It may be halfway around the world, but Singapore is similar to Toronto in a lot of ways. It’s clean, multicultural and English-speaking. The biggest difference — at least according to three Upper Canada College graduates who visited recently — is the heat.
“I don’t think people actually get used to the heat, they just get used to being sweaty,” says Logan Ye, after he raised the topic with students there.
Ye, along with fellow UCC grads Bora Dirilgen and Adair Simpson, flew to Singapore at the invitation of Yale NUS, a liberal arts college founded in 2011 as a joint venture between Yale University and the National University of Singapore. The boys had all applied to and received offers from the school. The paid trip was designed to give them a taste of life in the exotic city-state and personally introduce them to Yale NUS in the hopes they would accept their offers.
The plan worked.
For Dirilgen, it was the university’s global outlook that appealed to him. He’d already lived outside Toronto, having spent part of his youth in Turkey and Kazakhstan, and sees Yale NUS as a good place to grow that experience.
“As I’ve lived in different places throughout my life, I thought this would be a great opportunity to broaden my perspective,” he says.
Taking advantage of Singapore’s location and reputation as a world hub, Yale NUS has fostered an “east meets west” approach. Dirilgen says different philosophies are compared and contrasted throughout its core program, which will enable him to gain a better understanding of the world.
Simpson, on the other hand, wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of Singapore. Despite having travelled to many different countries (Chile, Mongolia and Greenland, to name a few), he felt a little homesick when he first arrived. Singapore is modern in many ways, but it also has a reputation for enforcing strict codes of conduct, which doesn’t really jive with Simpson’s laid-back attitude.
“Free-spiritedness is one of the fundamental parts of American culture, but there it’s not as respected,” he says.
Simpson’s homesickness was allayed once he started making friends at the orientation event. Eventually he came around to the idea that attending a burgeoning liberal arts college in a country that’s not very liberal may offer some unique growth opportunities.
“(Yale NUS is) such a young school, you can create your own reality … Students are actively providing feedback to the college, and it’s changing every day,” says Simpson. “It’s like a piece of clay that the students are molding.”
Ye really liked the idea of taking the road less travelled. He received offers from equally prestigious schools in the United States and acknowledges that by virtue of their history and tradition they may have offered him better career prospects. But ultimately, that’s not what he was looking for.
“I thought that Yale NUS would expose me to as many ideas about what it means to live a good life as possible,” he says. “I have a good picture about what life at (an American school) would be like.
“It would be very similar to UCC. At Yale NUS I won’t be asking myself, ‘What am I missing?’”
Because school in Singapore begins during the summer, Ye won’t get much of a break. He’ll head directly from the World Debating Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in July to his freshman orientation.
Dirilgen and Simpson have deferred their acceptances to next year, choosing instead to spend a “gap year” pursuing other interests. It’s a growing trend among students who feel they could benefit from an extra year of self-development, and one that both universities and high schools support in many cases.
“It provides young people with opportunities to build new skills, increase independence and self-reliance, clarify their goals, and refine their plans for the future,” says UCC university counselling director Katherine Ridout. “Not surprisingly, research indicates that students who have taken a bridge year often achieve at a higher level than their peers when they resume their studies.”
One thing all three young men have in common, beyond coming up with strategies to beat the heat, is that they’re still very open to what their futures hold for them. After four years in Singapore, it’s almost guaranteed the world truly will be their oyster.