In mid-October 2021, the news of an exchange program between Fulbright and Yale-NUS College, the first liberal arts college in Singapore, came to Fulbright students as a pleasant surprise. Longing to return to Singapore, a country that had left a deep impression on me since my first visit in 2020, I lost no time in applying to the program. As if ông trời (the sky) had heard me out, I was selected!
My exchange semester at Yale-NUS College (which I, in the spirit of Singaporean acronyms, would endearingly refer to as YNC) commenced in spring, at the height of a COVID-19 outbreak in my hometown, Haiphong, and when travel restrictions in Singapore were still in place. It came with overwhelming uncertainties: I received a letter of entry approval that got the dates wrong, came into contact with a positive case a few days before my flight, and had to delay my flight at financial costs. The thought of serving the required Stay Home Notice (SHN) for seven days in a strange hotel and being away from home right before Lunar New Year unsettled me. However, in retrospect, I’m deeply grateful for having been given—and brave enough to grasp—an opportunity to study at the lovely YNC.
The semester at YNC is one of the most academically fulfilling semesters to me. My course choices were determined by my interest in anthropology and curiosity about urban studies. Anthropology of China, the course that I had kept my eyes on long before the semester and went to great lengths to get enrolled in, is my top favorite. I appreciate reading well-written ethnographies about contemporary China (the country that has intrigued me since I was a child), being facilitated to critically discuss and evaluate them, and encouraged to co-produce knowledge with my classmates. It was encouraging to see myself manifested as (Dang 2022) in my classmates’ writings. In Anthropology of China, I felt like an aspiring scholar, constantly challenged and supported to engage in thought-provoking conversations with my “colleagues.”
Social Life of Cities, my first urban studies class, was more practical. I was introduced to concepts that I had heard of but never really understood—gentrification, segregation, place marketing, and so on. The highlights of the course were our field trips to two interesting neighborhoods, Joo Chiat and Geylang, and my research into Vietnamese marriage migrants. I appreciate Social Life of Cities for connecting me to the spaces of Singapore—whose diversity challenged my preconceptions of the city-state as boringly modernized—and to an important part of the Vietnamese diaspora in Singapore.
Meanwhile, Introduction to Anthropology equipped me with knowledge of foundational anthropological topics and familiarized me with anthropological writing. My learning experiences would never have been as rewarding without my supportive Profs (the way YNC professors are addressed) and critical classmates, whose ideas I learned tremendously from.
I cannot bear speaking about my YNC experience without mentioning my residential life at the beloved Saga College, one of the three Residential Colleges (RCs) at YNC and doubtlessly my bias. By a strange configuration, everyone in my suite (flat) was exchange students. We decorated our suite with self-made red lanterns and shared Lo Hei—a Cantonese-style salad integral to Chinese Singaporeans’ New Year celebration—to welcome an auspicious new year.
It was the meals I shared with my friends that added warmth to my YNC life. I won’t forget our walks to the Saga Dining Hall—climbing down two floors as the elevator didn’t work on our floor during the semester, reading event posters and smelling somebody’s perfume in the elevator, greeting the lovely dining hall auntie, presenting the Green Pass on the UniVUS app, scrutinizing the food samples, and getting full dishes (or dabao, means takeaway) with infused water. My laundry experiences are also unforgettable—for the meditative strolls across the beautiful courtyard to the laundry room, the washing app, efficient dryers, and funny encounters. My residential life was filled with quotidian rituals that, no matter how many times they were repeated, always got me spirited.
Oh, and the friends I made. They, and my affections for them, are simply beyond words. Their diverse backgrounds—and yet common kindness—exposed me to stories and experiences I had never encountered while in Vietnam. Discussions about race are a major part of them: born into a majority ethnic group in a racially homogeneous country, I listened to my friends’ sharing about their experiences as bearers of hyphenated identities in awe. Apart from these critical discussions, we also had so much fun! Much as I’m sad not being able to mention them specifically, I’m happy to recount some of our memorable shared experiences: learning Teochew-Singlish phrases, seeking Vietnamese food, exploring parks and museums, hanging out at hawker centres, enjoying shiok mala, celebrating birthdays, chatting about Heavenly Official’s Blessing, Cardi B’s MVs, and…mini-crushes (^^).
