University freshmen often look forward to the many socialisation opportunities that come with this new chapter of their lives. But with the suspension of most campus activities such as orientation camps to curb the spread of Covid-19, many freshmen are doubtful about whether they can forge genuine friendships with others in their cohort. 

Harry Mao, 21, Electrical Power Engineering student from Singapore Institute of Technology.
Harry Mao, 21, Electrical Power Engineering student from Singapore Institute of Technology.
Photo Credit: Henry Mao

Harry Mao, 21, is among some disappointed freshmen in Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).  The Electrical Power Engineering student said: “It’s a really unfortunate situation as this is a unique opportunity to meet new people, and you really cannot get the same experience again.”

Majoring in the same degree at SIT, Jaclyn Phua, 20, added: “I was quite bummed out…Online interactions seem less enthusiastic and a little forced. So I definitely feel that I am missing out on the chance to become friends with new people the ‘regular way’.”

“I would definitely have to work harder in terms of breaking the ice to potentially make new friends and putting myself out there,” Jaclyn said.

Jaclyn Phua, 20, Electrical Power Engineering student from Singapore Institute of Technology.
Photo Credit: Jaclyn Phua

For 20-year-old Venessa Chee, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering from the National University of Singapore (NUS), she adds that having virtual orientations has been a challenging experience for her.

“[The orientation participants and student leaders] met over Zoom but it was not very interactive. It was also very difficult to connect on a personal level because of the awkwardness as there was not much participation from fellow students,” explained Venessa.

Venessa Chee, 20, Bachelor of Engineering student at National University Singapore.
Photo Credit: Venessa Chee

On the other hand, some students are relieved that they didn’t have to participate in the bonding camps this year. 

A student who holds this sentiment is 19-year-old Sarah Dendroff.

“I don’t really like being in uncomfortable situations such as camps,” said the NUS Life Sciences student. 

Sarah Dendroff, 19, Life Sciences student at National University Singapore.
Photo Credit: Sarah Dendroff

She did get to meet other coursemates during a mandatory orientation talk on Zoom, but no one really made an impression on her. “I do feel that I’m missing out on that bonding experience in terms of getting to know people. There is definitely a lack of human touch.”

Home-based Learning

Some freshmen also raised concerns regarding the home-based learning (HBL) experience, as students are expected to be more independent and self-directed. 

In a recent poll with 120 tertiary students conducted by The UrbanWire, three out of four respondents said they prefer learning on campus to HBL as they find face-to-face classes more effective. They also prefer interacting with their peers in person, rather than via video conferencing and messaging apps. 

Jaclyn said she’s anxious about having to adapt to the new normal. She knows she will have to be more disciplined in order to manage her time effectively. She also has to make sure she has a good grasp of the content without expecting immediate help from her professors or peers. 

For Sarah, having to do every little thing online can be quite a chore. While she finds the processes rather repetitive and tiring, she said she understands that there’s nothing that can be done about the situation.

“A huge chunk of my university life will be online. But this isn’t in my control so I’m going with the flow,” she said. 

Venessa is looking at the bright side. She likes that lectures and tutorials are often recorded now. “It’s convenient and helpful to students as it serves as a good reference point for them to look back on and replay for self-studying”. 

Harry also appreciates that HBL has given him more flexibility in planning ahead and learning new skills outside of his curriculum, such as programming. 

“I’m looking forward to experiencing life on campus and meeting new friends in school. However, safety measures will always come first,” he says.