Socially Distanced Social Club (by Elizabeth Cheong)

With online learning as the new normal, more students are choosing on-campus accommodation to reclaim their social life. Elizabeth Cheong speaks to residents to find out why.

The communal lounges in the College of Alice & Peter Tan are always full of students studying or relaxing together. (Source: Elizabeth Cheong)

“It’s a new season of your life, but you don’t actually get to experience it because everything’s virtual and you’re still at home. It just doesn’t feel like an official transition.”

Wong Shu Juan, Year 1, FASS, recounted this about her first semester of university. Like most students at NUS, a majority of her classes are held over Zoom, and CCAs have been suspended or scaled down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This social isolation is a far cry from what the incoming freshmen envisioned for their university life, motivating students like Shu Juan to apply to stay on campus. Shu Juan is currently a resident of the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT), one of the Residential Colleges under NUS’ UTown College Programme.

She is not alone; the Colleges received nearly a quarter more applications (23%) from the 2021 cohort as compared to last year, according to the statistics published on NUS’ Joint Residential College Application System.

Face-to-face time

Shu Juan and Ray Yeo, Year 1, Architecture, shared why they chose to stay on campus, instead of taking classes from home.

“For me, I joined because I wanted a richer student life experience. I haven’t really made a lot of friends in my faculty,” Shu Juan said. This is because her classes are all held online, and she added that even when doing group projects, there was no need to meet up face-to-face.

On the rare occasion that she met up with a group, she found the interactions “disingenuous”, and prioritised work over friendship.

“But in CAPT, I see my friends every day… It’s so much easier to talk on a personal level with them, and not just about what work we need to do.”

Ray shared similar sentiments. “Seeing each other every day opens up a lot of avenues for interaction with each other,” he said. “Having this space where we’re all living in close quarters allows us to interact with each other on a daily basis and brings us closer.”

“In the CAPT lounge, you can just grab someone to ‘tabao’ food together and eat together, it’s very socially enriching,” Shu Juan said.

The two freshmen have become fast friends in the short two months since their first meeting, a testament to the conduciveness of the College’s environment for fostering friendships.

Next-door neighbours

The primary platform for social interaction in the Colleges is the House system, where residents are grouped into smaller comm-unities based on their room assignment. For example, CAPT is divided into five Houses, where each House accommodates three floors of residents in the building.

Samantha Kok, Year 2, Social Work, is the head of one such House. In her first week, just after she had moved in, Kok had been grouped up with fellow freshmen and seniors in her House. Together, they went for grocery runs to purchase campus living necessities and grabbed meals together.

“It set the tone, and helped me to get to know more people in my first week in CAPT.” She added, “The House is a community. It gives people a sense of identity and belonging.”

It was this camaraderie that inspired her to become the House Head and provide the same experience to her juniors.

Members of a CAPT band perform a setlist of songs at their weekly jam session. (Source: Elizabeth Cheong)

Clubs and common interests

The Colleges also provide a wide variety of avenues for student interaction in the midst of the pandemic, from clubs and societies to sports and performing arts.

In CAPT, residents looking to keep fit can join one of thirteen sports interest groups, including rarer sports like tchoukball and bouldering. Artistically-inclined students might participate in the handicrafts interest group, which recently held a resin-making workshop.

“I joined a band with people from different Houses in CAPT, and we meet weekly to play music together.” Samantha shared. “It’s a good way to spend time with different people while pursuing a common interest.” These clubs help students bond over common interests and form meaningful friendships outside of their Houses.

Before the pandemic, students may have seen residential life as complementary to general student life. Samantha added, “For me, it’s now my only source of social interaction.”


This article was contributed by Elizabeth Cheong in collaboration with the AY21/22 Semester 1 run of the NM2220 module.

Know any other interesting stories of residents living on campus? Tell us in the comments or DM us on our IG @nusresidentiallife !

Bethany Low

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *