Yale-NUS students descend on New Haven

Before starting courses at Singapore’s first liberal arts college on Aug. 12, Yale-NUS’s inaugural class of students got a taste of college life in New Haven.

The 155 students participated in a three-week orientation program at Yale that consisted of both an academic component, featuring lectures by Yale and Yale-NUS professors, and an extracurricular component, in which students brainstormed student organizations to create in Singapore. Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn said the students’ stay at Yale proved a useful introduction to the liberal arts model for the students, adding that the college has no upperclassmen to facilitate the students’ transition to college life.

Yale-NUS administrators told the News they rejected media requests to interview students during the orientation because they wanted the students to take part in the program free from media scrutiny, though the Yale-NUS website contained information about the orientation. Many Yale students interviewed who were on campus at the time said they encountered the Yale-NUS students, and Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun, who organized and supervised the orientation, invited several Yale students to dine with the participants.

Chun, who also heads the Yale-NUS Faculty Advisory Committee, said in an email that all expenses surrounding the orientation, including travel, were covered by Yale-NUS and none were included in the students’ tuition. He did not comment on the overall cost of the program.

“Flying the entire first-year class from Singapore to New Haven might seem like a bit of an extravagance at first,” said Yale-NUS Rector Brian McAdoo, who was in New Haven during the program’s first week. “But it is important to remember that we are building a college from scratch — we have no pre-existing culture to fit into. As Singapore is investing in a U.S.-style liberal arts model, Yale was the perfect place to provide an initial framework.”

Each week of the orientation program used daily lectures and discussion sections led by Yale and Yale-NUS faculty to focus on a different topic: environment and sustainability, migration and urbanization, and leadership. Between 15 and 20 Yale professors interacted with the students during the program.

Almost all Yale-NUS students interviewed said they think taking classes at Yale will help them transition to the intellectual work they will do at Yale-NUS.

“Discussing these topics will ease us into the Singaporean context, ease us into liberal arts education, especially those of us who aren’t used to it,” said Parag Bhatnagar, a freshman at Yale-NUS from India who grew up in Singapore. “We can kind of understand the atmosphere at Yale, and we can go back and incorporate the things we learned into Yale-NUS College.”

The students interviewed said they most enjoyed discussing the new student groups they hope to create when they arrive in Singapore.

Liam Rahman, a Yale-NUS freshman from Wales, said students discussed creating a Model United Nations club, as well as various sports clubs. Bhatnagar said he would like to start a visual arts society, adding that he hopes Yale-NUS students will collaborate with students from the National University of Singapore when creating student groups, because the relatively small size of Yale-NUS’s inaugural class may otherwise limit the scope of some student organizations.

Students said they would feel free to discuss any topics related to politics in class and within their student groups, and all international students interviewed said they hope to learn more about Singaporean politics before passing any judgments about the country’s political system. Chun said students also discussed LGBTQ issues, adding that they had dinner with Yale history professor George Chauncey, who will teach two courses on lesbian and gay history at Yale-NUS next spring.

Before the orientation program began, Yale-NUS freshman Abdul Hamid partnered with other Yale-NUS and NUS students to form an organization called “G-Spot,” which will advocate for LGBTQ rights and address issues such as sexuality, gender and feminism. Hamid said he thinks the response of the Yale-NUS community to the group has been positive, adding that no one has spoken out against its existence thus far.

Some students said they feel the college’s inaugural class is under a lot of pressure because Yale-NUS’s first students will bear responsibility for the institution’s success or failure, but all students interviewed said they are confident in the Yale-NUS administration’s ability to support their efforts.

“I wanted to take some risks, but at the same time be somewhere I know I am supported academically,” Rahman said. “There are a lot of expectations from us to do something great, but at the same time, we aren’t expected to do it without support.”

In addition to their other activities, the students attended field trips and “Rector’s Teas,” Yale-NUS’s version of Master’s Teas.

The immersion program began on July 12 and ended on Aug. 2.

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