Feb 6, 2014

Yale-NUS is no place to be full of yourself

(Related post: Applying to Yale-NUS? A disclaimer)

Started your own board game company? Done research-level science? Read Descartes and Hume and Nietzsche out of personal interest when you were fourteen?

Oh, you have. So?

Firstly, at Yale-NUS, you realise that

(a) whatever you're excellent at, other people have accomplished too, and with more success, with greater intensity, in greater proportions, whatever. Started an NGO? Brilliant! Check out the beautiful Sanjana who lives on my floor, whose NGO, targeted at boosting self-confidence and interest in reading among children in India, is being backed up by Teach for India and other national organisations in the country, and is getting a whole lot of funding to develop a new and more efficient system of running it. Love to sketch? Zhiwen makes magic on friggin' Starbucks napkins. Fantastic piano player? You. Have. Not. Met. Jevon. You start to realise that no matter how fantastic you are at something, you always have so much to learn from others.

Extremely intelligent? Philosophy genius, coded an iPhone app? Dean's list, valedictorian, international awards? Well... welcome to Yale-NUS. Here you realise that intelligence comes in a billion forms. On one hand, you have my Malaysian neighbour, yes-that-top-O-level-scorer-Peiyun, who read Goblet of Fire in kindergarten. On the other hand, you have Jared, who knows enough about American politics to blow the minds off already-very-informed Americans with his insight and analysis. (He's also a Republican - and with the incredible wealth of information he has, his stance gives us all so much to think about, damn.) And then you have Ami, who, despite all his nonsense, draws connections between ideas so profoundly and insightfully. The more time I spend with the people here, the more I am ashamed of the grades I got because I'm only good at "doing well in big exams" - the level of insight and intelligence these people have made me realise that this counts for nothing, I am nothing, I know nothing, and I always need to listen before and as I speak.

(Zhiwen's napkin magic on the left, and Natalie's beautiful painting on canvas on the right!)

(b) At Yale-NUS, you don't need to blow your own trumpet - with the spirit of love, encouragement and celebration of individuality, others will blow it for you. You realise that the beautiful thing about this place is that everyone is so encouraging and supportive. A lot of people are good at things, but no one competes against the others. We know what we're capable of, and we work towards being better than where we are now, while also celebrating the talents of others.

(c) Most importantly, your talents are useless in the eyes of others unless you use it to contribute to the community. You're great at something - so what? Everyone else has a billion things on their plate - how do you channel this talent? Sanjana doesn't go "yeah, I've got a national-scale NGO going for me, suck it bitchez". She goes "I have an idea that's too large to handle alone, and you guys are fantastic planners and idea-executers, and if you'd like to come on board with me, I need your help to make this work for the children in India who need it."

We've got some fantastic cooks, and what do they do with their talent? The Shiok Shack was started completely by us, and is being run completely by us. They don't make profits from it; they just want to bless the student community with late-night food made with love. That aside, people still make a lot of granola / barley / Penang laksa, and offer it to everyone out of the simple desire to share what they love with others.

Great at Science? Dylan held little "remedial lessons" for everyone in the first couple of weeks of school, because so many of us were struggling. Got a talent in music arrangement? Jevon and Carissa offer up their arrangements to be sung at school events (e.g. check out Jevon's arrangement of Somewhere Only We Know, which we performed for DPM Tharman, and his Halloween mashup). Great at basketball / debates / dance / creative writing? Share your passion with others; be excited when a first-timer wants to try it out and even go for competitions; encourage, encourage, encourage. The amount of grace and support people show here when someone wants to try something new is just incredible - it's something I'm still trying to warm up to, and something I'm learning from. Love music? Organise a friggin' music festival! (Happening Sunday, 16 Feb - come on over!)

What competition? What accomplishment? If you're great at something, teach it! Share it! Use it to benefit others! There's no need to boast; they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, and they'll boast on your behalf. We accumulate our talents and abilities only to share it with the community. This is the spirit of this place, the Yale-NUS student culture, and why I love it so much.


Qistina said...

Hehe, I love this post, Karen! It is so true and I love the way you write! <3

Hannah Karen Ho said...


Anonymous said...

