WILKINSON: Engaging the trailblazers at Yale-NUS

Although Yale-NUS College is very much still in its developing stages, it has the potential for success. I believe this because I have seen it with my own eyes. I’m currently on a leave of absence from Yale studying in Beijing under the auspices of the Light Fellowship. During the break between my summer and fall Chinese language programs, I flew to Singapore to visit my freshman counselor who is now working at Yale-NUS and to see the place for myself.

Despite its location 12 time zones away from New Haven, it is critical to the success of Yale-NUS and the relationship between our two institutions that we, as Yale students, engage and collaborate with our counterparts at Yale-NUS.

As soon as I arrived, I was struck by the students at Yale-NUS. They share the same affability, spirit of inquiry, international mindset and passion for life both inside and outside of the classroom that I feel amongst all of you at Yale. I watched them as they started a cappella groups, a finance club, Japanese culture appreciation club, a venue for discussing issues of sexuality, a debate team, sports teams and more. I even received a note slipped under my door from their first secret society.

Their school, however, isn’t like Yale with over 300 years of history to build on and be proud of. Yet, combined, there are students in this class that turned down offers from every Ivy League school. They came here to be trailblazers. They have the opportunity to start everything from scratch, which is both a daunting and exciting responsibility.

So Yale-NUS has begun to build a sense of community in the image of what we have at Yale: movie nights, beach days, international group field trips, common room activities, free food and clubs. After spending part of the summer living in Berkeley, bonding, taking classes with Yale faculty, getting a taste for what life at Yale is like, the students learned to look up to us as role models. When I stumbled upon the a cappella group rehearsal (I happened to be wearing my Spizzwink(?) shirt), I was treated like a star. They know about us. Now it’s time for us to engage with them.

Yale students have the opportunity to influence Yale-NUS in an important way. We can offer insight into starting clubs, how our organizations work and what pitfalls to avoid. By going over to Yale-NUS, in trips or exchange programs, we can add new perspectives to the classes and take back new ideas to the United States. Yale faculty should follow suit.

I encourage the administrations at both Yale and Yale-NUS to help create venues where members of Yale student organizations can share insight with students at Yale-NUS who are in the early stages of forming similar organizations. Our organizations should create bonds with their sister organizations at Yale-NUS and host joint conferences in both Singapore and the U.S. It would be possible for Yalies to think of Yale-NUS as a lesser sibling simply mooching off the Yale name, or for Yale-NUS to see Yale as an arrogant, aloof older sibling an ocean away. But we have much to learn from each other — it’s in our best interests to avoid this outcome. Let’s make the most of this opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and engage with each other. Only then will Yale-NUS reach its full potential.

The founding of Yale-NUS doesn’t represent a relinquishing of Yale’s values, but an opportunity to reaffirm them. In the spirit of the liberal arts and the search for knowledge and truth, we needn’t boycott any nation whose values don’t line up perfectly with our own. Even if their values aren’t the same as ours, experiencing and understanding that difference can help us better understand the society we live in and the values for which we stand. Students at Yale and on Yale-NUS’s campus should continue to consider Singaporean values with a critical eye, in the same way students on both campuses should be able to challenge the aspects of American society that are morally dubious. Yale-NUS is fostering an environment where that kind of questioning is able to take place and offering a new angle from which to consider these issues. In the spirit and history of Yale, Yale-NUS can groom the leaders who will someday lead and change the status quo in Singapore.

As Mark Twain once said, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Phil Wilkinson is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College currently studying in Beijing. Contact him at phillip.wilkinson@yale.edu.

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