5 Tips on Starting Freshman Year in a Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the everyday lives of people around the world. Working professionals, for one, can no longer imagine a workday that entails putting on a crisp suit or stepping into power heels for a big presentation — having gotten used to attending “camera-off” Zoom meetings in their PJs.

Beyond professionals, the prolonged pandemic has also rocked major life milestones for others. For example, making the transition to life as a university student is a huge leap towards adulthood and can be an exciting — and let’s face it, sometimes nerve-wracking – new chapter. But this great unknown that is freshman year has now been rendered more unpredictable amid current circumstances.

The partial suspension of traditional campus life, however, does not spell a dearth of activities to usher in this year’s fresh cohort of students. On the contrary, the student body and offices of SMU have stepped up to the challenge of reimagining the student experience in this new normal — including the development of a plethora of resources, events and tools that can be accessed from the safety and comfort of one’s desired location. Most significantly, these resources help bridge the physical disconnect and form the foundations for building lasting social bonds that will last you through your entire tertiary life.

Here are five ways you can make the most of your freshman experience, even while maintaining a safe distance:


1. Participate in online and virtual events

Orientation has always been associated with freshmen working up a sweat by completing various tasks around campus. But for the second year running, freshman orientation was being held virtually via FOMO (Freshman Orientation Moves Online). An entire microsite has been designed for conducting online games, webinars and even camps over Zoom. Each year, students embarked on missions to complete thrilling online activities, win attractive prizes, and most importantly, forge new friendships with their peers.

The virtual SMU ICON Orientation Camp is also a must-visit for those looking to build friendships between international and local students. Organised by SMU International Connections, a standing committee under SMUSA to integrate efforts on campus and celebrate cultural diversity among local and international students), the camp boasts a three-day programme packed with fun-filled activities and challenges for international and local freshmen. Finally, find out all about student life at Vivace, SMU’s largest annual CCA fair showcasing more than 100 student clubs. Held online for the second year on its own dedicated site in 2021, participants can explore lead events to find your interests, and build an exciting university life through clubs and societies.


2. Prep for blended learning

With the rise of digital learning platforms, blended learning has become part of most students’ lives and entails the use of online course materials, interactive virtual conferences and in-class activities delivered in bite-sized segments. Even prior to the pandemic, SMU has been transitioning to blended learning tools in a bid to nurture future-ready graduates poised for the digital economy.

Freshmen can familiarise themselves with the Webex platform used by SMU, an online learning community that hosts class sessions, presentations, project collaborations and other remote campus interactions. The web-based learning experience is easy to pick up, but there’s no harm playing around with its functions prior to the start of the new semester to avoid glitches at your very first online class.

Furthermore, incoming students may explore financial support for tech tools, like the SMU Student Computer Loan, which is available to any full-time matriculated undergraduate student who may require assistance in funding a personal computer.


3. Join mentoring and buddy programmes

Worried about not being able to socialise and form a support network due to fewer in-person orientation activities? International students can join the SMU Icon Buddy Programme to connect with an SMU senior and learn all about life on the SMU campus. Seniors can be a godsend when it comes to providing intel on accommodation, campus life, facilities and support. On that note, both local and international freshmen can also consider The Mentoring Circle, where they can get tips on how seniors have tackled adjusting to student life during a new normal, or even their favourite modules to take or how to score a remote internship.


4. Go on a virtual tour

While the sprawling city campus is most likely to stay open in the new academic year, incoming freshmen may choose to embark on a virtual tour to get a sense of what to expect and explore areas where social distancing is enforced. The interactive tour takes guests to all SMU schools as well as the Prinsep Street Residences, offering a peek into the uni experiences of other freshmen.


5. Step up your networking game

With group projects taking up a big part of the curriculum, and the prospects of lesser face time (the result of hybrid and online lessons) being part of the new normal, it is important for freshmen to start building their network from the get-go. Besides activities already planned by the University, take the initiative to host a casual Zoom get-together for a few course mates (virtual dance party or study group, anyone?) and make some new friends.

Student clubs featured at Vivace are also a good place to build some meaningful connections. While large-group gatherings are unlikely to take place in the near future, certain outdoor sports activities, for example, may be allowed to proceed, allowing for opportunities to hang out with fellow freshmen and shed the pandemic pounds together at the same time.

Finally, take advantage of the plethora of virtual events held by SMU even after orientation. From academic webinars to cross-border sharings, these online activities are perfect for connecting with like-minded peers.