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Mdm. Kuok is Executive Chairman at Shangri-La Hotel Ltd (Singapore) and President of the Singapore Hotel Association.

story Joyan Tan | photo Pareen Chaudhari


alking into Yale-NUS College, it is difficult to miss the words emblazoned on the white walls: “A community of learning, / Founded by two great universities, / In Asia, for the world.” These words—the vision of the College— are well known by all students. Yet few are aware that along with the College’s leadership and faculty, the Yale-NUS Governing Board was also heavily involved in its conceptualization. The Board consists of twelve members, of which Yale University nominates six and the National University of Singapore or the Ministry of Education nominates six. In the first of our Governing Board Interview Series, The Octant interviewed Mdm. Kay Kuok Oon Kwong, Chairman of the Board. In 2008, Mdm. Kuok was deciding whether to join the NUS Board of Trustees when she first heard of Yale-NUS. “I had initially said no because I had a lot on my plate,” Mdm. Kuok said. “But when they mentioned that they were going to start a liberal arts college, I was encouraged by it.” She later agreed to join the NUS Board, and was appointed Chairman of the Yale-NUS Board shortly after. The Board served its first three-year term from 2011–2014. Apart from three changes to the Board, the existing members continued for a second term starting 2014. The Board

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meets four times a year—twice in Singapore and twice via video conference. When the Board convenes in Singapore, “we meet with leadership and management and they bring to us strategy and policy matters,” Mdm. Kuok said. “We have oversight on strategic issues including budgets … All faculty hires come to the Board for approval … and we work with leadership to ensure that the College fulfills its mission and vision of giving a good liberal arts education,” she added. The next board meeting will be held here in March. The College’s vision and mission reflect the Board’s attempt to introduce a primarily Western education model while respecting the intellectual traditions of Asia. “Liberal arts is very new to Asia,” Mdm. Kuok said. “It was very exciting because we were introducing this new type of education to Asia which traditionally had its own educational concepts … We had to make sure that we crafted a mission and a vision that would have the best of both worlds.” Mdm. Kuok is heartened by the progress made by the College. “We’re very encouraged by the number of applicants we get each year,” she said. The attitude toward the College has not always been so positive, especially in its early days. She said, “There were initial concerns, particularly from Singaporean parents because


they didn’t fully understand what a liberal arts education was. Some of them thought it was music and visual and performing arts. But once it was defined, they came around very quickly.” Criticisms from Yale’s side have also “quietened down”. Mdm. Kuok expects this trend will continue, as “we encourage them to come up and see what exactly Yale-NUS is all about.” On the Board’s response to these critics, she said, “Once the Board was committed to the fact that this was something beneficial and it would work for Singapore … It was just a question of following your instincts. We did what we knew was best, and did not waver.” When asked about allocation of funds, Mdm. Kuok clarified that the Board should not micromanage. “You must remember that the Board is at the very top,” she said. Mdm. Kuok explained that the yearly budget proposal is prepared by the President of the College with the respective department heads. These are then brought to the Board. According to Mdm. Kuok, the Board looks over the total budget, including capital expenditure and overall operating expenditure of the College. Specific funds allocated to each department are determined by management. As the interview drew to a close, it took on a more light-hearted tone. When asked what she likes to do for leisure, Mdm. Kuok laughed and said, “At this age, how much extreme sports can you do?” After a moment’s thought, she added, “Right now, I’m just very happy being a grandmother.”

OVERSEAS OFFERINGS EXPAND BUT STILL, CONFUSION REMAINS story Spandana Bhattacharya, Li Ting Chan | photo used with permission from Yale Admissions


he recent addition of two new study abroad programs and the introduction of a petition process by the Center for International and Professional Experience (CIPE) has made it easier for Yale-NUS College students to study abroad. Precisely where they may study, however, remains uncertain, owing in part to conflicting statements from YaleNUS’s CIPE office and its counterpart in New Haven. During an information session on Feb. 10, CIPE announced its new offerings: the



Are Yale-NUS students able to study abroad at Yale next semester?

