13 November 2020: Maintaining connections with the Yale-NUS community while studying remotely

By Akanksha Madan

Naman Kedia, Valeria Barco Santana, and Juan Carlos Perez Urrego (from left to right, all Class of 2023) are studying remotely this semester. Photos provided by Naman Kedia, Valeria Barco Santana, and Juan Carlos Perez Urrego and were taken indoors or before the implementation of COVID-19 mask-wearing requirements.

Although chatter and life have enlivened the Yale-NUS College campus with the commencement of the new academic year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, some Yale-NUS students are engaging in classes and activities remotely this semester. The College has been committed to ensuring they can remain connected to our tight-knit community and have as seamless an experience as possible. Various teams on campus have been planning innovative events and programmes to maintain our vibrant campus life and residential education experience.

Reflecting on his virtual experience, Naman Kedia (Class of 2023), who is back home in Mumbai, India, said, “My virtual experience for this semester has been much better than expected. I made the decision to do this semester virtually with a lot of uncertainty as to how the experience would be, but I decided to do so because of the College’s reassurance that they will try their best. For the most part, I think this has been true and is most evident through the effort professors put in to include us in classes.”

Students studying remotely partake in either fully virtual classes, with all participants convening online, or hybrid classes, where they join in-person classes via Zoom. Juan Carlos Perez Urrego (Class of 2023), currently in Colombia, highlighted that his virtual classes have kept him engaged through group discussions and breakout rooms. In addition, the professors for his hybrid classes have gone out of their way to accommodate students who are abroad, even if they constitute a small minority of the class.

“For example, due to safe distancing measures, one of my classes is held at a lecture theatre. My professor has been very adamant in making everything audible through the use of microphones so that those on Zoom can listen to what others say during class. This might seem like a small, insignificant detail, but it shows to me the extent of how thoughtful professors are about remote students who might be struggling to keep up with class participation,” Juan said.

Juan is also grateful for the support systems available to him. “I must also thank the Assistant Deans for their support and understanding through these trying times. It’s nice to feel supported and to know that you can reach out to seek advice and help,” he added.

Assistant Deans play a significant role in the Yale-NUS residential life experience by supporting student wellness and coordinating community-building events.

Although Juan enjoys his distance learning experience, the time difference between Colombia and Singapore makes it hard for him to keep up with friends on campus. Time difference is also a challenge for Valeria Barco Santana (Class of 2023), who is in Ecuador, as she has to wake up early and stay up late at night for her classes.

Despite this, Valeria has been able to maintain her social life. Not only is she connected with her friends in Singapore through social media, but she has also rekindled relationships with her friends in Ecuador, who also study abroad but are back home for the time being.

“Moreover, I am surprised that I have made new friends during this e-learning period. I have enjoyed meeting new people in my online classes,” she said.

On a similar note, Suvansh Manektala (Class of 2023), in New Delhi, India, shared that social media has helped him remain in touch with life in Singapore. His suitemates created a suite-specific account on Instagram to post updates from campus and ensure he can be part of their daily life.

While there is no denying the uncertainty and anxiety of being away from campus, student activities and organisations have provided an additional avenue of connection for him, as it has for many other students. He is working on the annual campus production ‘Playdough!’, which features original short plays written and performed by students. In light of COVID-19, the production will include a Zoom play, led by students who are abroad.

Likewise, Naman, who is part of the leadership of the South Asian Society (YNDUS) and Investment Group (YNSIG), added, “I am constantly working on holding events for the community in spite of not being physically being present, and this is one of the main ways I remain connected to the community.”

The experiences of our virtual Kingfishers are probably best summarised by Juan’s words, “Despite being halfway across the world, I still feel connected to Yale-NUS College. To me, that is quite extraordinary, considering how alienating it can feel to not be in Singapore. I miss my friends and I miss campus, and I feel really excited to come back. Despite being physically home, my spirit still remains in Singapore!”