First-year students share how they transited from virtual to in-person campus life

31 March 2021

By Billy Tran

Four years of residential living is often the hallmark of a Yale-NUS student’s college experience. However, in light of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, many have realised that attending school in-person, let alone living on campus, is something that cannot be taken for granted.

Due to border closures, cancelled flights, and an atmosphere of uncertainty, Yale-NUS students Sundarimaa Erdembileg, Laura Felicia Sutanto and Nihal Zuhayar Parash Miaji (all from Class of 2024) spent their first college semester in their home countries. Having only arrived on campus for their second semester about three months ago, adapting to in-person activities has been an exciting challenge for them.

To Sundarimaa, the difference between remote learning and being on campus is “like night and day”.

“Even though online classes were great and engaging, I never felt like I was a proper college student. Now, even something as small as heading to class feels exciting to me,” Sundarimaa shared. In fact, she was so excited upon arriving on campus that she “couldn’t stop taking pictures of how beautiful everything looked”.

Sundarimaa (far right) having a meal with her suitemates during the Start-of-Semester Dinner. Image provided by Sundarimaa Erdembileg.

Moreover, attending classes in-person has also enriched the students’ learning experiences. “Compared to being online, you get to foster a relationship with the faculty and your peers that just cannot translate as well through a screen,” Laura shared. She was also glad to have finally been able to meet her professors, adding that “although participating in class became more nerve-racking, approaching them feels like much less of a burden”.

On top of that, Laura has found great joy in living together with her suitemates and striking conversations with her peers. “You know those casual but intellectual conversations people dream about having in college? I’ve found myself having one almost every other day here,” she added.

One of the biggest changes for the students is in their social lives as they adapted to the vibrancy of the campus. Nihal shared that he did not have many social activities last semester. Being physically in the College made him realise how social experiences play an integral part in everyone’s day-to-day life at Yale-NUS. “I was so happy and excited to finally be able to see my friends,” he added.

Student organisations have also been an essential component in helping these first-year students get used to campus life. Laura recently joined the Elm College Council to familiarise herself with Elm Residential College, and contribute back to the community, while Sundarimaa joined the Visual Arts Society to get to know the arts scene in the College. Nihal even took on a leadership role as Vice-President of Yale-NUS Chess Club.

Laura (far right) at one of Elm College Council’s events. Image provided by Laura Felicia Sutanto.

However, the transition has not been entirely rosy. While they could enjoy the comforts of family last semester, moving to campus meant they had to quickly adapt to living alone and the additional responsibilities that came with it. “For the first few weeks, I did not know how to operate the laundry machines and did not have a proper pillow,” Laura reflected on her experience.

Nihal at the National Museum of Singapore during his Week 7: Learning Across Boundaries programme. Image provided by Nihal Zuhayar Parash Miaji.

Nihal also had to make some adjustments in order to balance his academics and newfound social life in the College. “I have to be more delicate with my time management so that I don’t get overwhelmed by studies and other activities,” he said. However, he has been making good progress. “Contrary to what some might believe, I feel like my social life facilitates my academic learning in countless ways. I meet new people more often, get to know their perspectives on different academic topics, and can ask for help very easily,” he added.

The vibrant activities on campus have been made possible due to the various safety measures implemented by the College, which have given Yale-NUS students the confidence to physically attend school for the semester. Laura noted that she does not have any worries for her safety in school. “We still need to wear masks everywhere around campus, and seats in lecture halls are still far apart,” she elaborated. Limits on classroom sizes, frequent sanitising of the dining halls, and daily temperature declarations also continue to ensure that students enjoy a safe and fulfilling experience at Yale-NUS.