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story | Aditya Karkera, Opinion Editor
photo | Xuerui Yang
Yale-NUS College is currently engaged in its first exercise of the elective selection process as a full house, and as everyone—from a Class of 2020 that wishes ungraded semesters were longer, to a Class of 2017 that wishes undergraduate educations were longer—picks from a growing course list, it’s hard not to appreciate the unifying perspective that choosing electives brings to light. While some may see the process as mundane, it would be fairer to see it as an engaging, exciting experience. Indeed, it is, apart from free food and laundry rooms, among the few things that invariably gravitates all cohorts closer to one another.
Presently in transit between its last two rounds, the process builds ties that last across the years. Ties built as members of this College best shape the academic environment that clouds both the individual student and the College as a whole. This is best exemplified in the case of most freshmen—eager to wet their feet in an ocean of academic opportunity without getting swept away by the twin currents of over-excitement and inexperience. How best to do this than seek the wisdom of those who have already been swept away but survived with a makeshift dinghy of caffeine, Indomie, and indomitable hope? And so freshmen have approached their upperclassmen. Brimming with questions about courses, professors, workloads, and the simultaneously tempting and terrifying prospect of overloading. Freshmen have found a new way to forge links with upperclassmen who have witnessed the same dilemmas, tribulations, and questions that now face the Class of 2020—but with the bonus benefit of being hardened by where their decisions have taken them.
Wern Hao ‘20 derived value in his Upperclassmen’s advice when assessing how he’d weigh electives against one another. “Upperclassmen advice has been valuable,” Hao said, “especially regarding feedback on professors’ teaching quality and expectations. Other considerations which impacted my decision include interest in the module, time allotted (some modules have a heavier reading workload compared to others even though the MCs allotted may be the same) and balancing academics with co-curricular activities and other hobbies.” Betty Pu ‘20, who shared Hao’s favourable experience with the Upperclassmen’s pool of wisdom, added that, “It was really great to hear their perspective on the professor’s teaching style, grading system, and the workload expected in the course; since we’re a new college, it’s hard to find this information elsewhere.”
The elective process has found itself painted in the colors of a vibrant Bazaar when it comes to how students participate within it, and how they have come to interact with it personally and collectively. Like every bazaar, there is trading and there are shortages. Trading has come with freshmen peddling favorable (or unfavorable, but marketed really well) Quantitative Reasoning slots across Facebook, WhatsApp, and even in person, with the objective being the best timetable possible. Trades have had freshmen haggle with students they have never met before, and some have even attached premiums of food and drink to entice the invisible hand of the market, and the very visibly closed hands of Freshmen who lucked out with their course allotments.
Shortages have come with prime course real estate vanishing seemingly overnight, as 29 courses found themselves oversubscribed within just the first round of the process—including such constricting heavyweights as Introduction to Python and more unctuous courses like Introduction to Oil Painting. All round, from negotiating course slot exchanges to oversubscription, freshmen find themselves in an exciting environment and time in their academic lives.
But where there’s the crouching freshman, there’s the hidden upperclassman. Many older cohorts have begun moving away from the high-octane academic environments of their early, enthusiastic years and settled down to a more steady, stable rhythm, with many students even choosing to underload in the coming semester. Saza Faradilla ’18—President of the Student Council—underloaded last semester and would encourage her fellow older Kingfishers to do the very same. “I wanted to do other things besides academics,” said Saza, “like learn driving and research at the NUS Middle East Institute.” Many older cohorts were exceedingly prodigal with their energy and time at the start of their time at Yale-NUS, and have now come to see the elective process as a means by which they can better find time for more enjoyable, constructive, and fulfilling pursuits. In Faradilla’s case, this manifested in many ways. “I had a relaxed semester where I was able to hang out more with my friends, engage in more club activities, and discover myself,” she recounted. The taxations and trials of their undergraduate twilight have had many upperclassmen consider the Bazaar less a market for the excitement of the mind – as so many freshmen view it – and more a market for peace of mind.
But the elective process has been and continues to be the colorful bazaar that it is, attracting the diverse and often disconnected denizens of this College to come together and bask in the sight of the College’s academic wares, convince themselves to pick the best options (or be convinced by those that hawk them), and examine the pocketbooks of their academic forebears before opening their own.
Its beauty as a process, however understated, lies in its ability to percolate into every student’s life—academic and personal—and as the Bazaar and all its rambunctious rush steers for its end this year, it would be wise for every student to make the best of it. Like with any bazaar, the worst that can happen to you is that you walk out inflicted with disappointment, or with acute diarrhea. Hopefully never both. Almost always neither.