11 August 2020: A vibrant Yale-NUS residential community

By Ethel Pang

An integral part of the Yale-NUS College experience is its residential community – a uniquely tight-knit one where local and international students, staff and faculty have the opportunity for extensive interactions on campus.

While the exciting events and activities organised by the residential colleges – Saga, Elm and Cendana – are frequently highlighted, we explore the challenges and rewards of residential living through the perspectives of staff and faculty members who live on campus with their families.

*N.B. Physical interactions in the following recounts are based on experiences prior to COVID-19 circumstances, where the circuit breaker and safe distancing measures were not yet in place.

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Assistant Professor Cheung Hoi Shan, pictured with her daughter and husband. Image provided by Asst Prof Cheung Hoi Shan.

Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Psychology) Cheung Hoi Shan has been living in Saga Residential College with her husband, daughter and their two feline companions for about a year. For Asst Prof Cheung and her family, the “vibrant Yale-NUS community” was what attracted them to the opportunity of moving onto campus.

She said, “My family was supportive of the idea. My husband said, ‘You enjoyed your university days, right? Now you can do your part to make your students enjoy theirs’.” Asst Prof Cheung eventually decided that she would strive to be a supportive mentor to her students as a residential faculty member.

The residential faculty on campus contribute significantly to the vibrancy of campus living, often taking the lead in community-building initiatives, and Asst Prof Cheung is no different. She took to the role enthusiastically and has become a key figure in the Saga Residential College community, initiating various activities from hosting dinner conversations on current affairs such as the protests in Hong Kong, to organising informal ‘cat therapy’ sessions with students.

Assistant Professor Marvin Montefrio, his wife Yasmin Ortiga, and their two children Tala and Pepe in their “Cendana House”. They also live with their domestic worker, Jhorie Andal (not in picture). Image provided by Asst Prof Marvin Montefrio.

For Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Environmental Studies) Marvin Montefrio, the constant “hustle and bustle” on campus was exactly what made him and his family decide to move in.

He and his family have enjoyed live student performances, concerts, talks, and festivals in the two years that they have lived in Cendana Residential College, and his children were able to experience the “rare opportunity” of growing up in a residential college.

Before moving onto campus, Asst Prof Montefrio and his family were keen to attend many College events, but had to give some activities a miss, especially those held in the late evenings. “Living on campus now allows us to experience in full the vibrant campus life without feeling guilty for making our kids stay up so late”, said Asst Prof Montefrio.

He jokingly added, “Well, actually, the kids now stay up late for certain events and we don’t mind at all.”

Of course, living on campus with one’s family is not without its challenges. Asst Prof Montefrio shared that it sometimes exposes aspects of his family’s private life, such as fights between his children, to the campus community.

Echoing this sentiment, Asst Prof Cheung said that she initially had reservations about staying on campus because she was uncertain about the implications of mixing up her work and personal life.

However, despite their concerns, the faculty members and their families have since gotten used to living on campus. According to them, the most rewarding part of residential living is the many opportunities to forge meaningful relationships and integrate their own families into the bigger Yale-NUS family.

Dean of Students Dr Dave Stanfield with his wife, Karen, and their children, Owen and Mira. Image provided by Dean Dave Stanfield.

Dean of Students Dr Dave Stanfield shared that at the start, it was “a little intimidating” for his family when they first moved into Elm Residential College. They have since developed close relationships with students and other residential families on campus.

Dean Stanfield said, “When we eat dinner together in the dining hall, my four-year-old daughter, Mira, always wants to go say hi to her ‘friends’, or the Yale-NUS students she interacts with. Owen, my seven-year-old son, most looks forward to evening football games in the courtyard with other kids living on campus.”

To sum it up, Asst Prof Cheung describes the Yale-NUS campus as similar to kampung living, which in her own words is “solid, simple [and] happy”.

That said, the past couple of months living under strict safe distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been a vastly different experience from the lively campus that Asst Prof Cheung’s family has grown used to. These extraordinary circumstances remind her of the importance of social contact and community that some of us might have taken for granted.

Reflecting on how much they have grown into the residential living experience, Asst Prof Cheung said, “We hope to welcome all of our students back on campus, soon.”

Watch this video to learn more about our residential faculty and staff’s thoughts about living on campus.