I want to end this piece by reminiscing about the places that will always have a place in my heart: the aromatic, soothing forest-like YNC campus; the one and only Saga College; my room—especially the bed next to the window overlooking a magnificent landscape at sunrise and sunset, from which I, every night, gazed at the suites and corridors that remained warmly lit against the darkness of exterior space; the Saga courtyard where I rested idly inside a hammock; the airy and cozy Saga Dining Hall; the Saga laundry room; the inimitable YNC library (for its vintage style—cozy brown-colored furniture and yellow lights); the University Town Green, where I loved strolling around and ending the stroll with soya ice cream or hot cheese waffles from Shiok Shack; NTUC Fairprice, where I bought most of my stuff; NUS Cheers, where the ept uncle attending the outlet instructed the clumsy me how to insert my second SIM card; the well-trodden corridors; the scenic eco-pond and air-conditioned Performance Hall building; the bus stops—New Town Sec School, University Town, NUS High School, Yale-NUS College—and buses—particularly 196, 33, and 96, where I felt an odd sense of fulfillment as part of the commuting crowd; the well-shading footway from the University Town bus stop to Saga College that felt like a hiking trail; the MRT stations—particularly Clementi and Buona Vista, the crowded East-West line, and the MRT cabin itself, where I enjoyed observing people and watching the shifting landscapes; all the neighborhoods that I visited—especially the quaint Toa Payoh (where I could see my paternal grandmother living the quiet life that she enjoys in a lotus-themed HDB complex near the old Lian Shan Shuang Lin Temple), Tiong Bahru, and Woodlands.
I’m attached to these places not only because of the people associated with them, but because of themselves. To me, any place has a soul and a charm perceivable by those vibing with its energy. As much as I appreciate the people that walked into my life, I appreciate and dearly miss the places that generously accommodated me, including the unlisted. I have told my friends that Singapore, as the biggest place of all, has a charm that grows on you the more you spend time here—a charm that may not be perceived by short-term visitors, or those who spend time around touristy places only.
To me, the semester abroad at YNC is more than an academic journey. Looking back, those precious four months was an extended opportunity for me to meet the diversely identifying people I would never have met had I remained in Vietnam, to inhabit particular places—big and small, some of them unimaginable in Vietnam (the safe and efficient public transport system, on the whole), and to understand Singapore in a much more nuanced light. Thanks to these endearing people and places, my stay in Singapore has continued as soon as it ended: right now, sitting at my desk to type these words out, I’m convinced that I will be back, if not to my dear YNC, then to the Singapore where English is spoken in a uniquely, charmingly emotive manner.
Đặng Thị Hoài Linh (Co-design year Student)
Earlier this Fall, Fulbright University Vietnam was delighted to partner with Yale-NUS College and leading partners in the field of Entrepreneurship and Innovation to host the Fulbright Innovation Week 2021. The event fostered entrepreneurial mindset and innovation culture among Vietnamese students via Virtual Start-up Showcase, equipped them with hands-on knowledge via Entrepreneurship Seminar Series, and cultivated creativity alongside practical problem-solving skills via a Hackathon, which took the students venturing into the region’s toughest challenges.
Inspire and be inspired
Fulbright Innovation Week 2021 attracted more than 400 diverse registrations across 38 cities and provinces in Vietnam, from high school students to fresh graduates. The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), the main organizer of this event series, was faced with some tough decisions in choosing the booth presenters from a pool of extraordinary applicants with fierce competition.
Although the whole week happened virtually, the engagement level still ran high with countless exciting activities. Unlike the typical events with long hours on Zoom that seemingly deplete all of the participants’ energy, Innovation Week took place on various platforms, including Gathertown – cyberspace customized for the Virtual Startup Showcase, which was a refreshing and lifelike experience, as if participants were visiting an actual exhibition.
Here, after a long a rigorous screening process, 17 best student business/startup projects from both Vietnam and Singapore were selected to present at the exhibition. This was a fun playground for students to promote their projects and ideas, acquire new leads, and find potential co-founders and investors. And this works both ways: the participants also got a chance to visit different startup booths, learn more about each startup journey, make new friends and take home some ideas to ponder upon.
Practical launchpad for daring ideas
Following the startup exhibition was the Future Leaders Forum, which was a 2-day intensive training program for student club leaders in Ho Chi Minh city. Students were immersed in a packed schedule of exclusive leadership training to create actionable plans after the program, followed by coaching to ensure the plan implementation with the combination of diverse learning approaches such as group discussion, panel discussion, presentation assignment, and interactive brainstorm and reflection.
Beyond training sessions, the Future Leaders Forum was a great opportunity for students to gain a life-long network with other talented leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators across Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Students were also introduced to new concepts in Entrepreneurship Seminar Series, with two special workshops hosted by industry leaders. The field players added another practical layer to the conversation by sharing about their own entrepreneurial path, demystifying the halo of renowned success stories, and encouraging young minds to explore the depth and breadth of knowledge, nurturing their curiosity and creativity for future innovations.
One of the main lessons is that there is no shortcut to the valley, no one-size-fits-all approach to entrepreneurship, and no recipe for success. Indeed, there is immense value in learning from others’ experiences, but that cannot replace actual practice and trying out things for oneself. “Success story is a double-edged sword for people who are trying to live by the book written by other people”, said Tri Lecao, a founder and CEO of Vibeji.
