Behind the Dining Hall Podium: Getting to Know Yaya
story Joey Lim, Contributing Reporter
Yaya emerged from the double doors of Saga Dining Hall with clear eyes and a wide smile when we met for our interview. It was 3 pm. The energy that she exuded revealed no signs of her 6 am wake-up call or her daily one and a half-hour commute from Malaysia. “[It’s] a bit tiring,” she said with a slight sigh. But as we sat across from each other, she made one fact clear to me: she absolutely loves where she is and the work that she does.
Who is Yaya, you ask?
Formally known as Nur Hidayah Sansuri, she is someone whom you’re likely to have encountered. During breakfast and lunch hours, she occasionally sits behind the podium at Elm or Saga Dining Hall, greeting students as they come to tap their cards for meals.
Her official position: the dining hall’s Operations Assistant, tasked with a number of administrative duties that contribute to the daily functioning of our dining halls. “I must create meal records and tap card reading records,” she described. “I also type and print out the meal tags and soup tags. For that, I need to refer to the chef.”
While Yaya has worked in Singapore for about a year, she joined SATS just two months ago through what she described as serendipity. A friend, who received an offer to work at Singapore Food Industries (a subsidiary of SATS), asked if she wanted to work together.
After applying and going for an interview with Human Resources, Yaya heard back the next day about an opening at Yale-NUS. “I thought I would have to wait at least a week, but I began working the day after [receiving the call].”
All that Yaya does now is similar to the work that she did for her mother’s catering business in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. “It’s just a small business,” she said with a slight tilt of her head. “I also created the menu and, every day, I [would] accompany my mother to the restaurant [that ordered food] to bring the meals there.”
Her mother’s work ethic continues to inspire Yaya’s approach to her own duties. “Sometimes, my mother [does everything] by herself, because she is very hard-working. I learn a lot from her,” she told me.
When it comes to working at the dining hall, Yaya said that communication is important to the team of nearly 50 dining hall staff. Each day and at every meal, all members at both the front and back of house work together to support over 500 students and faculty. “We are one team,” she said, “and we must help each other.”
This teamwork mentality has led to a strong sense of cohesion among the staff. “The people here are so kind,” she shared. “All the staff—part-timers, full-timers, the manager—all are very close [to one another].”
This positive environment lies in stark contrast to what Yaya had experienced in her previous job. “My boss would try to take advantage of the workers. I worked more than 12 hours each day and my boss never paid me for overtime,” she said. “Maybe he thought we were fools, but never mind. I decided to just move on.” Throughout our conversation, Yaya echoed her genuine desire to use these new experiences, be they good or bad, as learning opportunities.
She continues to take everything in stride. While traveling between Malaysia and Yale-NUS can be taxing, both are like her homes, she said. Though we normally see her tapping cards, what she does for the dining hall and her gracious attitude run much deeper.