Student Organisers on Virtual Freshman Orientation Camps

photo 2020 08 16 09.55.40 2
photo 2020 08 16 09.55.40 2

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Change can be challenging. As moving out for the first time and matriculating into university can be daunting and disorienting, it is needless to say that Freshman Orientation Camps are a much needed necessity. However, with the dreadful pandemic constantly hovering over us, mass gatherings are nothing but a far-fetched dream. The facilitation of a freshman’s transition into university, usually an already massive challenge for student organisers, has therefore been forced to take a virtual form; Covid-19 throwing a lowball to the student organizers that have spent months preparing for physical camps prior to DORSCON orange.

Although little time was given, the virtual camps were conducted almost seamlessly, all thanks to the laudable efforts of our student organizers. With the intention of paying homage to them, let us take a retrospective look at the camps and step into the shoes of some student organizers. 

A look into the 2020 RC4 Freshmen Orientation Camp

Bringing innovativeness to another level, RC4 brought an all-encompassing tour of the U-Town campus to the comforts of their freshmen’s homes.

Making use of Minecraft, a multiplayer sandbox video game, the talented camp organisers melded several Minecraft servers together and built a very realistic U-Town campus, giving the freshmen a virtual introduction to their future living environment. Further tapping into the game’s functions, the Orientation Group Leaders (OGLs) conducted various forms of bonding activities such as virtual escape rooms and inter-orientation-group games. 

Through zoom, they were not only able to familiarize themselves with new faces, but also conduct ice-breaker games. Orientation camp classics such as Charades and 2 Truths 1 Lie were played, turning strangers into friends.

Though it all may seem pleasant, Deonna Lim, a year 2 Communications & New Media major and RC4 Freshmen Orientation Camp OGL, mentions that there are a few downsides to a virtual camp. According to her, misinterpretation of texts between OGLs and technical difficulties were rife during both the planning and execution of the orientation camp. She also feels that making friends through a virtual camp would be rather difficult for a freshman as “candid conversations wouldn’t be as candid anymore.” 

But despite its downsides, Deonna thinks that the camp still served its purpose of inducting the freshmen into the new environment. “The camp aids them in familiarizing themselves with the campus and their peers. Although the relationships formed might be surface-level, at least they exist!”

A snapshot of RC4’s U-Town campus tour on Minecraft. Image Credits: Deonna Lim

Welcome Group Leaders on Tembusu Welcome Week 

Conducted over zoom, Tembusu welcomed its freshmen with a three-day virtual orientation camp. Utilizing the now orientation camp staples like Quiplash and Drawphone—a running theme across most virtual camps—Tembusu Welcome Group Leaders (WGLs) successfully alleviated the awkward tensions that naturally come with meeting new people, which were very much exacerbated by the camp’s virtualisation. But these games were just a few of the many things that the Welcome Week committee paid attention to while planning and conducting the camp.

According to Won Tian Yong, a year 2 Psychology major and WGL of Tembusu Welcome Week, the camp had virtual meal sessions to cater to the freshmen that have chosen to forgo in-school lodging for the semester (due to Covid-19 and the virtualisation of most faculties this semester), “all in an effort to get to know them better.”

Furthermore, they also ensured that frequent breaks were in place to thwart the burning-out of first years and WGLs, taking into account the strenuous nature of looking at screens for long periods of time, now popularly called zoom exhaustion. Going above and beyond, the Tembusu Welcome Week committee took note of not only the entertainment aspect of virtual camps, but also the welfare of its participants.

Ronnie Lai, a year 2 Geography Major and Head WGL, sheds light on the extra planning that the Tembusu Welcome Week committee underwent due to the camp’s virtualisation. “I think in the planning phase, it is really difficult to come up with interesting narratives, storylines, and activities that can keep people engaged over zoom. But I definitely saw the organising committees—of the camps that I’m involved in—overcoming this problem. I believe the main difference lies in the execution.”

Tian Yong agrees, as according to him, many games had to be tested and tweaked during pre-camp to ensure active involvement. 

With the amount of  attention paid to even the tiniest of details, both WGLs believe that the Welcome Week was effectively conducted and has served its purpose of creating bonds amongst freshmen. Tian Yong thinks that the camp “allowed residents to meet their first few friends in the college and learn more about student life from the seniors.” Similarly, according to Ronnie, strong friendships have been forged through the welcome week and it serves as “a springboard for many interesting friendships to blossom in the future.”

