Residential Life

PGPR & UTR e-Retreats 2020: Retreating, Not Quitting

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A Residential Life (RL) Camp tradition – picture perfect with the RL family in 2019

26 May 2020

On 16 and 17 May 2020, Residential Life held the first-ever e-Retreats with 52 Resident Assistants (RAs) and 18 Resident Advisors (RADs) from Prince George’s Park Residences and UTown Residences – all over Zoom! It was a collaborative brainchild of the Residential Life and Training & Development teams at Office of Student Affairs (OSA).

At Residential Life, the month of May usually means two things – the end of exams and a big rush immediately after to depart campus for the annual 3D2N Residential Leaders Camp with all RAs and RADs. 

At this camp, RAs, RADs and OSA staff typically got to know each other through a ton of outdoor and team-building activities, discuss programmes ideas and brainstorm for solutions to challenges we may face the year ahead. May is also when we usually see a huge batch of 20 to 30 new RAs starting their appointment, and the camp was a great way to assimilate everyone into the big RL family.

The camp started the planning year off at RL with a big bang. Even though we couldn’t have the physical camp this year, we found another way to gather and called it an e-Retreat!

Both e-Retreats had many elements of our physical camp – mass icebreakers, introductions, breakout sessions to discuss programme ideas, and presentations. One may think that a virtual retreat would run the risk of being impersonal and unproductive. But that cannot be further from the truth.

Mass icebreaking can also take place over Zoom

PGPR RA Lim Ting Yee, a Year 4 FASS student, agreed: “It was quite different from my expectations.  The active participation of all RAs and RADs amazed me – so much that I suddenly felt like online meetings may be more organised than face-to-face ones?  Facilitators noticed who wanted to speak and the speakers went one by one. I thought I would be passively participating and mostly listening, as it would be hard to hear everyone in such a big group.  But actually, everyone got their chance to speak and voice feedback on each other’s programmes!”

Su Junqiang, an Audiology Masters student and UTR RA who has been serving since December 2019, echoed these sentiments. He was initially skeptical about the usefulness of an e-Retreat but felt differently by the end of it, quipping: “It was really heart-warming that so much time and effort was spent to convert a physical retreat into something which was most feasible during this COVID-19 period. On top of that, we all know how difficult it is to hype ourselves up in front of a computer screen, but the enthusiasm and participation of every single person has proven otherwise.”

Clearly, a virtual format had shown us a refreshing new way to do an old thing.  Of course, there was a definite twinge of longing in all our hearts – what if we had been able to go to camp after all?  There are things that a virtual retreat can never replace.

Tan Huai Chyi, a Year 2 Science student and an incoming RA at UTR, muses: “I think that with a physical retreat, I would have gotten to know everyone better and the team-building activities would have catalysed my induction into the RL family. While an e-Retreat can't provide physical interaction, I still appreciate the facilitators and senior RAs in my group who had made the effort to make me feel welcome and include me in the discussion!”

“Through this e-Retreat, I realise that connectedness through an online platform is possible. The session where everyone wrote heart-warming messages for each other and taking a “group photo” on Zoom was nice, and made me look forward to seeing everyone in person soon,” shared Ting Yee.

Flashing handwritten notes of encouragement for each other over Zoom

Making full use of the virtual background function in Zoom

COVID-19 threw a huge wrench in not just our camp, but also many plans and dreams around the world.  But we refuse to be deterred by a virus – that’s just not how student life is made.  Make no mistake – there was no retreating at these e-retreats, but a showing up in full force.

Ms Charina Li Ong, a Senior Educational Technologist from CDTL who has been a PGPR RAD for seven years, summarised it best: “The e-Retreat showed me that we still care for each other, no matter what.”

And we will continue to.


Writer: Bell Yeo
Photos: Residential Life