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Stories from Singapore: Building Yale-NUS College’s International Student Community During COVID-19

 

This year, as in years past, international students join Yale-NUS College and begin to call it home. However, unlike previous years, we have to make our communities against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the difficulties of social distancing, limited group size in interactions and serving two-week Stay Home Notices (SHNs), we still strive to build the communities we need to truly call our school home for the duration of our stay.

International students may remember their SHNs with mixed emotions. However, we cannot understate the efforts that Yale-NUS’ local community made to help us acclimatize. The Yale-NUS Student Services office coordinated the delivery of care packages with cute origami paper, coloring sheets and colored pencils to help us pass the time. Local students also brought an array of treats from Koi milk teas to Old Chang Kee snacks. Most notable among the mood-raising provisions would be the laksa that local students, including but not limited to Joleen Teo ‘24 and Jireh Lim ‘24, organized and transported. Not only did they bring food to the bulk of students serving SHN in the V Hotel Lavender and other locations, they even adjusted preparations to accommodate allergy and dietary restrictions. These efforts helped everyone serving SHN feel far more at home in Singapore.

Over 20 international students at a time spent two weeks in the V Hotel Lavender. To establish a sense of community and alleviate both loneliness and astounding boredom, we created a WhatsApp group chat that was aptly named “V Hotel Lavender SHN”. Nageen Rameez ’24’s penguin plush toy even became its heart-warming profile picture. Through this platform, we traded narratives about how best to mentally prepare for our swab tests, how to operate and understand the HOMER app and how to know exactly when our appointments were. The group chat became a virtual community where every aspect of room-bound life became a bonding mechanism. We even tried to have a movie night to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, though WiFi difficulties quickly put a stop to it.

Alongside these broader group efforts, individual students also agreed to share some of their SHN experiences.

Rameez describes her initial experience of SHN as “nerve-wracking.” The V Hotel’s food was “a downer,” but local students’ food initiatives were immensely helpful. “Deliveries of pandan cakes, laksa and bubble tea brightened [her duller] days.” Rameez was even able to begin building her sense of community through the hotel group chat, “knocking good morning to [her] buddy next door” and watching the “ballet performances in the sports centre across the street.”

Bryanna Mariñas ’24 stated that “somehow, contrary to popular thought, [she] didn’t feel alone or homesick at all.”  Contact with her family indeed helped, but “it had more to do with how welcoming and amazing the people at Yale-NUS were.” “[Everything] from the milk tea and local foods sent by our Singaporean classmates, to the care package organized by the orientation team and the Zoom call games with other people in the V Hotel overwhelmed [her] with the warmest feelings. She knew in her heart that she was where she was supposed to be.”

Beyond SHN, the Class of 2024’s hybrid orientation program turned out to be an unexpectedly fun success. Even though we had to stay a meter apart for physical activities due to safe social distancing practices, the Orientation Committee found ways to keep us entertained. We were virtually taught a mass dance that my orientation group couldn’t quite figure out. Instead, we personalized it and were vastly entertained by the decent result of our scarcely practised fun. This, of course, added to the artistic melange that was the compilation video shown during the cohort-wide virtual get-togethers. Likewise, the candlelight ceremony with small groups and fake candles became a highlight that followed an unconventional, but still entertaining, virtual speech reception.

Despite all the constraints induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the international students who came to Yale-NUS this year began forming their communities on arrival and are strengthening them with progressive and small daily actions. Every day, we’re more content than ever to call Yale-NUS our home.

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