Revitalising the Lunch Tag initiative to facilitate greater bonding within and beyond the Yale-NUS community

14 April 2021

By Kelly Ng

The Lunch Tag initiative is one of Yale-NUS College’s longest standing traditions. Launched  in 2014 by a group of Dean’s Fellows (an initial group of residential support staff who helped nurture community development and bonding), the well-loved programme has been a staple college experience for many Yale-NUS students over the years. By 2017, the initiative expanded to include staff and faculty members.

While Lunch Tag has always been constructive in fostering greater community cohesion, its purpose and function are now exceptionally significant because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on residential life in Yale-NUS. To keep our students engaged, the concept of Lunch Tag has been revitalised with the introduction of two spin-off initiatives – a First-Year x Alumni Lunch Tag, where Yale-NUS first-year students can connect with alumni, and Next Door Neighbour, which pairs Yale-NUS students with their peers from the neighbouring residential colleges in the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Yale-NUS alumnus Scott Chua (Class of 2020), and students Jin Hee Lee and Wong Cai Jie (Jay) (both Class of 2021) organised the First Year x Alumni Lunch Tag. Scott explained that alumni would often return to campus to participate in events to connect with their juniors. However, due to the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on in-person events, there has been a dearth in opportunities for any sustained exchange between both communities. For first-year students who joined the College at an unusual time of limited social interaction, something as simple as a casual lunch meeting was a “good first step for alumni to welcome the newest batch of Kingfishers”. Ninety-two first-year students and alumni have been matched since the start of the initiative last semester.

Uladzimir Treihis (Class of 2024), who recently met his alumni partner Ziyad Bagharib (Class of 2018), signed up for the initiative because it seemed like it could bring him some spontaneous fun and new knowledge. Despite the brevity of their lunch, he left with many impactful takeaways; such as getting to know more about the College’s history and culture (e.g. residential life in NUS’ Residential College 4 before the Yale-NUS housing was built), as well as the journey after graduation.

For Ziyad, this came as a much welcomed opportunity to reflect on his own time at Yale-NUS and to connect with a “cool new person”. “It was very fun to hear his reflections on his first year at College and learn striking similarities with my own experiences. We also discovered that we both have shared interest in building things. I wish I could go to his hometown and check out his chicken coop!”

Ziyad (left) and Uladzimir on their way to a Lunch Tag meal. Image provided by Uladzimir Treihis.

While the original intent of Lunch Tag has been to strengthen the bonds within the Yale-NUS family, the Next-Door Neighbour initiative takes interactions beyond the Yale-NUS campus. Yale-NUS students are paired up with NUS students who live in the five neighbouring residential colleges (RCs) at University Town.

“Participants have shared that it’s been fun and interesting to know other students with diverse backgrounds, and from different faculties and courses of study. For many international students, this provides opportunities for them to integrate into the local community beyond Yale-NUS,” Denyse Tan (Class of 2022), organiser of the Next-Door Neighbour initiative and Director of Enterprise in the Yale-NUS Student Government, explained.

Yale-NUS student Abdul Sharapov (Class of 2021) has been an active participant of the original Lunch Tag initiative over the last few years, and taking part in Next-Door Neighbour gave him a familiar yet refreshing experience. “It was nice to hear perspectives from students of other faculties and batches, and share my Yale-NUS senior year experience with them”, he said.

To Tanya Sharma (Class of 2023), who organised the Lunch Tag initiative within Yale-NUS this year, the programme represented some of the best parts of the community. “It is a friendly and non-pressurising space for students, staff and faculty alike to step out of their own smaller social bubbles and engage with others,” she said.

Tanya explained that with fewer public events and gatherings held on campus, it was more difficult for students – especially the newest batch of Kingfishers – to get to know other members of the community. As an Orientation Group Leader for the Class of 2024, she noticed that many first-years were mingling only within their own orientation groups, batch or classes. Lunch Tag has helped many first-years engage with their peers from other batches, and even College faculty and staff, such as the Dean of Students Wellness team, and become more immersed in the social fabric of the school.

Overall, all three editions of lunch tag received strong response and positive feedback from the student community. Especially after a protracted time of heavily restricted social interactions, the programme was a much appreciated respite for many to literally and metaphorically step out of their inner social circles, expand their network and meet new people.

Yale-NUS student May Wang (Class of 2022) shared that participating in Lunch Tag inspired her to develop an attitude of openness and approachability. “If I see somebody sitting alone in the dining hall, I’ll invite them to join me! It’s a very special moment of spontaneity and friendship that will inevitably last for the rest of my Yale-NUS journey,” she said.

May having a meal with Lunch Tag partner Yale-NUS student Mathew Ramos (Class of 2023). Image provided by May Wang.