Leaving home to stay in university hall can leave a student with mixed emotions. On the one hand, there is a feeling of independence but on the other, nervousness and anxiety of not knowing what to expect.
This stepping into the unknown was especially challenging for Isabel (not her real name) as she considered herself an introvert.
When she enrolled in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2017, Isabel initially felt overwhelmed because there were no familiar faces and everything around her was happening so quickly.
“I was already waist-deep in assignments and deadlines after two weeks of classes. It was really shocking to me because I thought we would have time to settle down.”
A pattern soon developed – Isabel would spend most of her day completing schoolwork, head back to hall to sleep before starting all over again the next day.
What suffered most was her faith! Coming from a staunch Catholic family that prayed every night and went for retreats together, Isabel suddenly felt distant from her support structure of faith.
“I started to pray less and think about God less. My new life revolved around finishing my work and sleep … I rarely spoke to anyone and when I did, it was about assignments.”
Aware of her struggles, Isabel’s father stepped in to ensure his daughter did not forget the importance of Jesus in her life. “He made sure to call me every night, even if it was just to hear me vent my frustrations of school or to hear me cry because I felt so tired. Some days he would take time off work to have lunch with me,” she said.
One other thing her father did for her was pray. As often as they could, Isabel’s parents and two younger brothers would video call her and pray. “It sounded a bit weird to me at first but I was instantly thankful because I felt my heart lighten and my shoulders relax. God started to feel real again.”
Now in her third year in NTU, Isabel has a group of friends she hangs out with. Although there are still days when she struggles to find God working in her life, she makes it a habit to pray every morning and evening.
She has been able to introduce one of her friends to the faith, and is currently journeying with her.
“The struggles I faced early on in university have not exactly gone away. I still fear crowds and find it hard sometimes to cope with school. The most important thing I have learnt is that there will always be difficulties but those come and go, God is always there and His faith in us never wavers.”
Facing challenges in university
Being in a secular environment like university, students may sometimes face social pressures or negative influences that go against their Catholic values and beliefs.
In another sharing, a Catholic student from the NTU Catholic Students Apostolate (CSA) said that as disciples of Christ, “when faced with such circumstances, we need to stand for our Christian beliefs and values, whether it is by discouraging a friend who intends to cheat, or by not participating in certain social activities that are not life giving.
“It’s easy for students to buckle under the social pressures to try to fit in the crowd. But, we can take this chance to challenge our friends to live a more authentic life. A life that doesn’t involve them being chained by their striving for approval from others … we can show them how a life like that is possible by reminding them they are worth more than the sum of their approvals and by sharing the love we have first received from Jesus Himself.”
In CSA, members build Christ’s kingdom by living out their discipleship – especially by being authentic and free as children of God.
“CSA is also a space where fellow Catholics can be united in faith. Our friendships are avenues where we challenge each other to live more fully for Christ.
Journeying together as brothers and sisters in Christ, we have learnt that it is not only possible to live for Christ in a hyper secularised culture, but also to thrive as someone uniquely set apart!”
Another student from the Catholic Society in SMU, FIDES, said that “it is very important to have our own set of virtues and values that we go to whenever we are faced with dilemmas … it is important to hold firm on our stance against negative influences and to act according to what is clear in our God-given conscience.”
In FIDES, there are sessions on Christian values and virtues such as temperance, fortitude, courage and humility, which emphasise the importance of moderation, having self-control and self awareness, sharing what the virtue means, and how to practise it.
There are also cell groups and sharing sessions where people become accountable to each other regarding issues that they may struggle with, such as alcohol, popularity and academics, and support and encourage one another to live out the lifestyle of a disciple on campus.