The same could be said of any reputable and remotely selective school of higher learning. What you've outlined is basically: don't be an arrogant douchebag, which is universally applicable for anyone trying to be a decent human being, not just as a Yale-NUS student. While I don't doubt you're having a wonderful time there, or that your school has a lot of talented kids, I don't see how this specifically makes Yale-NUS stand out amongst other premium LACs. This entire piece just came across to me more as a "Oh look we have so many talented people and I'm one of them, see Yale-NUS is legit!" blog post than anything else.

Hannah Karen Ho said...

Oh this post wasn't trying to justify how we're different from other LACs! There are enough articles about how Yale-NUS is different already, and this post was written for people who have applied to Yale-NUS and are considering joining us, since the second round of interviews are currently ongoing. I've heard a bit about the people who'll be joining us, and I felt a couple of 'em might need to hear this, along with anyone else who thinks they're all that - I have a strong aversion to arrogance, because it closes a person off to so much. When I heard about an instance of it from a friend today, I immediately went back to my room and typed this out. This is more of a response, as the title implies (or I thought it did, anyway).

What continues to amaze me after more than a semester of school is that while so many people are really talented, no one is full of themselves, and everyone is always more than ready to shower praises on everyone else. There's so much humility and grace. I'm not trying to make a point about how unique our school is; I'm just trying to make clear the culture of the school, and the nature of the people here. (That's why I referenced that other YNC-related blog post at the top - it's another related aspect of the student culture, of selflessness.)

Hannah Karen Ho said...

And I knew that doing a post like this might hint that I was trying to imply that I was also equally super-talented, but no, I don't see myself as one of them. I must say, there are those who have amazing talents, and then there's a large chunk of us who wonder why on earth we got accepted in the first place. But we're seeing that we have so much to learn from every person, and while we may not see that factor in ourselves, everyone feels like there's so much to gain from everyone simply because we're all so different.

I've never started my own company or NGO, I never touched philosophy before college started, can't dance or do visual art; I suck at every single type of sport; I can't wrap my head around math and finance and the sciences; I know nothing about politics or history. But I have interests in certain things, and while not being good at them, there is so much space to pursue them and to continue developing what little I have, and I'm always encouraged along the way. I might be talentless, but I'm very much in love with the nurturing culture at Yale-NUS, and this post is my attempt to contribute in love to my community by defending it against people who might want to join it with the wrong idea in mind.

Lee Amanda said...

Don't be ridiculous Karen, you're far, far, far from talentless!

If anything, this your this blog itself is a testament to this. I'm so glad Rector directed us here :) I love reading your posts about YNC and hearing about your classes! The way you write is such a clear representation of your honest and genuine personality. I agree that even though the people in our school are extremely driven and talented, they use it not to glorify themselves but to build community (i.e. jamming together), to share the love, and to care for those around us.

I do agree that most other premiums colleges have students of similar demographics. This does not draw away from the fact that YNC's culture is
1. unique due to our specific location, size, and student body
2. one that both Karen and I really really appreciate, being in this school.
I reckon Karen was only making those points, and never insinuated that we were in any sense of the word "better" than other colleges.


Hannah Karen Ho said...

AWW AMANDA. Oh snap I just realised the vice-Rector included it in his email. I just took a look at my blog's pageviews again and I'm honestly a little scared right now LOL. Love you Manda, you're always so full of sweet words <3 <3 thank you thank you thank you, and thank you for being so full of love too.

Zhana Sandeva said...

"they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" - a beautiful sentence like this makes me very happy to have sent you the email I sent you yesterday. Fyi, I found the link on the Yale-NUS College Admissions FB page. :)

Hannah Karen Ho said...


anjali .k said...

Hey! I love your post. I actually applied to YNC this year and I just got shortlisted for an interview. I'm quite nervous and I was hoping you could give me some tips.

Hannah Karen Ho said...

Hello :) Looking back at this post a year later, I'm just laughing at what I wrote. I think the context of this post needs to be understood. A classmate told me about how a prospective student was in the lift talking in a way that made him appear very conceited about his accomplishments, and it got me really annoyed. On the other hand, I am nowhere near as accomplished or intelligent as any of these people, and there are many people here who haven't won some national award somewhere or done some grand thing, and that's also totally normal and fine; that's not what defines the Yale-NUS community.

I'd love to talk to you more; you can email me at karenhowenee@gmail.com.