I think it’s safe to say that the questions international students get asked the most are, “Why the University of Dallas? Why America? Why Irving?”
I used to have a standard story I would recite in response detailing how I got rejected from universities in Singapore, how my cousin first came across this small liberal arts college, and eventually how I made my decision to come here.
But now, having spent two months in Dallas, my story has changed from that of how I ended up here to why I love UD.
I know, it’s cheesy and cliche. But it’s the truth.
The time I’ve spent here at UD, while very limited, has affirmed that I made the right decision: to move 15,625 kilometers away from home (yes, I still use kilometers), away from my family and my friends, from my dogs and from my bed, all to pursue a liberal arts education here at UD.
Could I have eliminated the distance but still have gained the same experience in the comfort of my home country?
No, not at all.
Don’t get me wrong; university in Singapore would have equipped me outstandingly well to go out into the real world and to find my dream job. In fact, it would have been the more practical and economic choice to spend three years on a basic degree back home rather than the standard four years here, undecided and wandering through the hallowed halls of education.
I think it is appropriate that I begin by setting the stage for the comparison between UD and the education system of this tiny island of Singapore, from which I proudly hail.
In a study conducted on over 510,000 15-year-olds in 65 countries, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concluded that Singapore has the world’s best educational system. Over 15 percent of students in Singapore are top performers in reading, and Singapore ranks amongst the top five performers in science.
But as efficient and successful as the system is, Singaporean students still have gripes about it.
The system in which we grew up has groomed and conditioned us to look at the results we produce as the sole judge of how successful we are; the learning process comes second. As a result, teaching is very much stifled because it focuses on coverage of the curriculum and transmission of factual and procedural knowledge in order to prepare students for standardized tests.
I have friends who are in their sophomore year in the National University of Singapore (NUS), which is ranked amongst the top 10 universities in the world and first in Asia. They have to take examinations at the end of the year, which make up 70 percent of their grades. Class participation and discussion can’t exist in lecture halls of 300 students.
In the Core classes I’ve taken thus far at UD, my education is what I make of it. My final grades matter, but their fates don’t rest solely on the results of standardized exams. Arguably, certain subjects require that uniformity to access academic excellence. However, it is the blanket adoption of this approach that leaves much to be desired from Singapore’s system. Not all students are designed to take tests, and we can’t judge a fish based on its ability to climb a tree.
The accessibility of professors is another thing unique to UD, and a very peculiar concept to many of my Singaporean friends.
In one late-night conversation I had with my friends from home, I mentioned visiting my professors during their office hours to clarify questions that I had, and they were absolutely baffled. They wondered how the professors could have time to talk to each of their students and whether it was awkward for me to converse with them.
It could be because a majority of students live on campus. It could be because UD is Catholic. Or it could just be because the people here are great, but something that is definitely not common to Singaporean universities is the sense of community.
It has only been two months, but already the thought of leaving, even for Thanksgiving week, is giving me separation anxiety. In NUS, approximately 10 percent of students live on campus, and a lot of students graduate without getting to know the other students in their classes. I can’t imagine going through college without a community of like-minded people as my pillar of support.
Despite the largely negative differences I’ve noted, I love Singapore with all my heart and I am in no way saying that my friends who are still in Singapore have made the wrong choice.
The differences that drew me to UD have made me truly appreciate the experience I’ve gained here and have made this adventure of mine all he more worthwhile.