VISITS YALE-NUS story Yonatan Gazit, Lai Ying Tong photo Werkz Photography


University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and Pitt in the Himalayas, a program offered through the University of Pittsburgh. The petition process allows students to apply to a program outside of the College’s official suite of offerings. CIPE also presented Yale, among other colleges, as an option for study abroad next semester. CIPE’s website states that the number of students who can study at Yale next semester has yet to be determined, implying that there will at least be some spots available. Yet this may not be the case. As of Feb. 2, Jane Edwards, Dean of Yale’s CIPE, said in an interview that there will be no study abroad spots at Yale for Yale-NUS students in the coming semester. “We are likely to stay with the model of having a single semester for YaleNUS students which is the spring,” she said. When asked to verify Ms. Edward’s statements, Lindsay Allen, Associate Director of International Programs, did not comment specifically but said via email, “We are working closely with our colleagues at Yale CIPE, and plan to provide ongoing opportunities for study abroad between Yale-NUS and Yale.” The current collaboration between Yale CIPE and Yale-NUS CIPE can be traced back to the founding days of Yale-NUS CIPE. “It’s not a particularly common model [to have] study abroad and career services and so on in a single student-focused operation,” Ms. Edwards said. “I guess … my colleagues at Yale-NUS liked the idea,” she added. Through Yale-NUS CIPE, students enjoy a host of opportunities at Yale or its overseas programs. Yale Summer Session (YSS) is one of them. Four sophomores are also currently enrolled in Yale for the spring semester. Joan Danielle Ongchoco ’17, who is currently studying abroad at Yale, said that the size of Yale’s student population and its established traditions have been major

differences from Yale-NUS. “Being able to compare Yale and Yale-NUS just makes me so much more appreciative of what we have back home and how we’ve created such a special community,” Ongchoco added. Presently, Yale-NUS students are only allowed to study abroad for one semester. According to CIPE’s website, “exceptional and compelling reasons to spend two semesters abroad will be considered on an individual basis”. As the website explains, this brevity is needed for students to fulfill Yale-NUS’ Common Curriculum and major requirements. This rule is unusual for students studying at Yale. According to Ms. Edwards, Yale-NUS students are the only ones to study at Yale for one semester. “That was a hard decision for us to make,” she said. “We find that Yale works better for a year than a single semester. But if it’s going to be a single semester, the spring works better than the fall,” she added. She explained there would not be a “sense of completion of an experience” if students left after fall semester. Increased housing constraints during the fall semester were also a consideration. Students interviewed also questioned the rationale behind the one-semester rule. Chua Yao Hui ’17, who intends to major in Economics and pursue graduate studies in Engineering, hopes to study at Yale for a full year. “I want to explore courses in Engineering and Physics. I would also like to fulfill some of my major requirements. Going for a full year at Yale gives me that flexibility to venture in both directions,” he said. Students from Yale are expected to study abroad at Yale-NUS for a semester starting in Semester 1 of Academic Year 2016/2017. Ms. Edwards said, “It doesn’t make sense to do it until you guys actually have juniors or preferably seniors, since most students who go abroad are juniors.” Applications for studying abroad next semester are due March 8.

r. Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Laureate, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and former Vice President of Egypt, gave a public keynote speech at the National University of Singapore on March 11. The lecture was part of the Bridges series and jointly hosted by NUS and Yale-NUS College. This series consists of lectures, workshops, and artistic events in ASEAN countries facilitated by the International Peace Foundation. Prior to the lecture, Dr. ElBaradei sat down with several students from YaleNUS and Tembusu College for a dialogue session. According to Lishani Ramanayake ’18, he addressed the failure of international organizations and possible ways to reform them. He also answered questions from students primarily enrolled in the International Relations, Comparative Politics and Globalization modules. “It really expands your view of the world,” Ramanayake said, reflecting on her experience. “These are issues that affect you and I think it benefits you to know about them.” In his hour-long lecture at NUS, Dr. ElBaradei pointed to global inequity as the root cause of global insecurity, and international cooperation as the solution. He criticized the inefficacy of nations and international organizations in dealing with global threats thus far, and called for a shift from “myopic national interests” to a new mindset “based on the common good.” In particular, he urged nations with nuclear arsenals to commit to disarmament. A devotion to equity and human dignity in the international community, he said, would allow people to “understand that we are the same human species, irrespective of our superficial differences.” After the lecture, Dr. ElBaradei answered audience members’ questions ranging from his views on the current Egyptian government to his evaluation of the possible effects of nuclear shield systems in the near future.

Above: Dr. ElBaradei sits with a small group of students to talk about his experience as a diplomat and politician.

