7 Difficulties you may encounter in your very First Semester, and How to Cope

It’s alright to feel jittery and excited at the same time before you begin your first ever semester in University. You’ve probably heard of the perks here: freedom to steer your own studies, meeting your dream date, or having bags of fun with new friends. And also the other side where you have trouble keeping up with so much work that you are stuck in a rolling giant snowball.

The reason why we may feel a little uneasy or nervous is because this is very important to us. We hope to make the best out of our limited time here and the first semester is where it begins. Roadblocks are ahead, but as we want a smooth start, do look out for these 7 common ones. It always helps to plan ahead.

Before your first semester
 1. Deciding how many camps I should sign up for, and which.

University orientation camps are known to be filled with fun and games. They also offer many opportunities to make new friends, or even give you a chance with the opposite sex (your secret pal). Some camps are sports related, where you get to try many different kinds of land and water sports, while others are more laid-back and relaxed. Mainly, large camps (over 200 people) are “cross-faculty camps” for anyone looking to meet new people and play.

But if you are in for a camp marathon or back-to-back camps after camps, do your research first. Various camps attract different people. So for example, you are likely to meet sporty people with lots of energy in a sports camp (hence, they don’t sleep much). So to join the right one for you, it is a good idea to get more information about camps online. Check their schedules and number of activities on the list on Facebook pages, or official websites. eg. NUS Union Camp, one of the biggest camp in NUS is on Facebook or official websites, or simply Google the camp for blogs write-ups and stories by real people who went through it so you know what to expect.There’s a downside. Imagine going through dozens of games after games and bolting from one station to another in an “amazing race.” And hours of chit-chatting or heart-to-heart talks into the night. Its exhausting but you will meet many people, so joining camps is a great way to start if you seek to expand your network of friends in school. Generally, freshies should join at least one camp to know how to get about in campus.

Take note that camps usually have limited capacity and the activities may not be suitable for all. As it is organized by young adults (senior students), there may be adult-related themes. Before thinking about joining the camps, do consider the following.

Consider what?

  • Cost

Some camps may cost more than others, such as the Sports camp which requires lots of booking and equipment rental for participants to try new sports. Another cost to consider is your time, as camps can last over three to five days. You will spend intensive days with all the activities packed from day to night. But in return, you get to enjoy the friends, activities and lots of sponsored items. Typical cost is about $70 per participant.

  • Suitability

As camps have limited spaces, some camps practise discretionary admission, especially the more popular ones. It’s like getting into law or medicine school for the really popular camps. When you apply, organizers might spy your Facebook account (which you may have to provide) or answer some personal questions before they decide if you are deserving enough to get in. On the other hand, it could be a helpful process to exclude participants who are not likely to enjoy the camp due to sensitive issues.

  • Adult and Dating themes

Some camps have “secret pal” games where you get to interact closely with someone of the opposite sex in a dating manner. Games and cheers may have kinky and strong suggestive themes. There can be encouragement or peer pressure to consume alcohol too. Be sure that you are open-minded to try or tolerant of these activities if you decide to join. It can be an interesting eye opener but also a dangerous temptation.

  • Peer pressure

Normally, orientation groups (OG) hang around late at night to drink, play casual games and mostly to have heart-to-heart talks. The peer pressure to join is very strong as it is widely viewed as bonding time. So even though I wanted to hit the sack when it was 12am already, I was obliged to join my OG so as to not appear as a cold and distant member of the OG.

Another popular “game” to play is called “traffic light” where everyone reveals their relationship status in the form of traffic light colours: red (attached), yellow (about to be attached) and green (single and generally perceived as available). No matter what colour you say, you are going to get lots of questions like who, when, why etc. There is peer pressure involved here too. Imagine your OG mates saying their colour, one by one, and answering random questions along the way. But when it comes to your turn, you clam up because you don’t want to say. Not a very good impression to give, so in general, be prepared for peer-pressure related activities that you will encounter in camps.

2. Defining my goals for this semester

Ultimate goal

Everyone hopes to make the best out of our time here. But to do that, we need to set goals or define something to achieve.

But goal setting can be difficult without knowing what to expect. It can be too vague to say “I want to do well” in University. If you hope to do so, consistency is the key. So a possible goal can be “I will be punctual for all classes” or “I will read my lecture notes before going to lecture”. Your goal can be to simply stick to a study plan you personally come up with.

But do note that the focus is not always on studies. University life offers many opportunities and your goal can be to widen your horizon, like trying a new student-led volunteer organization, or a new sports, or a speaking club. Think about how you would like to define your first semester. Is getting fantastic grades the only goal that defines it?

In any case, defining your goals is important because you have limited time in this special place of opportunities. You should set something concrete to achieve at the end of your time in University, and it starts in the first semester.

During your first semester
3. I have no idea where classes are held, or I can’t find your way around.

I can’t find your way around.

