Staying on campus can be fun, but it doesn’t come without its fair share of difficulties.
For undergraduates looking to glorify God and represent Christ in dorm life, unique challenges abound that can make the journey tough.
As such, I spoke to four such university students who shared their takeaways from their time in hall, and how they’ve seen God move there.
Fighting FOMO, finding identity
I’m Jia Xuan, a Year 2 student studying English Language and Literature in the National Institute of Education (NIE).
I’ve been a resident in Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s Pioneer Hall for the past two years.
Honestly, staying in hall has added a lot to my university life, because it gave me many opportunities to form deeper friendships.
I got to see my friends 24/7 when we study, go for meals together or stay over in each other’s rooms.
However, I didn’t always feel this way. The initial adjustment period of settling in was tough.
Everyone was doing 100 things at once, be it joining CCAs, committees or events.
Initially, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to be as involved in hall life as possible.
But, at some point, I started to feel a sense of emptiness whenever I had to spend even just a few hours alone in my room.
I felt that I was missing out if I wasn’t hanging out with friends or engaging in hall activities.
I started wondering why I was feeling this way, and why I felt so much pressure to do so many things in hall.
One night, as I was sitting in my room and having quiet time with God, I started crying.
I wasn’t sure why because I was genuinely enjoying university life, so there really wasn’t any rational reason to be sad.
It was then as I was pouring my heart out to God that He revealed to me that I was incredibly tired of forcing myself to join events and make friends.
But at the same time, I was also afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fit in anywhere if I stopped.
Everyone was doing 100 things at once, be it joining CCAs, committees or events.
As I continued to process my emotions with God, I was reminded of how He loves me – not because of what I do or how I act, but because of who He is.
With God, there was no need for me to be extroverted or to constantly be busy. All He wanted was for me to rest in His presence and to sit at His feet (Matthew 11:28-30).
I learnt that I was finding my identity in the things of this world— being liked by my peers, trying to secure leadership positions in hall and more.
I lost sight of the truth that I am a daughter loved by a gracious Heavenly Father.
God spoke to me about the need to set boundaries.
I needed to protect my alone time away from the busyness of hall life. More importantly, I needed to protect my time with Him.
Slowly, He taught me how to turn my hall room into a secret place for Him – for me to worship Him, seek Him and to make space for Him to move.
So, don’t feel pressured to follow what everyone is doing or to change who you are just to fit in! Instead, find your security and rest in the Lord.
Corridor conflicts and learning to let go
Hello, my name is Fay*. I’m a 21-year-old studying in the National University of Singapore (NUS) and I stayed on campus for two years.
After I was granted a coveted spot in one of the university’s residences, I opted not to stay in my first semester.
It seemed like the practical thing to do since all my classes were held online due to the pandemic.
However, I soon felt that I was missing out.
This fear was amplified through group chats circulating information on various hall activities exclusively meant for residents staying on campus.
When I eventually moved in, I vividly remember how I felt being surrounded by groups of unfamiliar people in the dining hall.
Hearing laughter and conversations around me was greatly overwhelming. I felt anxious knowing I wasn’t a part of it.
Although I later participated in house events and a myriad of interest groups, I was unable to forge close bonds.
People had already formed their own cliques and stuck close to one another.
I felt like an outsider and was often hesitant to leave my room to socialise. When I showed up at events, I was mentally exhausted and burnt out.
To make things worse, one particular incident strained my relationship with my neighbours.
They were often incessantly loud when they spoke to each other along the corridor, and I struggled to find my own peace and quiet. I never said anything as I did not want to offend them.
But one day, I was in the midst of an online tutorial and their voices drowned out my tutor’s. Out of frustration, I opened my door and told them off.
After that incident, they stopped including me in their conversations. The tension was evident when I interacted with them.
Despite being a non-confrontational person, I continued to stand my ground by reminding them to keep their volume down when they were too loud.
But I also learnt to make compromises since I did not want to be a wet blanket.
Eventually, I came to realise that the reason why I had such a strong desire to find a sense of community on campus was because I was disappointed with some of the imperfect relationships I had with my family and friends.
It led me to a season of wrestling with God as it was not easy to let go.
But over time, I learnt to put Him first, before my relationships with other people.
While I didn’t necessarily find the community that I had envisioned, God was faithful. He blessed me with supportive people who cared for me in little ways.
… seek God first so that you have the wisdom to discern how to steward your time and energy in the season ahead.
I took the leap of faith to join two student communities where I forged meaningful connections with people who shared the same interests as me.
On top of that, I joined a Christian fellowship group in my residence. We ate together, did Bible study and prayed for one another.
I also took the initiative to have a meal with a hall acquaintance one day before class and we surprisingly grew much closer from there.
Through this experience, I learnt to yield my heart in obedience to God.
I initially chose to stay on campus purely out of my heart’s desires, only to find out His will is best.
Despite the challenges I faced, my university journey thus far has been nothing short of fulfilling.
To those who are about to enter university, I encourage you to seek God first so that you have the wisdom to discern how to steward your time and energy in the season ahead.
Fay* has requested to use a pseudonym for confidentiality.
Making mistakes and encountering God’s grace
My name is Shawn, I’m in Year 3 pursuing Mechanical Engineering in NTU.