Dare to conquer the top
With that spirit, the students went to earn hands-on experience at the Virtual Hackathon – a competition that demonstrates a similar model to the start-up process in a compact way, from starting with an idea, identifying the problem, proposing a solution, prototyping, to pitching it to the public.
Mentored by coaches from Reactor School, a top-tier Singaporean company that provides Entrepreneurial programs for students across APAC, students collaborated in randomly assigned teams of four to work on a social entrepreneur project to address the United Nations’ Sustainable Goals. After three intense working days, the teams pitched their project to a panel of judges comprising industry experts. Not only did they all get to watch and learn from other teams’ presentations, but they also received helpful advice from the mentors and special guests, who are pioneers in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“We have been to many competitions before but none of them were as intense as this Virtual Hackathon in terms of the given time – only 3 days – to build an entire project from scratch. Although there were times when we felt exhausted, however, we overcame the anxiety brain fog, climbed over the “wall of idea stuck” and finally, conquered the top of the “mountain of capability”. This hackathon holds the magic of change: You are no longer the same person when you enter as when you exit.” – Nguyen Van Thanh (Class of 2025), a member of the champion team Fabrik. The team has won over the judges with their creative take on solving fabric waste issues by breaking it down into fibers to make DIY kits/products to serve a large existing demand for authentic/DIY gifts.
Although there could only be one winning team, all teams came home with more than they have anticipated. The Hackathon at Fulbright Innovation Week 2021 provided not only companions, memorable moments, but also grounded lessons on the early stages of the start-up world. It was an entrepreneurial “sandbox” where students can fall without hitting the rock bottom, actively gain experience and useful knowledge to stand straight up with confidence.
This Exchange Agreement for international student exchange is the first in a series of upcoming institutional partners Fulbright will be cooperating with.
Fulbright University Vietnam and Yale-NUS College recently signed an Exchange Agreement for an international student exchange, beginning Spring Semester 2022. This will enable Fulbright and Yale-NUS students to go on international exchange for an academic term between both institutions, supporting the internationalization of both student bodies and building mutual understanding between liberal arts institutions in the region. Fulbright and Yale-NUS undergraduate students will apply for university selection via their respective home institution’s internal process.
Benjamin Van Son, Assistant Senior Programme Manager of Yale-NUS College said: “Yale-NUS College is excited to partner Fulbright University Vietnam and build connections for students from both sides to gain academic, professional, and personal growth, and learning through meaningful exchange of knowledge and experiences. We look forward to welcoming our first cohort of Fulbright University Vietnam students to our campus next semester.”
Vincent Pham, Manager of Career & Partnership Development of Fulbright University Vietnam, is keen to send and receive Fulbright’s first batches of international exchange students. He remarked: “Partnering with Yale-NUS is an excellent opportunity for Fulbright students to experience a liberal education in a regional context with a diverse group of students in a multicultural campus and country. With Yale-NUS being our first official international exchange partner, Fulbright is eager to continue expanding institutional partnerships to further enable Fulbright students to gain an international experience and perspective that is critical to informing Vietnam’s future changemakers and leaders.”
Fulbright University Vietnam is determined to provide a growing number of institutional partners for international exchange to provide its students with exposure to diverse settings, experience with specialized faculty and programs at well-regarded institutions, and ability to expand personal and professional opportunities that come with international experiences.
About Yale-NUS College:
A community of learning,
Founded by two great universities,
In Asia, for the world.
Established in 2011, through a partnership between Yale University and the National University of Singapore, Yale-NUS College is a leading liberal arts and sciences college in Asia, with a full residential programme that integrates living and learning. Drawing on the resources and traditions of its two founding universities, a Yale-NUS College education promotes broad-based interdisciplinary learning across the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities complemented by depth of expertise in one’s major.
Our curriculum and pedagogy draw on the strengths of established traditions in the liberal arts and sciences, while introducing our students to the diverse intellectual traditions and cultures of Asia and the world. We nurture young minds and equip the next generation with the means to appreciate and understand complex issues, the capacity to think critically and problem-solve, and the skills to communicate effectively and lead.
About Fulbright University Vietnam:
Fulbright University Vietnam is Vietnam’s first independent, not-for-profit, liberal arts university. We are an expanding international team of educational innovators, with deep roots in Vietnam, strong political and financial backing, and connections to educational institutions around the world.
We believe in the power of collaboration, transdisciplinary thinking, and risk-taking, and we understand that effective education requires putting students at its center. Globally integrated but deeply embedded in Vietnamese society, Fulbright is dedicated to providing a world-class education, utilizing the latest advancements in institutional design, teaching, learning, technology and other fields to create an institution that is both innovative and globally relevant. Importantly, Fulbright is committed to serving Vietnamese society through rigorous research and responsible civic engagement.