Old is gold: KEVII Hall’s Master Kuldip Singh is proud of its long history and traditions
In this series, NUS News profiles the personalities shaping vibrant residential life and culture on campus, and how they craft a holistic residential experience that brings out the best in student residents.
Perched atop Kent Ridge Road and dotted with palm trees and lush greenery, King Edward VII (KEVII) Hall could well pass off as a tropical retreat.
The idyllic facade belies its illustrious history: KEVII Hall is the University’s oldest student hostel, dating back to 1916 when it was located at Sepoy Lines, an area now occupied by Singapore General Hospital.
It moved to its current location in 1987 to become part of the NUS Kent Ridge campus. Over the decades, the Hall has welcomed numerous notable residents, including former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.
It is no wonder Dr Kuldip Singh, the Master of KEVII Hall, recounts its history with visible pride. “It started out as a hostel for a medical college, but has since morphed into a hall for students of every faculty.”
Dr Singh, an Associate Professor in NUS’ Department of Physics who holds a joint appointment at NUS College and concurrently serves as Administrative Director of the Centre for Quantum Technologies, took over as the Hall’s Master in June 2021. He has previously held the position of resident fellow at both Raffles Hall and Cinnamon College.
“Being a Master means many more responsibilities because I become the go-to guy for everything, but I was ready for the challenge,” he said.
NUS News sits down with him to find out what makes KEVII Hall so special.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How has staying on campus been like for you?
It’s been 18 years and I really enjoy it. NUS feels like home now for me and my family. My three sons practically grew up here and they know no other way of living other than hall living. My wife and I also enjoy walking around the entire campus at least two to three times a week. Being in KEVII Hall is almost like living in a resort, with all the palm trees and chirping birds in the morning.
In fact, my affiliation with NUS goes all the way back to 1981 when I joined as an undergraduate majoring in Physics and later continued with my graduate studies. In a sense, I never left the university as my first job was with the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing, a research centre at NUS.
Although I missed out on the opportunity of staying in a hall when I was an undergraduate, now as a Master, I tell my students that it is an essential part of their education because they learn so much from campus life that they cannot in the classroom. Over the years, I have seen shy, timid individuals transform into confident leaders.
Q: What makes KEVII Hall unique?
What defines KEVII Hall is culture, as seen in our many productions. I am very passionate about productions and am proud to say that we have the most among all the halls – five a year.
Our famous one is Hallplay, which has been around the longest. It is a play that students conceptualise and present on their own, and it is very fulfilling to see them working from scratch to bring a play to life.
We also have Chinese Drama, which is of a very high quality. I cannot understand Mandarin, but when I attended it, I was just thrown off my seat! Thankfully there were subtitles so I could follow it. I have never really seen anything done by students of that calibre before. They were really good and professional, and it was like something I would pay to watch outside.
Q: How has KEVII Hall’s long history influenced how it is run today?
KEVII Hall was first opened to house students from the King Edward VII College of Medicine (which has since ceased to exist) at Sepoy Lines. The legacy continues today: we likely have the highest number of medical and nursing students among all the halls.
I believe that certain aspects of Hall culture should remain unchanged because they define the very essence of an entity. As I peruse old yearbooks, some dating back to the 1970s, it's striking to note that many activities and their names persist to this day.
Recently, I had the privilege of hosting alumni who were residents of the Hall from the 1950s to the 1970s. They shared nostalgic tales of their involvement in the Hallplay, KE Dance, KE Band and more – names that are still in use today. Some even took the stage to perform with the KE Band, which was tasked with providing entertainment for the occasion.
Q: What makes KEVII home for you?
My favourite part is interacting with the students. It has become second nature after 18 years. Home is where you feel comfortable, and I feel at home here among students whom I can talk to easily. Sometimes, I check in on students during their activities to have a chat with them. Although I don’t always eat at the dining hall (18 years of campus food can take a toll on your taste buds), I usually go there to talk to the students.
The hall is also a very vibrant place, with things going on all the time. People always talk about having peace and quiet, but to me that quietness may be very painful, having lived in a Hall setting for 18 years. I would feel very lonely when I eventually move out of campus. From my apartment, I can hear students having choir or band practice. It’s like someone is serenading me every evening.
At KEVII Hall, I really feel like I’m part of a very big family.
Q: What does KEVII Hall’s motto, “To strive, to seek, to serve”, mean to you?
I think it is quite literal.
To strive – always have that spirit in you to do something, even if it feels like a challenge. To seek – to imbue a sense of “insatiable curiosity”. To serve – this is the one we emphasise a lot in KEVII Hall. I firmly believe that engaging in service should be an inherent aspect of one's humanity.
That’s why we have our Peer Support Group, an initiative where students are trained by professionals to help other students manage their emotions and deal with stress. This was started by the previous master of KEVII Hall and has since been adopted by other student residences.
We also have our Overseas Community Involvement Projects, where students go to neighbouring countries to do community service and learn about the problems these communities face. Earlier this year, they went to Laos and Cambodia under the Southeast Asia Friendship Initiative (SFI) programme which included building a school fence and a drain for village communities. In December this year, we will take students to the Riau Islands in Indonesia. They will go on two ships that will dock at various islands and ports to visit places like fish farms and learn about the Indonesian communities there. Later, in the middle of next year, there will be another trip to Jakarta and the surrounding areas to learn about things like food logistics and food security issues.
So, the idea is that the students will go to these countries, interact with the local university students and talk to government officials and non-profit organisations involved in these matters, and learn by experience. We do all these to inculcate a strong spirit of giving in all KEVIIANs.
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