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Economics and Music Balance Out Student's Life at Vassar College

Coming to the United States and going to college goes hand in hand for Daniel Tan. He shares his perspective on studying in the United States. “Given that ... my [personal] interests happen to be pretty much unrelated - Economics and Music - I would never be able to get that kind of a combination back home,” he says. “So really the United States offers me that opportunity and it fits me perfectly, I would say.

"For the average student pursuing an education that would lead up to a career, I guess studying in the United States is probably still a really an expensive option, especially someone from Singapore for instance.”

Daniel is from Singapore. He attends Vassar College, which is in upstate New York. “Instead of continuing to finish up what would be the American equivalent of the final two years of high school in Singapore, I decided to apply to the United World Colleges, which are a collection of international schools, ten of them around the world and one of them in the state of New Mexico, which is where I went,” he says.

“I went primarily for a different experience than what was available back home. From there, I applied to colleges as students in their final year of high school do and I decided to remain in the United States because the United States is pretty much the only place where you can get a liberal arts education that allows me to study both Economics and Music which is what I wanted to study then and what I am studying now.”

So what is there to know about Vassar College? “Vassar College is a pretty unique place for me," says Daniel. "It’s a small, liberal arts college, 2,400 students: a very good student to teacher ratio, plenty of attention. No large lectures, pretty much all classroom interaction with professors - I would say the level of that is very high at Vassar College.”

“I study Music and Economics here. I play flute and cello in the orchestra and various other music ensembles on campus. I also play squash,” he adds.

Daniel also appreciates Vassar's standard of diversity and support for international students. “What I like most is that there is a human element which gives a very strong context for any learning that you do. Coming from the United World College, which is an international high school with a very good student to teacher ratio, Vassar wasn’t at all that difficult to transition into a school like Vassar,” he says.

“Diversity at Vassar is, I would say, along the lines of the national average, which is something like seven to nine percent, but the environment here is very accepting. In fact, intolerance is something that really doesn’t go very far on this campus," he says. "So as an international student, I certainly felt very welcome here and the director of international students makes it a point that all incoming freshmen are ... well integrated into the community, and it is important that every student here, wherever they may be from, whatever diverse backgrounds they may eventually find a comfortable place in the school.”

With all that Daniel is involved in at Vassar, he says it is important for students to find balance in their life. “I think that being balanced and seeking out a broad education is extremely important, especially today, because the world is changing so fast that specialization, though it has its place, really doesn’t compare to the need for being adaptable in the face of a rapidly changing global situation,” he says.

“For instance, I mean over the last hundred years, skill sets have to be relearned, people have to shift their thinking. It's all about being able to change, and rigidity does not help that, does not facilitate that - so the broad approach, I would say, trumps intense specialization,” he explains.

For himself, Daniel speaks of his own balance between studying Economics and Music. “Right now, I mean, the choice for Economics and Music is the balance between practicality and something that keeps me happy and nourishes my soul, if you will,” he says. “I’m probably going into Finance, it seems, and Music will not be the source of my income, but it will continue to be a source of joy and happiness for many years to come, I hope.”

The 22-year-old sophomore will graduate in 2009.