A different way to experience winter session

Amid debate over UB's presence in Singapore, student discusses her time abroad

The Spectrum

Kelli Leclair had always described herself as "ratchet."

But because of the Cinematic Sociology in Singapore program, that term no longer applies.

Over winter break, Leclair, a senior communication major, was one of two UB students who traveled to Singapore. She expected the food to taste like Chinese take-out and thought the dorms would be as luxurious as her own in Greiner Hall.

At first, she was shocked when she had to adjust to the unexpected taste of the food, cold showers and a bug-and-lizard-inhabited bathroom. But the trip ended up changing her outlook on life and how she defines herself.

While abroad, Leclair took the Cinematic Sociology course for three credits. Debra Street, a professor and chair of the Sociology department, recruited Leclair for the class. For three weeks in January, Leclair explored the culture of Singapore. She said she matured as a student and person along the way.

But not everyone on campus supports the presence of UB's campus in Singapore.

Some faculty members, like English professor James Holstun, see the negative sides of UB stationing a campus overseas.

Holstun said the administrators of the Yale-National University in Singapore admit that students there do not have freedom of expression. He believes if UB administrators make a similar concession, a campus in Singapore is a "fundamental betrayal of academic freedom" and "the campus should be shut down immediately."

"The good news is that UB faculty and students have worked hard over the years, making 'UB' a valuable name," Holstun said in an email. "The bad news is that when authoritarian states like Singapore buy that name, it loses some of its value. As one of my colleagues has remarked, franchising UB's name this way is like eating the seed corn."

Although some members of the UB community believe the UB campus should be shut down in the one-party state - where there are limits on free speech, high rates of capital and corporal punishment for lesser offenses - others disagree.

Leclair did not experience an inhibition of free speech. Instead, she said, she found freedom - as well as independence, confidence and a love for Singaporean food.

She traveled alone. It was her first trip without a "security blanket," and that's what made it even more of an adventure, she said.

The most memorable thing she had done in Buffalo was "press a coin at the zoo." Street put Leclair in contact with Mohamed Rudy, a student in Singapore. He showed Leclair around the city-state and took her to the zoo, where she rode an elephant. It was more exhilarating than anything she could have done in Buffalo, she said.

"Living in Singapore immerses you into a society that's multi-racial and where different cultures coexist in harmony with one another," Rudy said. "Singapore's also really westernized in certain aspects, so it's a nice mesh of east meets west."

Street said that in light of Singapore's involvement with the growth of Asian economies and globalization processes, it's important that American students "look to the most populous part of the world for opportunities and insights."

"Although winter session occurs over a short period, it does give American students a unique opportunity to see Asia up close and personal, and to take a class that was dominated by Asian (Singaporean) students gets them out of their comfort zone, and helps them make social connections with age peers in Asia that may last for lifetimes," Street said.

The trip gave Leclair more drive to see the world. She recommends that students take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad during winter session, because the programs don't take away from spending the fall and spring semesters with friends.

"I think it really prepared me, not only for my last semester at UB, but also for my future," Leclair said. "I now know I was able to travel alone and learn so much and because of that, I think I can handle anything."

Although Leclair said she benefitted immensely from the program, UB's presence in Singapore remains a controversial topic in the campus community.

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