18 September 2018: A home away from home: the residential college experience at Yale-NUS

By Courtney Carter and Julian Low

As a fully residential programme, students at Yale-NUS learn together and from one another not just in the classroom, but also in communal settings. This living and learning environment provides an immersive experience for students, enabling them to explore different opportunities and develop essential life skills.

In their first year, students are placed into one of three residential colleges (RC), Elm College, Saga College or Cendana College. Some of them become leaders and community builders within their RC during their time at Yale-NUS.

Over the course of this year, students in each RC initiated community-building programmes to encourage more cross-cohort interaction and community-wide support. From seniors and residential college advisors (RCA) to first-years, these students all hope to make a positive impact on the life of their peers. RCAs are final or third-year students who provide care and guidance to a group of first-year students that they have been assigned to.

In every residential college (RC), the RCAs run a continuing first-year advisory programme called ‘Big Sib Little Sib’ throughout the year to encourage relationship building between first-years and their seniors. At Elm, the RCAs interviewed their first-years to determine individual goals and hopes during the programme, such as academic interests or extra-curricular activities. First-years were then paired with students from the upper classes who shared similar goals and interests. In Semester two of Academic Year 17/18, over 70 pairs forged strong bonds over meetings and events organised by Elm College.

Evan Asava Aree (Class of 2018), who was one of the RCAs who helped to coordinate Elm’s ‘Big Sib Little Sib’ programme last semester, shared, “The programme has helped first-years reach out to their seniors in a non-intimidating fashion. We noticed that first-years often have difficulty when approaching students from other cohorts, so this programme has been helpful. We hope to improve it by hosting more events and opportunities for pairs that aren’t as proactive. For those who have benefitted from the programme, they have been able to forge strong bonds.”

One such pair who participated in the programme was Abhinav Natarajan (Class of 2018) and Gideon Lee (Class of 2021). Both share strong interests in mathematics and music and had an instant connection. Abhinav shared, “It was heartening to be able to connect with someone, especially in such a small and diverse campus.”

It seems that the ‘Big Sib Little Sib’ programme at Elm has left a positive mark, as about 87 sophomores, juniors and seniors have signed up to be mentors to the Class of 2022 this semester.

At Saga, Tan Qian Hui and Tng Pei Ling (both Class of 2021) noticed a high level of stress among their peers at certain points of the year. Deciding that a peer support system would be helpful, they made use of cardboard materials to build a mailbox service titled ‘Owl Post’. The mailbox would receive various notes of support and gratitude, which were then hand-delivered by Qian Hui and Pei Ling to their Saga peers.

‘Owl Post’ was rolled out during final exams week, Valentine’s Day, Halloween and the mid-term exams week in the last academic year, benefiting over 120 participants. Qian Hui and Pei Ling are looking to continue with ‘Owl Post’ for the current academic year, and are also exploring the possibility of extending this postal service across all three RCs.

When asked about their motivation for this programme, Qian Hui said, “We wanted to bring happiness to other people during stressful times, because we realised that is what we were missing.” Pei Ling shared her sentiments and added, “When you express gratitude to someone else, you also feel better. We wanted to encourage a culture of sharing gratitude at Yale-NUS.”

At Cendana, one of the popular ongoing events is called ‘Chilldana’, which is weekly pancake night that serves as a midweek breather for students in between their co-curricular activities and studies.

As Pei Ling puts it, “When you express gratitude to someone else, you also feel better. We wanted to encourage a culture of sharing gratitude at Yale-NUS.”