3 January 2020: Residential College activities nurture a sense of community and belonging at Yale-NUS College

By Akanksha Madan

Students bonding together at ‘My Dream Elm Courtyard’. Image provided by Eda Semsioglu.

At Yale-NUS College, students live, study and interact within a close-knit community and have access to various events on campus.

Distinctive to the College is its residential programme, with all Yale-NUS students living on campus for the duration of their education. At the beginning of their first year, students are randomly allocated to one of three Residential Colleges (RCs) – Saga, Elm, and Cendana – each named after a tree found in Yale (Elm) or locally (Saga and Cendana).

Equipped with facilities like a dining hall, common lounge, laundry room, and student-run buttery (snack bar), each of these RCs are not just spaces, but communities that give students the opportunity to interact at close quarters with others and develop a sense of belonging during their four years on campus.

Each RC’s administration actively works towards nurturing this sense of community. At Saga College, the Saga College Council – a group of student associates employed by the residential college – runs the ‘Owl Post’, a mailbox service that allows Saga residents or “Sagans” to send notes to each other.

Introduced in November 2017, this service runs twice every semester for one week each time. Sagans can visit the Owl Post booth in the Saga Dining Hall and use a variety of stationery and stickers to craft their notes while enjoying cookies. They drop their notes into a distinctive wooden mailbox in anticipation for the delivery of their notes to their friends’ suites.

The wooden mailbox where students drop their notes, designed and created by Tan Qian Hui (Class of 2021) with the help of the on-campus Fabrication Studio. Image provided by Alisha Lavendra.

The Owl Post is organised during typically busy periods of the semester when students might want to send notes of encouragement to their friends or suitemates. In addition to strengthening friendships, the Post helps students make new friends and have fun crafting their messages when they write their notes at the booth.

“The Owl Post has made for a more cheerful community,” said head of Saga College Council Alisha Lavendra (Class of 2022).

Similarly, Cendana College also endeavours to bring joy to the Cendana residents or “Cendol” community.

Organised by the Cendana College Council, the ‘Cendana Block Party’ provides a platform for Cendols to interact with each other, beyond their usual circle of close friends. Students who share a common sky garden – open spaces every three floors equipped with picnic tables, benches, and plants – organise a fun activity at their garden, open to the rest of the Cendana community. Cendols are encouraged not only to push the creativity of their sky garden’s activity but also to visit other sky gardens and forge new bonds.

To incentivise the community, the Cendana College Council awards each suite that contributed to the best sky garden event with a gift card. The winning sky garden activity is chosen by a secret panel of judges that visits each participating garden.

The initiative has occurred twice already on a semesterly basis, and the Cendana College Council plans to hold it either semesterly or once every two semesters going forward.

Students enjoying music together at the Cendana Block Party. Image provided by Yau Yen Ching.

“The Block Party impacts Cendana from the ground-up as it creates the foundation for potential long-term interactions between community members,” said head of Cendana College Council Yau Yen Ching (Class of 2022).

College events are also collaborative experiences that help students engage with each other meaningfully. The Elm Residential College Advisors (RCAs) – students in their third-year or senior year who provide focused support to first-year students – organised ‘My Dream Elm Courtyard’, an event to encourage students to reimagine the ways the Elm Courtyard can be utilised as a residential space.

The full-day event allowed students to engage with placemaking activities at the courtyard, which they walk past multiple times a day, in different ways – from an open-air cinema and painting space to a place to cook and eat food. “It was a chance for people to remember to pause for a bit while having access to art materials, instruments and food,” said RCA Eda Semsioglu (Class of 2020).

Each RC has a team of Residential College Advisors (RCAs), students in their third-year or senior year who provide focused support to first-year students.

The event helped students reflect on their own dream courtyards while unwinding and spending time with their RC community. Furthermore, the RCAs hope to set an example for first-year students of the available opportunities for them to utilise spaces and organise events to bring the community together.

These RC bonding activities are succeeding in their goal. First-year student Bijaya Chandra Luitel (Class of 2023) welcomed the break from academic work that ‘My Dream Elm Courtyard’ provided. He said, “The similarities between my ideas and those of my peers helped me feel that the community around me shares a lot of my interests, which made me feel more a part of the community.”