By Faith Ho (22A01A), Mirella Ang (22A01C) and Jason Sutio (22S06U)
When Catherine Natasya Subroto (22S06R) first moved into RI Boarding, she expected a dull journey stemming from a studious, driven school culture. Coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, that meant no celebrations, group exercises, nor socialisations; she was ready for boarding what she felt would be a boring month-long voyage of just studying throughout the June holidays. Contrary to her expectations, however, holiday life in RI boarding was hardly monotonous.
Like most students, boarders spent their holidays recharging for the next term, using the boarding facilities that were still available. “I treasure the time I spent in solitude where I could enjoy myself while playing the piano in the music room of RIB,” remarked Catherine.
The Covid-19 restrictions meant that boarding became a more subdued affair, as boarders were mainly confined to their own rooms and could not go out with friends like before. However, this gave the boarders a good chance to rest, as the holidays were “pretty refreshing and much needed”, as Ulrico Nolan Orlando (22S06S) said. Vanneza Dharmawan (22S03N) also mentioned that “There was no pressure to socialize and I got to spend more time with myself.”
That being said, there were still events that brought the boarders together, albeit virtually. Some boarders enthused about the RI Boarding (RIB) Game Night, where they got to meet others and play games together over zoom.
The biggest gain of the holidays was simply that boarders could spend more time with their friends and build closer relationships. Since boarders could not go home during the holidays, they had many more opportunities to get to know each other better. Some boarders mentioned playing games with their friends, or simply having chats about life, as cherished memories made during this time.
Rocking the Boat
However, it wasn’t all fun and games for the boarders, many of whom are international scholars living here away from their families. Pre-pandemic, international boarders usually had the option of returning home during the holidays. Although, ever since the beginning of the pandemic last year, these boarders have been unable to go home and visit their loved ones.
“Due to the rise in Covid-19 cases in Indonesia, MOE advised the scholars to not go back. So, for the first time in my life, I stayed in Singapore during the holidays and decided to have a part-time job to make myself useful and earn a bit of money.” Charly Chandra (22S06U) explained.
Pre-pandemic, RIB was teeming with liveliness, where “birthday parties and post-exam celebrations coloured our days as people from various boarding blocks could gather and take pictures without the worry of not being socially distanced”, reminisced Catherine.
These days, RIB is a far cry from the bustling scene it once was. With SMMs implemented, many facilities were closed, such as the once-popular badminton halls. “[It] felt a bit more empty, everyone mostly stayed in their room[s]. Sometimes it felt like you [were] the only one staying there.” Vanneza said.
What further silenced the quiet corridors of RIB was the fact that boarders were discouraged from going out to meet their friends. “[We were] unable to explore outside [or] eat as a group to spend time and bond together. [We could] only spend time together in RIB by playing games,” Charly recalled.
With so many restrictions, it is little wonder the pandemic has taken a toll on boarders’ mental health. Ulrico explained: “[We felt] discouraged… sometimes we would force ourselves to find our own activities [inside RIB]”.
“The Boarding Mentors (BM) prepared a care pack consisting of snacks, sanitisers, tissues and masks for Boarders,” shared Wan Yi (22S06C). “This was such a nice gesture, along with providing 24-hour air conditioning for us.”
In taking care of boarders, BMs went beyond simply providing care packs and had to adapt to changes too.
“We were definitely busier compared to pre-Covid when the one-month vacation offered some respite for us,” Mrs Lydia Tan, the RI Y5 Year Head, and a BM of the Moor-Buckley blocks, shared.
Amidst ensuring that boarders take their temperatures twice daily and being available round the clock for every boarders’ needs, BMs also have to regularly update boarders to the changing SMM advisories.
Nonetheless, these are not what Mrs Tan laments most about.
“We can no longer reach out and engage the boarders,” said Mrs Tan. “Weekly roll calls had to be stopped, so we can only communicate via our chat group or one-to-one.”
The battle to foster a community spirit without physical interaction is truly ever-uphill. Pre-Covid, Mrs Tan would cook a whole pot of green bean soup, tang yuan, and other delicacies to ‘perk boarders up’. Now, individually packed fruit cups or non-food items will have to suffice.
“I had to put a halt to the many activities that I want to carry out for us to grow as a boarding family. I’m still thinking of ways.”
The Boarding Manager, Mr Charles Lim, explains that BMs have to find a balance between making life in boarding interesting and following all the SMMs.
“It is extremely difficult to plan activities and prepare logistics when advisories change almost as frequently as every time a task force press meeting is held,” Mr Lim quipped.
But through it all, BMs found it an enlightening experience.
“I saw boarders in their own style,” Mr Lim thought. “Hidden talents all come to light: be it cooking, music, things you don’t normally notice at first glance.”
Such talents also brought joy to Mrs Tan — when she is hard at work, she greatly appreciates the mellifluous harmonies that would flow from the music room beside her unit.
Through all the crests and troughs of pandemic life, there is still some semblance of normality in boarding. Catherine found that she could at least still sit with her friends at the dining hall, alleviating the sense of isolation.
Indeed, RIB holidays may have changed — but the spirit of boarding and memories made are always here to stay.