This is quite a common problem, especially in NUS where the fourth floor of this building can be the third floor of the other across. The NUS map can tell you the location of the buildings, but sometimes you may wrongly believe that you can simply cross buildings on the first level. In fact, as NUS is built on hilly regions, you often have to take the lift (or stairs) to a higher floor before you can cut across to the next building.

Basically, it is useful to know where classes are instead of finding out how to go there just 5 minutes before it starts. You don’t want to rush in panting and interrupting the class halfway, with everyone looking at you. Certainly not a good impression to give your lecturer, or someone…If you join orientation camps, you are likely to find yourself more familiar with the University grounds as many briefings and gatherings are held in lecture theatres, where you may eventually have lectures in.

Some ways to solve this problem are:
  • Save a copy of NUS map in your smart phone, or print a copy of it
  • Ask your orientation camp seniors or friends (if you joined any)
  • Aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before the lesson starts so you have time to find the venue, or ask around. Generally, people are friendly and nice to show you the way.
4. Preparation for Mid terms or Final exams

Do you remember those days when you had to mug for exams while nursing a mug of coffee? It’s about the same here, just that you might need more cups of coffee. Generally, the materials you learn in University are denser and trickier. But the trick, as always, is to remain consistent.

Preparation for Mid terms or Final exams

University work can be vastly different from Junior College (JC) or Polytechnic assignments. However, similar study strategies can be applied, such as practising with past year papers, and equally dividing your time to study many subjects. Interestingly, you may get nervous with open-book examinations or the ones which allow you to bring in “cheat sheets”. Actually, cheat sheets are an effective way to study and organize what you have learnt into a few sheets of paper. The preparation of cheat sheets helps you to revise and solidify the concepts in your head. Even if an exam is a closed book, doing your personal “cheat sheets” better prepares you than if you don’t. Just that you don’t get to bring them in.

5. Wondering which Co-Curricula activities (CCA) I should join, or should I even join one? 

There are many clubs and societies that you can find in Universities and they are often one notch higher in standard than JCs and Polytechnics. Do consider wisely how you would like to spend your time in University. Sports and performing arts CCA have very frequent intensive practises weekly while clubs and interest groups may have ad-hoc activities that occur once in a while only. There is no obligation to join any CCA so don’t just join the bandwagon like others. Think carefully about what you want.

CCAs can be a wonderful opportunity to discover new interests you probably didn’t know. But it can also be a time sink where you spend dozens of hours every week just for fun, and later regret.

Most CCAs are open for registration at the start of an academic year in July/August and do not accept new people in the second semester from January to May. So it is possible to join a CCA for a semester, take a break in second semester, and join another one next year. It all boils down to how you would like to craft your University experience.

6. Deciding on a Major

With limited information, it is very difficult to make the right choice. Right now, you may have set your eyes on a particular major based on what you believe it is like, based on whatever information you have currently. But this may change after you get new information, like going through a series of modules related to that major. You may then switch because you found your major too technical and theory focused, or you have found a new interest.

To combat this problem, the advice is to do as much research as possible beforehand. Find out what are the possible modules that you can take, and Google the module code to hopefully find anecdotes and recounts by past students. Personal interaction with seniors that you meet in orientation camps will be helpful too.

I personally thought of changing my course of study several times as I read deeper into economics or finance. Then again, I remembered why I didn’t study it in NUS because NUS economics course is too mathematical for my liking as I sought something more like geography. Hopefully I can marry my interests with my course of study in future.

Just a tip if you have already picked a major and are thinking of changing: remember why you picked it in the first place. If the reasons are no longer the same, it probably is time to take the brave step out.

After your first semester
7. After final exams, how should I spend my holidays?

how should I spend my holidays?

There is generally a short holiday (December to January) or a long holiday (May to August) after a semester. Time is a precious resource and what you decide to do with it can greatly impact your goals. You shouldn’t have a party-after-exam mentality anymore, but rather find something meaningful to do outside your studies. There are many paths to take, and whichever you choose, do make full use of your time and hopefully it is in line with what you want to achieve. Some possible options are

  • Some of these options, such as landing a good job, securing a volunteer position, or going on a summer programme, require months of planning in advance. You may have to apply months ahead so do your planning now if you wish to do these during your holidays.Finding a job to gain industry experience or to earn some cash
  • Reading up on an area of interest, such as personal finance
  • Pick up a new skill or hobby that you have always wanted to
  • Volunteering at an organization, such as NParks if you like our forests
  • Go on a holiday with your family and friends
  • Go on overseas summer programmes
  • Join an orientation camp committee and pick up some event management skills. Most planning occurs months before the actual camp in July/August

At the end of your first semester, it would be great to feel a sense of accomplishment while you enjoy your well-deserved holiday, or exciting plans you have made. But first, it is a good idea to set your goals, and be aware of these possible difficulties you may meet before and during your journey. Happy planning!


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