NUS Master's student named 2021 Singapore Rhodes Scholar

NUS Southeast Asian Studies Master’s student Poh Yong Han has been named the 2021 Singapore Rhodes Scholar. With this prestigious scholarship she will pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Anthropology at the University of Oxford, matriculating in October 2021.

Yong Han had graduated from Harvard University in May 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts (A.B. Degree) in Social Anthropology and East Asian Studies, with a secondary in Ethnicity, Migration and Rights.

She then decided to further her studies with a Master of Arts, with the NUS Southeast Asian Studies Department being a natural choice.

“I’ve benefited from the interdisciplinary approach that Southeast Asian Studies adopts, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from some of the best scholars in the field here at NUS, as well as from my peers,” said Yong Han.

“I also love that I’ve been able to dabble in disciplines I didn’t explore during my undergraduate years, such as history, which has helped expand my current conceptual approaches.”

For example, Yong Han learnt about the remarkable mobility of peasants who were able to “vote with their feet” in pre-modern Southeast Asian kingdoms, making her wonder what a “Southeast Asian” theory of citizenship would look like. 

Outside the classroom, Yong Han is passionate about social issues in Singapore. She feels strongly about protecting migrant rights, and wrote her senior thesis on migrant worker poetry and storytelling communities in Singapore.

She is looking forward to her time at Oxford. “I feel like the more I learn the less I know and there’s a lot I want to explore in terms of migration governance and citizenship regimes. Currently, I want to investigate if and how global migration governance has been captured by elite interests, and scrutinise the investment migration industry,” she shares. She also wants to explore the terms “economic migrants” and “refugees”, and whether these are increasingly untenable especially with the coming wave of climate refugees.

“I’m especially excited about bridging the academic-policy gap, and hope to get involved with Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society,” said Yong Han.

Yong Han is thankful to the support and wisdom of those around her, in helping her to get the scholarship: her parents, teachers, classmates, friends, and the migrant poets she has encountered over fieldwork.

“I feel very humbled and grateful for this opportunity, and I hope to use it well.”

The Rhodes Scholarship is an international scholarship programme established at Oxford in 1903, which aims to select creative young leaders with a commitment to serving others. Singapore resumed the conferment of one Singapore Rhodes Scholar per year since 2018, after a 14-year hiatus.