The article: “You call this bonding?” appears to highlight two issues:
1. The concept of bonding seems to have been misunderstood; and
2. The dynamics of successful matchmaking seems to have been misconstrued.
University is often an exciting time for young adults. In a Singaporean context, it would also likely be the first time teenagers are allowed relatively more freedom. If they live in halls, it would also be the first time they would be living away from home. Whilst exhilarating, it can also be a confusing time when teens and young adults succumb to peer pressure in a bid to feel “cool” and be accepted by their peer group.
It therefore seems unfair to organise games which are seemingly targeted solely to make “freshies” feel uncomfortable and awkward. While some degree of embarrassment in the name of fun is understandable, making young males and females carry out activities which clearly invade each other’s personal space is taking things a step too far. Especially when it would be the first time these teenagers are meeting!
They would have come eager to try something new, to meet new people and usually with no idea what to expect. In such a situation, most people would most likely comply with instructions. The combination of not knowing anyone else while being instructed to carry out certain activities by “all knowing” seniors at such orientation camps would be bewildering for anyone, much less a young adult. Under such circumstances, students attending such orientation camps might feel compelled to participate in such games even if they did not feel comfortable doing so. After all, everyone wants to fit in.
It is therefore simplistic to say that “students could always opt out if they felt uneasy” as not everyone has the confidence to say no at that stage in life. Besides, they may not be aware that they could say no. Singaporeans are an authority-abiding bunch and we are brought up by our parents to respect our “seniors”, so a number of students may find it difficult to say no even if they had wanted to.
Firstly, if the over-arching purpose of these games is to break the ice between new students, why does it have to be a male and female pairing? If the function is to enable students to make new friends, the pairing should be random. Besides, a male and female pairing might actually be counter-productive; instead of creating bonds of friendship, these games might make some students feel so awkward that they end up avoiding each other after the orientation camp!
Secondly, if the intended purpose for such games is for matchmaking, it begs the question if camp organisers are the appropriate matchmakers. These new students do not know each other. Nor do the “seniors” who are organising such activities. On what basis are they conducting their matchmaking? Besides, for any matchmaking to be successful, both participants have to be at ease. Clearly, that is not the case when there are reports of traumatised students and sobbing females.
Perhaps, excessive sobbing is an over-reaction. After all, male and female interaction is a part of life, but the difference between “forced” interaction and natural development of relationships cannot be underestimated (both for romantic relationships and platonic friendships).
The organisers must also take into account the differing personalities of participants. While some are more easy-going and confident, others might be shy and restrained. It is therefore important to organise games which are not just fun, but also generally inclusive.
Orientation camps and games should not lose their spontaneous and energetic elements but we should be mindful that these do not get out of hand and lose sight of its intended goals. Universities really need to issue clear and firm guidelines to the organisers of such orientation camps. Otherwise, they risk it becoming nothing but cheap entertainment for the “seniors”.