From Critic to Defender

This article was contributed as part of an open call to Tembusu College for contributions about the general theme of Orientations.

I was genuinely afraid when I participated in the first Games Committee meeting.  Here I was, knowing barely 5 out of the 30-odd people in the room, and we would be stuck together for the next three months working on our brainchild (which ironically ceased to happen).  That’s the thing about unfamiliarity – it exaggerates your anxieties and breeds panic.  Perhaps my initial experience was exaggerated as well.  At times, I felt discomfort to the extent that I questioned my own ability to contribute to the group, and that was when the group welcomed me with open arms and accepted me into the fold.

My personal “acceptance” of orientation camps, however, didn’t come until much later.  You see, I’ve always been a critic of Orientation Camps.  The cynic in me has always doubted the credibility of such camps.  That’s the thing about camps – they’re just games and other “bonding” activities.  This changed somewhat after I started planning for the camp.  After spending many days (and somewhat unfruitful nights) banging on the keyboard, I realised that everyone in the Games Committee was exhausted.  We could have done a slipshod job and have the incoming Tembusians go through a somewhat passable experience.  But everyone in that room, at 1am in the morning, truly believed in their purpose – to create an environment allowing the freshmen to bond with the rest of their peers.

It was at that moment, when it came to me.

Orientation camps have always had critics like me.  But often, we miss the forest for the trees.  It’s not about the shared experiences, nor the fun we had together.  It’s about the culture we choose to build, about how we delicately frame the friendships we have forged around us. The games were merely a conduit for the new Tembusians to create for themselves a new environment where each of them could express themselves freely.  We were merely laying the foundation for the juniors to choose for themselves what kind of Tembusu they wanted to grow in.

I initially spent many days typing on some Google Docs sheet, trying to nail my ever-growing logistics list.  In the midst of it, through the countless meals we had together, the time we spent testing out every single game in the hopes of perfecting them, the Games Committee founded a community within itself.  The day we found out that our effort had come to naught, I felt the atmosphere thicken up in the room.  Disappointment hung on many of our faces, tears rolled down on some.  Who knew that this would happen?

As I looked around at the Committee, the impact of the news brought out the rawest of emotions some of us.  It was at this moment when we felt that the effort we had all poured into the camp over the last three months was gone.  Solemn faces masked the extent of dismay some of us felt. But it was also at that instant when we felt even more convinced that what we were doing was right and meaningful.  To some of us, orientation meant being able to have a hand in moulding the culture of Tembusu to come. We were denied that opportunity, but then we saw that many of the participants were picking up the pieces – going out to the beach, for karaoke, ice-skating, even. Orientation was over officially, but for everyone, it was really only just starting.

Many of those in the Games Committee signed up for the camp with the belief that they could create a craving for Tembusu in our juniors. I did not share such noble sentiments – I merely wanted to have fun and make some new friends. What I didn’t anticipate was an awakening in my attitude towards Tembusu, a newfound appreciation of the culture we have decided to create for ourselves. That initial fear and anticipation on the first day of planning has translated itself into confidence in Tembusu’s resilience – regardless of the circumstances, Tembusu will still develop its own identity as the weeks go by.

Pictures by Tan Zhe Chuan