Class of 2017
Language(-s) studied: Arabic, Indonesian, Hindi
Why did you decide to study a language at Yale-NUS?
While at Yale-NUS I studied Arabic (till advanced), Indonesian (advanced), and Hindi (intermediate). I started with Indonesian because I was doing research with a sea tribe in Indonesia, and I also concurrently did Hindi because I’d spent my gap year in India, and was very interested in Indian culture. Then, after realizing that many Hindi and Indonesian words came from Arabic, I took it up too. It became the basis for my capstone research, and I’m excited to continue learning these languages.
Studying a language is not just about learning grammatical rules and vocabulary, but really about the embedded cultures, histories, and ways of thinking. And the best way to learn about other cultures and connect with other peoples is to learn their language. Learning languages has been very fulfilling, and I have become good friends with like-minded individuals in Singapore, built up networks in three countries (Jordan, Indonesia, India), and arrived at a new understanding of the world.
It is also a good way to leave the Yale-NUS campus a few times a week, and mingle with NUS students. Language classes require a different part of your brain than other classes, and rather than reading another 1000 pages, it’s nice to sometimes do my language homework.
What advantage do you see in learning this language for your plans after graduation?
I intend to pursue a PhD in Anthropology focusing on the histories, politics, and cultures of the wider Islamic world, so naturally Arabic is important in order to understand the Middle East and also read Islamic texts, and understand their rituals. But the Islamic world extends also to South Asia (especially India and Pakistan) and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore), and this is where Hindi-Urdu and Indonesian also come in handy. If everything else fails, and I do not become a professor, my backup plan is to be a translator (possibly a political one) or work as a language teacher. That way, I can also test-drive my upcoming poetry or novel with my students!
What made you choose your particular language of study?
People in Singapore often study European languages (French, German) or East Asian languages (Korean, Japanese) and these are beautiful languages. But what about our own languages in our backyard? How many ethnic Chinese Singaporeans know Malay or Tamil? Malay (or Indonesian) is such a fascinating language; it’s a language of trade, religion, kinship networks, and power structures all in one. Today the world is fixated on ISIS and Syria, and that I believe is the challenge of our generation (akin perhaps to WWII in our grandparents’ generation). There are all kinds of reports coming out of the region, and everyone wants to comment on the issue. But a good starting point is to learn the languages, understand the complex histories, and know a thing or two about the religions.