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story Spandana Bhattacharya | May Tay
On 7 August, the college’s freshmen class packed their bags and embarked on their 5-day Orientation Adventure Trips. These trips were part of their 18 day long orientation program, and took place in three different Southeast Asian countries: Laos (RC 1), Malaysia (RC 2) and Vietnam (RC 3).
There were three main goals for the trips. The first was for the students to explore a new location in Asia, the second was for them to learn more about a country’s culture, and the third was to encourage team building within each residential college.“Most schools don’t send their students abroad for Orientation but Yale-NUS is not most schools. Going overseas encourages people to step out of their comfort zones and challenge their world views,” said Chris O’Connell, the Student Programs Manager who with the rest of the Office of the Dean of Students staff, Dean’s Fellows, Rectors and Vice-Rectors scouted out locations and planned all three trips over a period of just eight weeks.
Each trip’s itinerary had a mix of cultural, team building and fun activities. In Laos, the freshmen of RC 1 landed in Vientiane and drove to Vang Vieng where they bonded over outdoor activities such as mountain biking and kayaking and also spent time with students from a local primary school. They then returned to Vientiane and explored the city’s temples and markets. RC 2’s freshmen travelled to the Malaysian island of Borneo. They briefly toured the city of Kuching before traveling to the longhouses of the Iban people, where they spent time navigating the river, visiting a waterfall, assisting with cooking, and getting to know the community members. The freshmen of RC 3 landed in Hanoi and took an overnight train to the village of Sapa where they had a home stay of two nights. The freshmen engaged in community service and cultural exchanges with local families and then returned to Hanoi, where they participated in a spring roll workshop, and a city tour.
On his biggest takeaway, Dave Chappell’18 of RC 1 said, “For me, the takeaway moment was a trip to COPE, set up to assist disabled citizens of Laos, in particular those affected by cluster bombs dropped by the USA during the Vietnam War. While it was easily the most depressing moment of the trip, seeing the effects the aptly named “secret war” had on Laos – effects that are still being felt today – was certainly eye opening.”
Some freshmen, however, wondered about the amount of positive impact they generated for the communities they visited. “Our trip included a home stay, which allowed us to get a more in-depth look into Vietnamese culture and day-to-day life, but I felt like we played a role that was more passive than I would have liked, as guests with everything done for us,” said Lishani Ramanayake’18 of RC 3.
When asked whether there would be overseas Orientation trips in the future, Chris O’Connell from Dean of Students Office responded in the affirmative and remarked, “We noted the exciting potential of Orientation Trips and would love to have the input of current students, faculty and staff in shaping how they look like for the future incoming classes.”
For 90-95 percent of the freshmen, it was their first time visiting the locations they travelled to for their orientation trips.