Dear freshman considering the University Scholars Programme*,
There’s been some hubbub on the Internet – that’s threatening to break out in quite an ugly way into the public mainstream – about how members of the University Scholars Programme have engaged in ‘cyberbullying’ of their fellow student. While many of my fellow students in USP have valiantly stepped up to try and defend the reputation of USP, I do not really have the intellectual stamina, eloquence, or patience at the moment to read through and analyse every single argumentative point made from all the positions I have a privilege of seeing from (Especially not during the summer!).
Instead, I just hope you understand that any impression of USP the online media has been spewing lately has been largely misconstrued.
Sure, those screencaps were actual words typed by actual people. They might seem mean-spirited and cruel. But please remember that in every community there will always be the vocal few who express themselves more bluntly than others. They are not representative of the community as a whole. I say that because the majority of the people I’ve met in the course of my first year in USP have been extremely nice, lovely, and fun people who I just happen to also enjoy holding an intellectual discussion with. And we also do more than talk about philosophy or ethics or, er, multivariable functions. Intellectual discussion is probably ten percent or less of the things I do with other people in USP. Twenty percent is the usual stuff people like to talk about like the latest episode of a TV show, favourite books and comic books, discussing musical tastes, stupid jokes, etc. Thirty percent comprises of fun activities like captain’s ball, Quidditch, Chinese chess, kayaking, sailing…among many other things. It’s been a joy to meet people who carpe diem and love learning, and don’t just study for the sake of it, but let the quest for knowledge be an end in itself.
The remaining forty percent would be the USP academic programme, one of the most enriching and fantastic academic experiences of my life. You’ll be hard-pressed to find modules more varied than those in USP within NUS. The writing module I took in my first semester, while girded by the topic of Greek rhetoric, allowed me to write a research essay on anything I wanted. I wrote about comics, and you can read it here. For another module, I read landmark texts like Confucius’s the Analects and Machiavelli’s The Prince. In my second semester, I travelled with my class to Cambodia to study tourism and also wrote a proposal to make Bukit Brown a World Heritage site, and for another module learnt about the difficulties in working in a post-disaster aid landscape.
What I’m saying is, don’t let the media paint an impression of USP as elite and uncaring. USP probably has the highest density of social activists behind Social Work in NUS I’ve seen anywhere. Many of my classmates are genuinely concerned about helping the less fortunate, and the Programme has plenty of opportunities for us to get involved in community projects locally and overseas.
Okay, are we intellectually elite? Maybe not in the way you think – we generally have a normal distribution of full CAP pointers to those hovering near the minimum CAP requirement of 3.5. But talk to any of them and you probably wouldn’t be able to tell who is the one doing better. Instead, what characterises the USP student is a joie de vivre, a desire to explore the world in both a tangible and abstract sense.
Our Facebook group, where those mean screencaps are from, is but on of the subcommunities that are part of the USP. It would be erroneous to think that it represents the USP as a whole – it is not even an official Facebook group, just one which is open to all members of USP. There are myriad subgroups in USP doing all sorts of other things, even some who barely participate in the social events and merely fulfil the requirements of the academic programme. Just be part of the community you want to be – be it in the spotlight, or at the fringes. No one’s going to force you to be who you’re not in USP.
Do yourself a favour and peruse our prospectus. Talk to your seniors in USP personally and ask them about their experiences. And if you like what you see, join us. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.
This is all I have to say about USP, a programme that has become an integral part of my life. It might not be the most well-versed apologia out there, but my brain’s kind of hibernating – it’s summer, after all.
Now, back to enjoying my break.
*I know this letter comes late – most of you have already applied and gotten in. I just hope you don’t let recent events change your mind.