Hey, I’m Yustynn, a Junior in ESD. Last week I got to attend an amazing program in the University of Twente (Enschede, Netherlands). It’s pretty crazy – you spend ten days in a tent in the University of Twente. If that alliteration isn’t enough to convince you to go for it, maybe more about my experience will 🙂 I’m really grateful that the Global office selected me to go for the program, and the fact that we’re affiliated with a program as amazing as this really reinforces how incredible SUTD is.
There were over 200 people with more than 50 nationalities. I made friends with amazing people from Malta, Spain, Germany, Japan, Finland, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, the Netherlands (obviously), Syria, Portugal, the UK, and more. Those are just the ones off of the top of my head. It wasn’t just a touch-and-go kinda thing; I got to know them well. A lot of people believe this supposed aphorism – that no matter where you go, people are the same. It’s absolutely not true. People are incredibly different and diverse, and meeting people from different countries is an awesome and fun way to increase the chances of meeting people that see everyday things so differently from how you do. If you end up going for CuriousU, I encourage you to go talk to as many people as you can, and try not to fall into the trap of sticking with only our own nationality that so many of us step into during exchange (this isn’t just a Singaporean problem – a lot of people from different countries tend to stick with familiar people).
People aside, the content I learnt during classes was often really, really good. My day structure was essentially this:
1. Wake up
2. Go for breakfast
3. Attend morning classes
4. Lunch + fun activities (e.g. one of them had people in oversized transparent balls trying, trying to run on water and failing miserably)
5. Evening classes
6. Evening activity
7. Hang out with different people + read next day’s readings (when relevant)
8. Hit the bar
I was originally in the Governance and Ethics of Technology course, which I chose because I felt like I needed more education on what should be built and the effects of building particular things. SUTD is fantastic at teaching us how to make things, but a little lacking in teaching us what we should make on an ethical level. Still, after a while I realized there was a better course I should have chosen: after a few days, I swapped to the Mix and Match track which let me join whatever courses I wanted for any lessons (highly recommended!). A lot of my original course was amazing, but some of the lesson topics just weren’t interesting to me (personal taste). I figured I’d search for a better optimum by combining it with other classes from other courses. I ended up attending courses from Design the Future, Blockchain, Robot Interaction and Smart Cities. It was awesome! Every course has quite a different feel. Blockchain for example was pretty technical and built on knowledge from previous days. Design the Future had more self-contained lessons, where the things we were taught were conceptually super simple, but applying them and learning the frameworks were very eye-opening and made a huge impact to how I think about problems now.
I was actively looking out for areas in which we can improve SUTD – we’re an amazing school but we should always strive to be better rather than be content. Funnily enough, contributing back to SUTD was also the main criteria for being selected for exchange, so even though this is a personal reflection I thought I’d share it. The thing that really got to me from Twente was how easy it was to talk to people. It’s the opposite of one of my pet peeves about SUTD and Singapore schools in general. People just aren’t used to talking to people they don’t know, and that sucks because a lot of the point of university is to meet people who are interesting and going to be doing interesting things once they graduate. There’s a host of subproblems that contribute to this issue that we should openly acknowledge in order to design a solution. Primarily these include the restrictive administrative red tape / “security”, blame culture and the closedness of Singaporean culture itself. My personal reflection is that I should take more steps to get people around me to open up and meet other people. And hopefully the whole “be the change” thing will propagate.
In addition to personal effort to talk to other people, though, one thing that really helped everyone get bonded during CuriousU was the drinking culture. I’m absolute not for excessive drinking (and neither was CuriousU), but at SUTD we’re unproductively draconian about an activity that we should be trusted with as adults. There a lot of policies and attitudes in school that are socially isolating (this is not a problem specific to SUTD, but is something that I’d like us to take the lead in addressing nonetheless), but I’d argue that the alcohol one is the one that stands most stubbornly in the way of social interaction. A beer and the inspirational, creative, crazy conversations with friends that follows can cost you your hostel room, even if you’re an international student. In the Netherlands it’s absolutely different, and meeting interesting people over drinks + having awesome talks with friends that end up in insane ideas is one of life’s greatest pleasures in my opinion. I had no shortage of that sort of thing in CuriousU. More or less every night, I’d meet brand new, fun, smart people from CuriousU and Twente. And we’d bond over things in ways that are just tougher without that kind of atmosphere. This may sound strange at first, but I honestly believe that a strong drinking culture would help everyone be more well networked, less stressed and more creative. I’ll try to petition the school to be okay about alcohol when I’m back in Singapore. Or at the very least, turn a blind eye as the other Singapore universities do.
Anyway, CuriousU was basically awesome. I’ve got more friends from all over the world now, and I learnt really cool things. I’ve met people who study things incredibly different from me: primary school teaching, medicine, sociology, philosophy… the list goes on. If you’re thinking about going for it, do it. This is a great way to maximize diversity in your life – which if you’re from SUTD you should absolutely do. I can’t wait to come back to school with what I’ve learnt and see how I can best effect change. I’ll end with a big shoutout to the Global Office for tying up with this program 🙂