Here and there: Exchanging notes on the uni residential experience

Last week, four resident staff from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) visited NUS on a resident assistant exchange programme. NUS Residential Life sat down with the three CityU students and their supervisor to find out more about this exciting exchange and residential life from across the South China Sea.

HK visitors

L-R: Wilson Liu (Residence Tutor, Hall 10), Jason Leung (Residence Tutor, Hall 7), Ms. Esther Lee (Supervisory Executive Officer, Student Residence Office), Anna Villarica (Intern, NUS Residential Life) and Tracy Cheung (Recreation Secretary, Hall 10)

Residential Assistant Exchange Programme

“We really value the opportunity for students to learn and get more exposure,” said Ms. Esther Lee, Supervisory Executive Officer at City U’s Student Residence Office. “Student leaders are given opportunities to get exposed to overseas living and also the hall management experience.”

CityU’s resident assistant exchange began in 2008. It is a reciprocal programme between CityU and international universities including the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Oregon, University of Western Australia (UWA), and the National University of Singapore. Three NUS resident assistants and a residential life staff from the Office of Student Affairs visited CityU in September 2014.

Hosted for a week by the exchange university, exchange participants learn more about the host country and residential operations in the host university. The programme is jointly funded by the students and the university.

“This is great not only for the students but to the community, after the students bring back their experience to our university,” she said.


Our HK friends with their counterparts at OSA.


A vibrant residential life

Like NUS, CityU prides itself on student-led initiatives and a vibrant residential experience.

“We have a high-table dinner where we dress up for one night. It’s when the guys look sharp and girls look pretty….it’s very fun!” shared recreation secretary Tracy Cheung. “We have dinner in hall like in Harry Potter!

For Halloween, the student leaders spruce up the surroundings. “The ground floor becomes a haunted floor and it’s pretty scary,” she said.

They also organise the Professor Edmond Ko Cup, which is similar to the NUS InterHall Games.

“It’s a collaboration between halls,” said resident tutor Jason Leung. Halls compete across eight sports and a hall champion is declared. These sporting events tended to bond the residents, even those watching from the sidelines.

“In each competition, halls will say their cheers and it’s really vibrant on that night,” commented Ms. Esther. “You don’t have to be a professional singer, but when you join the cheers, you just feel the atmosphere!”

The resident tutors also provide opportunities for relaxation and personal development.

For instance, residence tutor Wilson Liu took on the students’ suggestions to plant a garden in the roof between two halls.

“Now, more than 30 students and two hall masters form a club that maintains the roof garden,” he said. “They plant new vegetables and get the mature vegetables from the garden.”

Wilson also helps organise music concerts and volunteering activities for the residents.

Ms. Esther emphasised that these activities are student-led. According to her, “The Student Residence Office only provides funding, but the students are the planners of these competitions.”


NUS Resident Assistants sharing a hawker supper with RTs of City U.


Diversity on campus

Another similarity between NUS and CityU is the international student makeup. However, this diversity can also lead to difficulties. In particular, Jason cited the difficulty of communicating to a heterogeneous group.

“In a single floor meeting I can speak in three languages!” he said. This is because local students prefer to use Cantonese, students from mainland China prefer Mandarin, while international students from everywhere else speak English.

“These are opportunities for me to train my oral skills,” Jason added, laughing.

But all four are in agreement of what can overcomes these differences: food.

“The most interesting scene on my floor is when international students and locals come together to cook different kinds of pies, different types of spaghetti, everything,” Wilson said.

For Chinese New Year – a major event in Hong Kong – international and local students also come together for a dinner feast called poon choi.

“Poon Choi is a very big bowl with all sorts of things inside,” Tracy explained.

Halls also organise a multicultural journey, where groups of international students team up and cook meals from their home countries and invite everyone to try their dishes.

“It’s a way for students to understand the culture in a very informal and fun way,” said Ms. Esther.


City U at NUS Open Day 2015.

Making a difference

The visitors also shared personal reflections on their journey as residential leaders.

When asked what his motivations were in becoming a resident tutor, Jason said that he applied because he wished to improve integration between the undergraduates and postgraduates in his hall. He helped organise sport events to encourage bonding between the two groups and saw improved interaction between them.

“Luckily the dream has come true,” Jason said.

Meanwhile, Wilson shares the difficulties of being a resident tutor.

“When something unexpected happens, the situation is very difficult and can be complicated. I used to have a fixed schedule: I go to bed before 12, get up at 7…now, if something happens, the security will give me a call, no matter what time. It can be difficult at the beginning stage. However, you get used to it and I love my job,” he said.

It is a reminder of just how selfless our resident staff can be. They always look out for our safety, even at their own cost.

When asked about what message she would like to pass onto residents, Tracy highlighted compassion and sharing.

“Never be so calculative,” she advised. “In hall, you have to learn about the the concept of sharing. The share of responsibility is on everyone.”

Finally, Ms. Esther reminded all residents to enjoy residential life.

“In hall, everything is a learning opportunity. Everyone learns from each other before joining the larger society…It’s even a platform for you to find your romance!” she gushes.

Ms. Esther regularly gets emails from CityU hall alumnus inviting her to their wedding, or requests to shoot wedding photos in the halls.

“They want to capture their hall life as part of their beautiful encounters,” she said, beaming. “Isn’t it lovely?”

Anna Villarica

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