 Ronnie’s Welcome Group celebrating a member’s birthday. Image credits: Ronnie Lai

How was this year’s Arts Camp?

With a natural inclination to dabble in many things, Ronnie partook in not only one, but three different orientation camps over the summer: Tembusu Welcome Week, Geography camp, and Arts Camp. Originally a Programs Head for Arts O’Week (turned Arts Camp with the coordinators’ collective decision to combine the usually separate events), Ronnie shares the difficulty he and his team faced due to Covid-19’s widespread transmission: “It was a huge change logistically. From planning a physical camp, we had to scrap everything and plan for a virtual one which presented another very different set of problems. Rather than procuring balls and water guns, the logistics of the virtual camps came in the form of bingo forms, various zoom links and games like Among Us.”

Valencia Candra, a year 2 Economics major and Arts Camp Orientation Group  Councillor (OGC), shares Ronnie’s sentiment. “We had to conduct icebreaker games and get to know each other virtually. The virtual aspect of it provided a set of constraints in terms of body language and other communication cues that aren’t as visible through screens.”

But all in all, both student organizers believe that the camps worked well in establishing and cultivating relationships among peers. Valencia shares a uniqueness that her Arts Camp’s T House offered: “We tried to provide for the freshmen as best as we could in our own ways. For example, the OGLs and OGCs in T House delivered welfare packs to each of their freshmen’s houses and arranged Angel & Mortal games with the use of Grabfood and other digital resources. The idea was an instant hit and it effectively built a sense of camaraderie.”

A different kind of Economics Camp

Usually a four-day three-night event, the Economics Camp committee decided to compress the camp into two identical 1.5 hours sessions to better accommodate their freshmen’s schedules. Sharing her experience with the camp’s virtualisation, Kelly Williem, a year 2 Economics major and Publicity Executive within the Economics Camp team, remarks: “We obviously couldn’t do any of the programmes we planned, and on the publicity side, we had to adjust what we posted on Instagram to be more of a FAQs page about Economics as opposed to inviting them for a camp to find out more or make friends. Our main selling point changed and had to become more about learning from seniors and professors of what it’s like to study Economics.”

“We fielded questions from the possible career prospects of an Economics degree all the way to module registration strategies and how not to get 8am classes. Adding on, we had a main session where Prof. Kelvin Seah and Prof. Chua Yeo Hwee answered the freshmens’ questions. It was then followed by a sharing on the Economics Society conducted by the society’s previous members.” 

As the camp took a more informational approach, Kelly says that the organizers of the Economics Camp decided to include break-out sessions to cater to specific questions from individuals.

Though it seems like the camp was just an info-sharing session, Kelly claims that rapport-building was also achieved through the camp. “During the breakout sessions, I got the chance to get to know some of the juniors better and we all informally kept in touch after the zoom session. I feel like the freshmen were able to make friends within the small breakout groups. From there at least they would be able to know someone they can plan timetables with.”

A glimpse of the 2020 Economics Camp. Image credits: Kelly Williem

The boons and banes of a virtual Computing Camp

According to Lundy Pang, a year 2 Business Analytics major and OGL for the Computing Camp, heavy replanning was needed due to the camp’s virtualisation. He explains: “We had to create virtual alternatives for the stations and games that were meant to be physical. Bread and butter ice-breaker games that we were accustomed to had to be re-invented to fit the online platform.”

“Usually with physical camps, we can subject the freshmen into situations that would force them to get out of their comfort zones and effectively forge bonds with one another. However, with everything being online, we shifted our main focus to just establishing a sense of comfort amongst freshmen.” 

Adding on to the list of struggles, Lundy feels that the virtualisation also impedes the frequency of conversations as “virtual camps can only allow one person to talk at a time, it makes it very difficult for cross-conversations to happen.”

However, despite it all, Lundy deems the camp worthwhile. “Many fun activities were carried out. For example, we produced our own rendition of a viral zoom trolling trend and conducted icebreaker games.” Henceforth, he believes that “though a physical camp would have been more beneficial, the online version still managed to achieve the camp’s social objectives and honestly, in the end, that’s all that really matters.”

Food for thought

Many were at first apprehensive towards the idea of online Freshman Orientation Camps, but with the student organisers’ commendable executions, the camps have proven to be a very viable option. Take a minute to show your student organisers some love, we now know that the camps were no easy feat!

What are your thoughts on virtual Freshman Orientation Camps—are they a yay or nay? Let us know at