For the past two years, I have been a resident in Hall 3 and will continue to stay this coming academic year.
I joined hall mainly because I wanted to be a part of the volleyball school team and hoped to reduce my travelling time.
Of course, I also looked forward to building new connections and experiencing the “hall life” that everyone raved about.
In my first year, the COVID situation greatly affected my experience.
As measures were tight, there were no events or gatherings hosted by the hall council.
Freshmen like me who did not join the online hall orientation spent a lot of our time alone, while the rest would just mix within their own social groups.
Thankfully, I joined NTU Students’ Union’s orientation programme where I was able to forge some close friendships. We regularly went to each other’s halls to hang out.
Indeed, when recess week came, some of my friends and I decided to do a “staycation” in one of the halls.
We had a fun time singing, playing cards and drinking alcohol together until the wee hours of the morning.
What we did not expect was receiving a loud knock on the door a while later.
When the door opened to the hall professor, we knew we were in trouble as crossing over to each other’s halls was not allowed at that time.
In that moment, I was panicking because I have a scholarship. I wasn’t sure if this offence would affect my right to be a scholarship holder.
Yet, my friends and I weren’t quick to admit our mistakes. We continued to bargain with the professor, explaining that we just wanted a break.
Of course, our efforts were in vain. The hall professor told us to return to our own rooms. In the process, our student IDs were also taken down.
After that, I came before God in frustration.
God, why this would happen? Why can’t I just enjoy a day off after a hectic half of the semester?
In my questioning, God showed me the state of my heart.
Deep down, I was made to confront my worldly desires of having fun at the expense of standing firm against temptation.
On top of that, I wanted to be in control of every situation in my life. Finding myself in a helpless circumstance like this revealed my discomfort with being out of control.
We were eventually given a fine for breaking the rules.
However, by God’s grace, I was told that the fine would not be reflected on my hall transcript (what I needed to submit to my scholarship provider!).
I was so thankful when I realised my scholarship would not be affected.
During this season, a particular Bible passage that struck me was Matthew 6:26-30 as it reminded me of God’s mercy and graciousness.
God is sovereign and everything in under His control. While I was comforted in my anxiety, I was also convicted to be more discerning about the activities I involve myself in.
What I can do differently in my interactions now would be to enjoy the chit chat and game of cards – sans the alcohol.
I ought to be a living testimony to God by following hall rules, and should view my time with friends as opportunities to share God’s love.
To me, glorifying God means being set apart from the world.
It’s not that we can’t enjoy hall life or join social gatherings. But what kind of things are we engaging in?
I know of people who gamble with their hall friends during their free time with large sums of money.
It made me reflect on the importance of being clear about what activities we do or do not take part in.
Finally, one other question I ask myself is whether I am making time for the Lord.
Solitude became a blessing in disguise
Hello, I am Brendan, a 23-year-old majoring in Information Systems. I stayed in RC4, a residential college (RC) in NUS for 2 years.
I chose to apply for campus accommodation because I wanted to experience independent hostel living. I enjoyed the thought of meeting new friends and studying with them late at night.
Most of the friends I made when I entered were second year students. In other words, they were my seniors.
We had group lunches, dinners and late night chats. It was a great time and I found joy investing time into the new friendships God blessed me with.
However, what I did not expect was that my second year in RC would quickly turn uneventful.
Since most of my close hall friends were seniors, that year was when they moved off campus.
I tried to find other friends by being an orientation group leader and actively joining the badminton interest group.
I was also part of my RC’s Christian fellowship group. We would gather to worship God with songs, share our struggles and pray for one another.
Yet despite all my involvements, I found myself alone most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I met great and supportive people through these commitments – I just couldn’t find a group that would stick.
I often ate by myself and spent most of my nights studying in my room.
Initially, I was bummed. But, I began to see how God was working through me.
When I entered RC4, a goal of mine was to reach out to my friends. I believed in evangelising to them through our friendship.
I wanted the way I spoke and behaved to be an example of how Jesus would act.
Amazingly, God heard my heart’s desires. He provided opportunities for me to plant seeds in my hall friends’ lives.
I engaged in conversations where my friends questioned the reality of God or expressed their uncertainty to take the leap of faith to believe.
In those moments, I was able to share personal testimonies of the blessings I have received, or how I witnessed God’s help and presence with me during tough times.
One of my orientation group members was also interested to find a Christian community in RC4.
Because I was his leader, I could point him to our fellowship group.
Aside from that, I was also more intentional in my conversations with others outside of RC.
Since I had more alone time, I could afford to catch up with my army friends and course mates.
As several of them did not have a constant support system they could rely on to journey through university, I made it a point to reach out to them on a regular basis.
When the semester ended, they expressed their gratitude towards my efforts to walk with them through difficult seasons.
This made me thankful for the time I had to connect with these people. If I was heavily plugged in to my hall communities, I might not have thought to look beyond.
On hindsight, my advice would be to not force things. Although situations may not always turn out the way we desire or expect, we can choose to see how our circumstances can be used to bless others – and work towards that instead!
- Would you want to stay on campus? Why or why not?
- How might you be challenged, living independently and in a new environment?
- Whether you’re staying in hall or not, what is one practical thing you can do this week to shine a light for Christ on campus?