The Student Affairs Centre: Appreciation Week 2014

By Liu Fangzhou (14A01C), Hazirah Mohd Helmy (14A01C) and Martin Lim (15A13A)

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It’s a miserable Tuesday morning, you’re an hour behind on a PW deadline but you’ve lost your phone and wallet in one go and with that, any hope of begging a classmate or running to the library for a last-minute print job. What do you do?

Well, if you’re anything like the average RI student, you already know where to go. The welcoming lights of the SAC beckon from the first floor. The SAC ladies offer any number of solutions to your crisis: a library entrance pass, the lost and found corner for your wallet, and failing that, there’s the police report form for your lost EZ link card and IC. And if you’re lucky, they might just have your phone in wait for you, rescued, safe and already charging in a port.

While our Appreciation Week encounter was thankfully less disastrous, it was still another in a long list of visits from students asking for help on any given day. The staff handled it the way they are well used to doing: sensible, prepared and just plain nice. As we filed into the SAC with a halting request for an interview, the lady at the counter gave us a quick/practiced once-over and immediately offered us pen and paper.

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And it’s no surprise they’re so familiar with students and our seemingly endless needs. Their job scope extends to most of the things we can imagine: “Testimonials, EZ link card forms, finance, blazer requests…” Listing their usual tasks took three staff members, and even then it didn’t quite cover the full range. “Basically whatever you need, we’ll try and do for you,” said Ms Lee Mei Ling. And it’s true: for all that their official responsibilities are pretty impressive in themselves, the staff often go out of their way to help us above and beyond that.

But isn’t the SAC just the place to get the boring admin stuff out of the way? As Ms Lee explained, “We’re the middlemen between teachers and students… so everything goes through the SAC!” As it turns out, while we may be used to procrastinating on our own paperwork with the SAC, it is behind some of the things we hold closest to heart. The staff work with our testimonials and Raffles Diplomas, send in our scholarship money through interbank GIRO, and even help to pass around BMT registration procedures. The fact is that these basic duties take up the bulk of their work hours; our stream of requests comes on top of that and is met by the SAC staff’s own willingness to help.

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Yet their resourceful kindness isn’t always matched by students. As we trundle in and out of the SAC with the distinct feeling that we have better places to get to afterwards, politeness is often forgotten as our requests become ill-worded demands. When asked about what students could do to help make their work easier, one of them said somewhat ruefully that she wished the students had “better CE” (Civics Education).

The staff didn’t seem to like to dwell on this, but the message should be clear: we can afford to be more polite, more patient, and above all, more appreciative of their efforts to help. Greeting before asking always helps, and thank-yous to acknowledge the help they offer as much out of goodwill as duty can never go amiss. Beyond that, we can and should try to reduce their workload by filling in forms neatly, washing and ironing blazers properly before returning them, Ms Kathleen Wong said with a frustrated laugh, “Lose fewer things!”

In face of all that, what keeps the SAC staff going? As it turns out, they see themselves less as separate members of staff and more as a community. Their easy laughter and back-and-forth additions in answer to our questions gave us a glimpse of the camaraderie that transpires in the background of the daily passage of students and tasks. Therein lies another way we can help as students: when asked about what they liked about students, Ms Lee replied, “Sometimes they joke with us.” Those of us with a sense of humour can actually lighten their workdays. The more reticent among us can still offer good humour and patience.

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When we left the room, it was with the slight guilt in knowing that we’d only added to the SAC staff’s work for the day. Perhaps, as students, that’s all we can do most of the time – but it doesn’t mean we can’t make each visit more pleasant for the staff. A little thank-you note or even a smile and a ‘thanks’  is enough to make their job much better – and it’s the least we can do for the staff who are there when we need them.

 

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