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THE ART OF EKPHRASIS Ekphrasis students engaging in a class discussion.

story Harini V | photo Pareen Chaudhari


he word ‘ekphrasis’ can be traced back to its Greek roots ‘ek’ and ‘phrasis’, which mean ‘out’ and ‘speak’, respectively. Ekphrasis incorporates two different mediums of art, where the artist crafts a written response to visual art. This semester, Ekphrasis: Creative Writing in Dialogue with Visual Art is also the name of a two modular credit (2 MC) course offered by Professor Robin Hemley, Director of the Writing Program at Yale-NUS College. Ekphrasis’s focus on both creative writing and visual art was a key attraction for interested students. Ritika Biswas ’18 explained, “Art and writing have been very integral parts of my life. I have always explored these two aspects separately, but the thought of combining the two was very novel to me.” In class, students analyze and discuss a wide

spectrum of ekphrasis, written by poets, fiction writers, and essayists. They also write short inclass responses to visual art, which are critiqued by their peers. Some pieces are direct responses to the artwork, while others view the art pieces as a source of inspiration for their writing. Students have different approaches to writing their pieces. Inspired by Claude Monet’s Woman with a Parasol facing left, Baoyun Cheo ’17 explored the painter’s relationship with his muse through the woman’s voice. Unlike Cheo, Biswas prefers writing personal responses to the artwork in the form of prose poetry. Ekphrasis has also influenced Biswas to apply for a Travel Fellowship under the Centre for International and Professional Experience (CIPE). Titled ‘The Spirit of Nature: Singapore to Iceland’, the fellowship proposes to study

natural landscapes across Singapore and Iceland and how they influence art and society. Cheo, who will be majoring in Arts and Humanities, is currently enrolled in two courses at the National University of Singapore (NUS): Voice Studies and Production and Introduction to Playwriting. While these courses have provided her with a solid theoretical background, Cheo admitted that she still lacks the practical experience of producing art. Ekphrasis, however, “draws connections between the theoretical and practical components of art,” Cheo said. Students appreciate that Ekphrasis only counts for two modular credits. Cheo said that unlike her hectic 4 MC playwriting course at NUS, 2 MC writing courses are ideal. She explained, “I find the quality of creative writing is best when inspired. With a hectic workload, I sometimes submit an assignment for a grade or to meet a deadline rather than for the joy of writing. Taking the Ekphrasis course as a 2 MC allows me to explore different types of writing without it taking a toll on me.” Students meet for three hours of class every week, which is the same for a 5 MC course. This 2 MC course, however, only lasts for half of a semester. Biswas shared that 2 MC courses like Ekphrasis allow students to explore and experiment without needing to take a course overload. On what makes Ekphrasis unique, she said, “I think [Ekphrasis] encapsulates the spirit of a liberal arts education as it is a novel attempt to merge different mediums of art to find a commonality between the two.” Ekphrasis classes end before the midsemester break. Students will be presenting their work in an exhibition after this break. The date of the exhibition is yet to be confirmed.

ARTS PROGRAMMING HOLDS ARTSMEET story Abdul Hamid | illustration Lian Hai Guang


he Arts Programming department, operating within the Office of Educational Resources & Technology (ERT), held the third edition of ArtsMEET on Thursday, Feb. 12. ArtsMEET is envisioned as a platform for arts enthusiasts at Yale-NUS College to meet and exchange information on arts-related activities on campus. However, turnout was visibly lower than before—only eight students, compared to thirty at the first meeting in October 2014. Professor Mark Joyce, Director of Art, shared updates on the arts spaces that will be available in the new campus. He highlighted that the dance ateliers, fabrication spaces, and art studios would be flexible in accommodating all arts activities regardless of medium. He also said that he would be formally announcing an open call for student artwork for the official opening of the new campus in October 2015.

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A few upcoming events were also announced at ArtsMEET. Gurjeet Singh, Senior Manager of Arts Programming, announced that his department will organize a technical workshop on live mixing and recording in March. Reuben Su ’17, president of the newly formed Fashion Society, announced that his student organization will be holding a launch party on March 6 to formally begin their activities for the semester. Jevon Chandra ’17, announced plans for an upcoming arts festival event, which will consist of workshops and student performances. Jamie Lynn Buitelaar ’18 mentioned that the newlyformed Songwriters’ Society was planning a showcase of students’ songs at the end of the semester. After these announcements, Mr. Singh and Mr. Joyce answered questions to clarify the ERT’s role in relation to arts-related student organizations.

ArtsMEET 3

Above: Poster for latest ArtsMEET event.


