more attention to the world outside our small, tight-knit community. These little things will help to build a culture of understanding, tolerance and acceptance that is uninhibited by gates and walls.