Jue Yu Jade Phua, a 2021 cohort Yenching Scholar from Singapore, graduated from University College London. Studying in the Economics and Management track at YCA, she aims to deepen her expertise in social capital and China-ASEAN relations.
Chance upon YCA
After her undergraduate education in the United Kingdom, Jade was poised to broaden her perspective of the world and wanted to pursue a masters in a non-English speaking country to attain this goal. China piqued her interest, as the rate of contrasting information in the public sphere made understanding the country remarkably complicated. Jade wanted to understand the country firsthand and form a more informed opinion on it, especially as a public servant of an ASEAN country.
After searching online for potential options and reading through forums, Jade chanced upon YCA in one of the comments.
Afterward, she spoke to some YCA alumni, including colleagues in the Singaporean public service, and was struck by the fondness with which they spoke of their educational experience. In particular, their stories about their on-campus experience after classes discussing niche interests in politics or economics, and spontaneous travels to other provinces like Hubei were very captivating. Because some of these trips were funded research ventures by the Academy, YCA seemed to her like a supportive institution that offered an academically rigorous curriculum and a community of like-minded individuals. She was eager to experience such a close-knit academic environment with other fellows.
During the alumni sharing sessions hosted before the application round opened, scholars from earlier cohorts discussed their thesis covering several interesting topics, including the social credit system, China’s technological start-up economy, and their legal system in transition. Jade was eager to learn from such peers and attain a more holistic understanding of China.
She decided to enroll at YCA, drawing on what she had learned about the Academy’s program, curricula and other activities, and recommendations from seniors.
Fight Against COVID-19 Like Mulan
Jade is ethnically Chinese, and her roots can be traced back to Hainan Island in south China. Her parents were more traditional in her upbringing and impressed upon her the importance of Confucian values. Notably, Jade maintains a deep sense of duty to her family and community, owing to their teachings.
Jade’s parents have encouraged her to engage in community work from a young age. Coupled with Singapore’s education system’s emphasis on community service, Jade and her peers have always been very involved in the social sector in different capacities, mostly volunteering for causes involving children and environmental sustainability.
Furthermore, she has had to navigate more traditional Chinese ideas of femininity in a country with more diverse perspectives on gender roles. There are so many narratives about womanhood in Chinese culture, ranging from The Ballad of Mulan, which inspired Chinese women everywhere to challenge patriarchal constructs of womanhood, to the Confucian ideals of female behavior that present specific challenges to the female experience. Eventually, reflecting on these contradictions inspired Jade to deepen her understanding of Chinese culture in its original form, primarily by studying traditional Chinese texts and history.
Jade likes to visit Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre in her spare time. She has a strong interest in the history of Nanyang Girls' High School, the transition of Nanyang modern women’s fashion, and the overseas Chinses history.
A deeply instilled sense of duty and her reflections on gender led Jade to join the military service as a full-time servicewoman and contribute to Singapore’s national defense. She has been involved in many national projects within this capacity, including postings to support her country’s COVID-19 efforts. In 2020, she was in the task force dedicated to capacity and conveyance planning, working with the guidance given by doctors of the Ministry of Health to manage operations at the peak of the pandemic in Singapore.
Exciting New Experience with YCA Friends
Presently, Yenching Scholars are scattered across the globe due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and forming deeper relationships across the cohort has been challenging. However, Jade has made many good friends through online class interactions and projects.
She has fond memories of the bonding activities over food and games at the beginning of the Semester that allowed her to befriend classmates across the world, including China, the US, and Mexico. Jade mentioned her admiration for a classmate’s video of him jumping into a frozen lake in Wisconsin during the YCA Olympics, a virtual sporting event – she immediately knew she wanted to be friends with such an exciting person. Ban activities organized by the Banzhang and Residential Advisors allowed Jade to bond with some of her closest YCA friends.
Jade loves learning about different subjects from her classmates, and those conversations form the bulk of her YCA experience. As she had no background in history and philosophy, her classmates in the Archaeology and Politics and International Relations concentrations opened her eyes to a whole new field of knowledge – how do archaeologists know if a body has been moved before? How does modern archaeology use technology to preserve the integrity of archaeological sites? What does “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” really mean from a theoretical perspective? How does that relate to China’s current form of governance? Yenching Scholars from all over the world have diverse interests and are deeply passionate about their respective fields. Every conversation she has had felt like an exciting exploration of novel concepts; the intersection of ideas has added color to her life at the Academy.
As a member of the armed forces, she is also enriched by her classmates’ perspectives on the military, given their different cultural backgrounds. It made Jade reflect on her role in the modern world. The debates and discussions on “just war,” war strategy and ethics, and unconventional warfare between her YCA friends in economics, history, and politics have helped leveled her stance and direction in the armed forces.
Jade enjoys most of her classes at YCA. The ease of approaching YCA professors and their willingness to share personal experiences give her comfort and reassurance that she can receive the academic guidance she needs. In particular, she likes the seminar-based classes that feature in most of her modules. It has provided a platform for her classmates to share their experiences, which significantly enriches the learning experience of each class.
YCA is an extension of her journey into understanding the Chinese influences in Jade’s life and how she can reshape them in empowering ways. As an economic and geography student, she is grateful that YCA allowed her to take classes in different academic concentrations to explore these ideas – an exploration facilitated by equally curious and open-minded classmates.
photos by Jue Yu Jade Phua