By Evan See
The Yale-NUS College campus is often quiet and relatively empty during the year-end break as students return home after a semester of classes. However, it was vibrant and bustling with activity over the holiday season last month.
During this year-end break, more than 400 students remained on campus throughout the entire five-week duration. Compared to previous years, which typically had about 20 students living on campus, this was an unprecedented number of residents.
A benefit of the Yale-NUS residential living experience is that our students can find a home away from home. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students, especially international students, were unable to return home to spend the holidays with their loved ones. Yet for many of them, comfort and a sense of family were found whilst staying on campus as the College provided a safe and supportive community of care during this festive season.
A large variety of events and programmes were planned by various offices across campus during the break.
“These programmes were meant to provide a space for students to relax and unwind, as well as come together as a community to participate in festive activities,” said Programme Manager, Wellness, Dean of Students (DOS) Office Ms Natalie Ang.
Such programmes were chosen to meet specific needs of students during the time.
For instance, the DOS Office held the event ‘Postcards to Home’, providing students with postcards to write to loved ones, which the organisers would then mail out.
“’Postcards to Home’ is an initiative suggested by a student a couple years ago and we wanted to facilitate a session during the year-end break since it would be so relevant and meaningful for students missing home,” Ms Ang said. “It can be challenging and lonely for our students to be away from their loved ones for a long period of time, and we want to take care of our students and make sure they are well.”
Students wrote to their families by penning their messages on beautiful postcards, which were mailed to their homes. Image provided by Olivia Dure.
Many students, including Matthew Ling (Class of 2024) who spent his first winter break away from his family in Canada, appreciated the event as a meaningful way to connect with home.
“My family and I have been sending WhatsApp messages and calling for the last few months, but writing a postcard felt more thoughtful than a simple ‘Merry Christmas’ text,” Matthew shared. “It felt like a way to send a bit of me home even though I couldn’t be there in person.”
Leading into the festive Christmas season, other activities the DOS office organised included a Christmas ornament decorating session, a gingerbread house decorating session, and a holiday-themed movie marathon.
Each individual Residential College office, which manages the residential college that students live in, also focused on engaging their residents with lively activities.
“While there is hardly any academic stress, students who are left by themselves in their suites after their suitemates move out may feel sad and lonely,” said Residential Life Officer (Elm College) Mr Leonard Chan.
For instance, Cendana College organised a plant propagation workshop for its residents, while residential faculty member Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Environmental Studies) Martin Montefrio scheduled a holiday gift making session with students. Saga College organised board game sessions, a tree-planting event at Telok Blangah Hill Park, as well as a Christmas Holiday Special event, where students had the opportunity to decorate a Christmas tree and write Christmas cards. Festive meals, such as the Christmas Eve Residential Meal Service, were also held across the dining halls for students to enjoy and get a taste of the holiday excitement. Many of these events were led by faculty and staff members who live on campus as part of the College’s residential community.
The Christmas Eve Residential Meal Service at our residential colleges were decorated to showcase the holiday spirit. Image provided by Joseph Quek.
Various faculty and staff led ‘Jalan Makan’ trips – a series of off-campus trips where Elm’s residential faculty and staff brought students out to explore new places and try local food. Student Wang Ziying (Class of 2023) joined Instructor of Humanities (Documentary, Photojournalism and Visual Communication) Mr Tom White and Artist-in Residence Mr Sai Chen on a visit to Mr Chen’s art studio, before having lunch at nearby café. “It was a really fun and inspiring experience,” Ziying said. “I’ve never been to an independent art studio before, so it was quite exciting.”
“I really appreciate and enjoy the events the Residential Colleges have organised over the break,” she added. “They’re both relaxing and fun, and a good excuse to pull myself out of my suite and explore more of Singapore.”
Beyond these social and wellness activities, students also had the opportunity to move beyond the classroom and engage their professional interests through events organised by the Centre for Professional and International Experience (CIPE). Several talks were organised, where speakers were invited to share their experiences on topics including entrepreneurship, agricultural technology and social impact.
Fu Xiyao (Class of 2021) attended a sharing session with Ms Lim Xin Yi, Executive Director of Sustainability and Agricultural Impact in Pinduoduo, a Chinese e-commerce platform.
Several online talks were organised by CIPE during the semester break, including a start-up sharing with Mr Douglas Abrams (left), founder of Expara, and Ms Lim Xin Yi (right). Images provided by Ms Nurul Hussain.
“This event allowed me to hear from practitioners about what sustainability work looks like on the ground. It also helped me think about how to translate what I have learned in college into professional skills,” said Xiyao, an Environmental Studies major. “I appreciate that CIPE kept organising such events over the year-end break,” she added.
Programme Manager, Career Services at CIPE Ms Nurul Hussain explained, “CIPE has always played a key role in broadening students’ interests, building critical skills, and preparing them for life after college. These events help to further our purpose and ability to do this by exposing students to multiple experiences, skillsets and individuals whom students can learn from as they discover future paths for themselves.”
With a plethora of activities taking place almost daily, which aimed to impart new skills and life skills such as learning to be more independent and resilient while also focusing on wellness, the 2020 year-end break has indeed proven to be a lively affair for staff, students and faculty alike. “The College has put in a lot of effort to organise fun and engaging activities for students staying on campus so they don’t get too bored or lonely,” said Ziying.