WHY I WEAR MAKEUP column Elizabeth Thai | illustration Natalie Tan


hen I first arrived at Yale-NUS College, I wore makeup everyday. Maybe it was because of some repressed interest in the act—I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup back in school—or maybe it was simply because of Sydney’s fashion culture. Nonetheless, it was part of my daily routine and one that I didn’t consciously question. I would occasionally wear bright lipstick and heavy makeup and I remember constantly receiving strange looks or odd comments that “you look better without makeup”. I quickly adapted to Yale-NUS culture, deciding to hide my interest in cosmetics and doll up at night just to remove it all minutes later before I went to bed. A year later, and after a corporate summer internship where makeup was not merely tolerated but expected, I returned to school with a renewed love for aesthetic expression. Again, I was asked “Why are you wearing makeup?” far too often. Eventually the questions stopped, but the sentiment that wearing makeup was superficial did not. For obvious reasons, few people would tell me I’m superficial to my face, but time after time, people would confess to having the wrong impression. I was even criticized for my appearance on the Confessions page. While questions like “Why are you wearing makeup?” are seemingly innocuous, they are indicative of a negative hypersensitivity towards beauty that, ironically, leaves some people—myself included—feeling more insecure despite feeling more beautiful. When it is more commonplace to turn up to the dining hall wearing pajamas than wearing makeup, I understand why people might be surprised to see me putting time and effort in my appearance. However, why do people associate makeup and appearance-sensitivity as superficial? Even if we assume that everyone who is superficial cares about their looks, the converse isn’t necessarily true. Here, in a place as ostensibly liberal as Yale-NUS where we scrutinize and often debunk most stereotypes,

Above: Elizabeth hopes to redress misconceptions surrounding beauty and makeup.

why are we so content to accept this stereotype? Has our intellectual snobbery blinded us so much that we cannot see makeup as anything but a sign of despicable superficiality, and one that must stem from a place of insecurity? For me, the exact opposite was true: not wearing makeup came from a place of insecurity. I never wore makeup because I did not dare believe that I could be beautiful, and figured any attempt to appear beautiful would just be embarrassing. No one likes being judged for their weaknesses or what they have little control over. With something as subjective as beauty, the only concrete standard is a narrow perspective imposed upon us by the fashion and beauty industry—most of us don’t like to put ourselves on that scale. But, to paraphrase the Scottish philosopher David Hume, beauty is not an external quality in itself but a certain kind of pleasurable feeling. Amid changing

conceptions of beauty across time and place, this feeling is the most universal and timeless standard for beauty. Rather than denying ourselves its pleasure, we should seek to share it with others. By expanding our definition of beauty beyond the Megan Foxes and Miranda Kerrs of the world, we can reject the exclusivity of beauty without rejecting beauty completely. We should feel beautiful enough to wear makeup and draw attention to what is not an imperfection, but our own personal, unique perfection and self-expression. Just as others do not need to hide behind layers of foundation, we should not need to hide behind a feigned disregard for our appearance. Everyone should be allowed to feel confident and beautiful without it being an indictment of “superficial” character. Some say that a tertiary institution is a place for learning so it is inappropriate to wear makeup. That being said, it is also a time of exploration and personal development, including learning who you are and how you want to express yourself. As someone who is illiterate in all other art forms, heavier makeup is an important outlet for my creative expression. I am comfortable enough with how I look naturally to not feel the need to don an illusion of airbrushed “natural” perfection. Some say how they look really doesn’t matter to them because it doesn’t say anything about them. I have always been acutely aware of how my appearance elicits certain expectations and assumptions without my explicit and conscious action. My appearance is a first act of communication and it is a part of who I am. It doesn’t need to be a defining part, or even my proudest part for that matter, but it is a part of me nonetheless. Everyone expresses themselves in different ways and for me, makeup is an important mechanism. I know it is an important way for others too. Let’s make Yale-NUS a safe place to explore and appreciate all forms of selfexpression.

*Editors’ Note: The Octant will not be publishing next week due to Yale-NUS College’s mid-semester break. Correction: Volume III Issue 5 dated February 10, 2015 It has come to our attention that the sports article “Tennis: Building Gradually” did not report that Mollie Saltskog ´17 is a member of the Varsity Tennis Team. While she has stepped down this semester for medical reasons, she was the female co-captain and has been the founder and key driver in establishing the tennis team.


Send your letter to the editors (maximum word count 150) to general@theoctant.org by 5 pm on Friday for the chance to have it published here next week.

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Volume III Issue 5


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