Many of us have experienced change at some point in our lives, accompanied by a lingering sense of resistance. Unwilling to step into the unknown, we cling on to familiar faces, streets, and sounds that we have grown accustomed to. However, to progress, we cannot avoid change. We have to take these uncomfortable steps to reach places where we can grow. We have all gone through change amidst great hesitation, and have undeniably become better for it.
Recently, change has been a dominant narrative, where even rules defining our daily lives are under constant review. Entering university also involves many changes, a new phase of life, a new school, new friends. Experiencing so many changes at once is like taking a plunge into the abyss, entering a future where we struggle to anticipate what will happen next.
With COVID-19 combing through the nation, change materializes through mobile notifications reading “JUST IN –”, through prime minister addresses featuring porcelain cups, and through weekly changing eatery layouts. As much as I hate to retell the tired tale of COVID-19’s grip on our lives, to recount this year’s Tembusu Welcome Week 2021 (TWW2021) without mentioning the backdrop of the events taking place would feel wrong.
As I fantasise bitterly about trips that I could be taking (sigh), I think of what orientation could have been. Just like how the first chapter eases readers into a book, orientation prepares us for the long journey of university life. Here we get the opportunity to learn the ropes from eager seniors and make friends that might last a lifetime. It almost seems ritualistic, a rite of passage that all who have come before us have gone through. Yet amidst the various restrictions, the rite of passage we would experience would be different, considering it would be virtual and socially distanced.
Going through previous online camps where I sat at the screen for hours, the buzzword “zoom fatigue” made increasing sense. The pandemic had spawned a hoard of online multiplayer games, yet a lingering sense of repetitiveness was present in the games played. Perhaps it was the lack of movement, but there were multiple points where I considered “this would have been much better in person”. Though being another online camp, this year’s TWW had managed to stand out in its own fantastical way.
The days leading up to the camp had me glued to my phone, excitedly anticipating updates. Being promised a physical day of events, I was elated to finally have activities offline. The ability to meet people beyond their zoom backgrounds and web cameras was a relief, as getting to know someone online was admittedly challenging. The possibility of a physical camp was like a light at the end of the tunnel, a faint hope that our masked nightmare was coming to an end.
However, despite my great excitement, the wave of disappointing news reports that stained 2021 did not subside. A new COVID-19 cluster fueled the forest fire of cases in Singapore, and in light of this, the camp was converted to a fully online one. Looking at the now despondent stack of clothes on my bed (which I had set aside for overnight stay), my heart sank with disappointment. This was a disappointment that has become too familiar in the pandemic. Nonetheless, like how we have adapted to many new normals, this was yet another change to be accustomed to. I began mentally preparing myself for another 3 days of online orientation unenthused, as I was expecting a replay of past online camps.
Writing this some weeks after TWW has ended, the events take on the form of a movie reel with certain scenes taking the spotlight, and the rest an indescribable blur.
A day generally went by as such: I woke up 10 minutes before the camp started, staring dazed at the screen of other participants. We listened to talks, played games, had lunch, played more games, had dinner, played games again, and then said goodbye only to repeat the same steps the next day. When recounted in such a manner, virtually anyone who has been to an online camp could recall a similar experience.
However, despite this mundanity what coloured the camp for me was the effort put in by the programmes team. Fables, the theme of this year’s TWW, added this unexplainable touch – somewhat of a je ne sais quoi if you will – to the orientation. The theme underscored all aspects of the camp, from its graphically stunning publicity materials to a murder mystery sparking intense debates. The theme even extended to the online games played, which was an element I did not expect. What could have potentially been an underwhelming cut-and-paste orientation, was actually rather memorable. The synthesis of all these elements elicited some form of child-like wonder, one that’s hard to find at this stage of life. This impressive effort created a degree of immersion, which was something other camps did not have.
Beyond this meticulously crafted theme, the effort of my Welcome Group Leaders (WGLs) cannot be forgotten as well. Trying to hype up 12 faces on a screen (assuming everyone turns on their cameras) is a difficult task, but they persevered nonetheless. Thanks to them, the intense trepidation I felt at unmuting my microphone was virtually gone the following day. Hearing about the life experiences and motivations of others was too an eye-opening experience, one that I would never get bored of. Thanks to these people, the games were as fun as they were. Not to mention the morbidly interesting conversations, which include pointless debates about whether soggy or crispy fries are better, or tips on how to survive in tembusu such as which house was better (jk, unless?).
And of course, not to forget the supper auction. A drama involving strategy, deceit, and betrayal, the night ended with satisfied winners with filled stomachs and others who had to survive on a piece of bread. This was truly the highlight of the camp, an experience that I would remember in the time to come. Hopefully, this would be a tradition that future batches will be able to experience, as it allowed the camp to end on a high.
Despite the changes and disappointments, this year’s TWW is one to remember. Be it through the navy blue TWW shirts that we don, or the friends that we have made from the camp, the orientation’s impact was made.
As many of us settle into Tembusu, change still exists as a constant. Be it changing COVID-19 guidelines or relationships with others, change does not stop even though we might feel settled. In this building far away from our homes, we begin to write our own stories, stories shaped and coloured by the multiple changes that we go through. And with this shared experience we strive alongside our peers to not only resist this change but champion it as well. We fight for what we believe in, to make tembusu the place it is known for: The Home of Possibilities.
Feature image by Emiliano Cicero from Unsplash. Header Image by Jan Huber from Unsplash
About the Author:
Jovi is a first year Arts and Social Science Student intending to major in Communications New Media. When not busy being caught up in the storm of daily life you can find him in bed with a book or catching up on Netflix.