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.