Returning from Abroad
Story by Li Ting Chan, News Editor
In this week’s installment, we speak to two other study abroad returnees about their experience abroad and how it has affected their homecoming. Excerpts from the interviews follow:
Hui Ran Toh ’17
Studied Abroad at School for Field Studies, Costa Rica
What did you do in Costa Rica?
We did many fun things like work on a farm, hold communal activities—it was a very nice community because it was a small program, with only 18 students—hike volcanoes, swim in waterfalls, and go to the forest a lot. We even had lectures in the forest!
Only 18 students in the program? How was that?
They were all Americans which was a little weird but we eventually became really good friends. I experienced culture shock at first because the Americans all have the same pop culture references. I had very little to talk about since we didn’t have anything in common. But as time passed it got better.
What is it like coming back?
Honestly, I feel very sian [a Singlish-Hokkien term expressing boredom, weariness, emptiness and frustration]. I felt like I learned a lot in Costa Rica but could still do a lot of other things, like play with oxen. If I had a choice, I would live on the farm and do fieldwork all day. Coming back was also a bit of culture shock because there are so many unfamiliar faces. The environment is very different now—we have a nice campus but things aren’t the same, so I’m still adjusting.
Tiffany Sin ’17
Studied Abroad at Columbia University, USA
Why did you choose to study ‘abroad’ in your home country?
I wanted to see how I would go back and think about the US now, and experience culture shock. I also wanted to be able to compare the American college experience to Yale-NUS and Singapore, having grown up with the expectation of entering [a US school].
What was your experience at Columbia like?
It was a huge learning experience, especially coming from a small start-up school in Asia. I was able to think about parts of Columbia that we can bring back to Yale-NUS and things that I missed when I was there. Columbia’s relationship with Barnard [a women’s liberal arts college affiliated with Columbia] was also really interesting in light of our relationships with Yale and NUS. We share the same identity crises and debates even though they have a longer history. Being a small fish in Columbia also means that it was a lot harder to feel like you’re getting involved. You have to push yourself and have the initiative in a place where people don’t know you, unlike at Yale-NUS.
So what were the differences between Yale-NUS and Columbia?
When we were at RC4, a lot of our efforts were focused on building Yale-NUS. At Columbia it was more about building my social circle, focusing on my academics, and thinking about what I wanted to do. However, I was surprised coming back because a lot of things that I had to adjust to at Columbia turned out to be adjustments that people were making here. The social norms have changed, along with the changes in population. Now, I don’t feel like the contrast between Yale-NUS and Columbia was as big as I thought. In some ways, it’s like I’m stuck in reverse culture shock.
This article is one in a two part series. Click here to read last week’s profiles.