27 March 2018: ‘Stories from the Dinner Table’ encourages community building through storytelling

By Courtney Carter

Storytelling is a skill that can be learnt and practised. It can also build communities among people who see each other every day, but do not interact much.

This is the central tenet of a new programme planned and hosted by Dean’s Fellow Mr Detmer Kremer. Supported by the Writers’ Centre and the rectors of Elm and Saga Residential Colleges, the programme is titled ‘Stories from the Dinner Table,’ and its purpose is to bring students together to practise the art of storytelling to captivate an audience. The most recent event was held on 7 February 2018, where students shared a diverse range of humorous, thrilling and motivational stories from their own life experiences.

As a Dean’s Fellow who works in the Writers’ Centre, Mr Kremer gives advice and feedback to many students about their written essays, cover letters and capstone research. From his observations, students rarely have the opportunity to practise their public speaking skills. Mr Kremer shared, “I tell students that in order to become a good story teller, you would need practice in both speaking and listening to the stories around you. It is also important to add a few important details, for example, the colour of a car or the meal you were eating. Ultimately, a story should be yours and it should be truthful.”

These storytelling events take place over homemade dinners that are prepared by students participating in the event. Each event has a theme that students are encouraged to draw inspiration for the stories that they share. The themes so far have been ‘Heart Skipped a Beat’ and ‘The Big Oops: Blunders and Mistakes.’

“Students are often worried that their stories may not be good enough to be told. I reassure them and explain that because it is their lived experience, this automatically makes their stories unique,” Mr Kremer said.

The idea for ‘Stories from the Dinner Table’ originated from a similar programme at his alma mater, Bates College. Like Yale-NUS College, students come from diverse backgrounds and with a wide range of life experiences to live and learn in the same residential environment. Even though these liberal arts institutions are often small, students rarely get the opportunity to listen and share stories in a close community.

When asked about the community impact of this programme, Mr Kremer responded, “The biggest impact is the idea that stories are a part of building community. By sharing them with relative strangers, you quickly see a shared humanity or experience you may not have known before.”

At the last event, there was a wide range of local and international students from all the cohorts. Cheryl Cosslett (Class of 2018), who was present at the event, shared that she had felt at home with people that she had not spoken to before. “Sharing and listening to stories felt more like a conversation than a presentation,” she said.

One of the chefs, Ekin Balcı (Class of 2021), who made spaghetti, minestrone soup and vegan chocolate mousse, said, “Learning about people through the stories they tell and not by their cohort year, their major, or their home country was refreshing. I am not much of a public speaker, so practising can be nerve-wracking. But whenever I tell a story, it pushes me out of my comfort zone.”

Mr Kremer plans to host a couple more ‘Stories from the Dinner Table’ events this semester.