On Returning to Campus, and Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day

Timothy WAN
NUS College

In our next Special Feature, Timothy, an English Literature major with NUS College1, reflects on returning to campus and experiencing in-person student life again, and briefly considers how students can look ahead while not forgetting the past.

Photo courtesy of NUS Image Bank
Wan, T. Z. A. (2022, August 10). On returning to campus, and Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2022/08/10/on-returning-to-campus-and-ishiguros-the-remains-of-the-day/

Returning to campus this semester, I suspect, may be bittersweet.

After the past two years of online learning, it will certainly, on one hand, be exciting to explore the campus, to meet professors and peers in person and experience student life in all its vibrancy. On the other hand, it can be difficult not to feel some pangs of sadness over not having had that for the past few years of university.

As grateful as I am for the efforts made to ensure that learning could continue safely, much was lost in the transition to online learning. Zoom, as functional as it is, made it difficult to connect with classmates. Oftentimes after classes, I would struggle with feeling as though I had been ‘there’.

The university experience ended up being quite different from what I, and perhaps many of my peers, had initially expected and hoped for. It can be, despite the best efforts of many, a source of disappointment, and if left unchecked, bitterness. So then, how should one approach the return to campus in the coming semester? How can one feel as though those years were not, in some ways, wasted?

Literature student that I am, as I grapple with such feelings, I turn to one of my favourite novels: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro, 1989). The novel is set in post-war Britain, where Stevens, a butler to a stately home, recounts his long record of service while on a trip through the country.The novel ends with Stevens faced with a regretful past he cannot change. Yet despite the wasted years, he finally resolves:

Perhaps, then… I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? (Ishiguro, 1989, pp. 256-257)

Steven’s is not exactly a shining example—there is more at work than even he recognises—but I believe the titular motif remains a powerful one: there is merit in looking forward to what remains of one’s day.

What might it look like to focus on the remains of the day, in returning to campus? It is to acknowledge the losses but also to remember and dwell on what we gained. For me, such gains look like:

  • The ability to research in real-time. Online learning facilitated quick searches on concepts, people or events that were mentioned in class but were unfamiliar to me;
  • Increased tech-savviness. Through the time spent on every Zoom meeting, slides presentation or blogpost that comprised our university journey, I gained a better sense of what each tool could do;
  • Intentional friendships – that despite the restrictions, still formed;
  • Time and space to reflect. I had time to reflect not only on what I learned, but on what I hoped to do in university.

Such a list may look different for others. Whatever yours is, bring it with you as you move forward! If there is anything I hope for myself and for my peers, it is this: that we will approach every experience in the coming semester as a fresh gain, rather than the recovery of a loss.

Indeed, how would we know and appreciate what we have if we had not lost out on it before? Could we have longed for what we had never lost? Perhaps, but still, if not for the bitterness of its loss, we might not know the sweetness of its gain.



  1. NUS College is the undergraduate honours college of the National University of Singapore (NUS). A natural evolution from a partnership between the University Scholars Programme (USP) and Yale-NUS College, NUS College blends the distinctive qualities of its predecessors with a commitment to broaden access to exceptional educational experiences. More information can be found on the NUS College website.



Ishiguro, K. (1989). The Remains of the Day. London: Faber & Faber.


Timothy WAN is currently an undergraduate in NUS College, majoring in English Literature and minoring in Philosophy, both of which, he maintains, he uses to turn overthinking into productive effort. He is passionate about making connections and helping others do so through writing and mentoring programmes.

Timothy can be reached at timothywan@u.nus.edu.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email