Covid-19: Adapting to life at home across the causeway

PFP PALS: Divya Rubini (third from right) poses with her PFP classmates in RP at the end of the semester in February. (Photo Courtesy Of Divya Rubini)

Malaysian Republic Polytechnic students share their experiences adapting to life at home across the causeway as Malaysia enforced the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18.

PFP PALS: Divya Rubini (third from right) poses with her PFP classmates in RP at the end of the semester in February. (Photo Courtesy Of Divya Rubini)

Every morning for the past year, Malaysian Divya Rubini would wake up at 5am to make her two-hour journey from her home in Johor Bahru to Republic Polytechnic, where the 18-year old was a Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) student.

After her lessons, IG activities and the occasional part-time work at a mall here, she would make the trek home across the Causeway, often reaching her doorstep at 10pm or later. She spent more of her waking hours in Singapore than she did her homeland.

However, in March this year, Divya found herself suddenly spending all her time at home. After waking up at 10am, she would decorate her room and bake. At 7pm, she would call her friends and go to bed at 11pm. She does not see her friends in Singapore anymore, and her studies here seem almost like a distant dream.

Divya is one of the approximately 400,000 Malaysians who commuted to Singapore daily for school or work, according to a CNA report, until the country’s Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced on March 18.  The MCO was in response to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Under the MCO, all Malaysians are barred from leaving the country or even travelling to other states. Leaving home is not an option unless residents need to buy food or groceries.

For Divya, it was a huge psychological change. “Meeting up and being with friends would be what I miss the most, especially because it’s semester break season,’ said Divya, now pursuing a Diploma in Biotechnology in RP.

Another Malaysian student, Robyn Promsuwan, described the situation as “scary” initially. “We didn’t know how this was going to work and how long it would last,” said the 15-year-old Tanglin Secondary School student who lives in Johor Bahru’s Puteri Iskandar area. Like her peers in Malaysia, she felt the suddenness of the order, which was announced barely two days before enforcement, made it tough for her to adjust to her new lifestyle.

This home-based lifestyle during the semester break revolves a lot around watching YouTube, creating Tik Tok videos and taking part in Instagram challenges to entertain themselves. On the plus side, the students have also picked up new skills. Robyn, for one, has tried baking. Her first attempt was making butter cookies, and since then she seems to have gotten a knack for baking. “With so much time on our hands from all those cancelled events we have no excuse but to try out new things,” she said.

Divya added: “I recently got into house decoration, something I have no experience in.” She was inspired by her parents’ positive attitude as they also picked up home decorating and arts.

Sharvani Pannerselvam, a second-year Diploma in Clean Energy student at Temasek Polytechnic (TP), is doing something unprecedented – indulging in family time.

The 19-year-old said she, her parents and her siblings now often have movie nights or play games together in their home in Taman Pelangi. When she was having trouble adapting to her new lifestyle at first, it was the presence of her family that soothed her. “Though it can feel lonely at times, it is always nice to remember that your family is with you during these tough times,” she said. She also keeps in touch with her TP friends on Zoom.

Singapore introduced similar measures in containing the spread of the virus on April 7. Known as the “circuit breaker” period, it was originally planned to last till May 4, until the government recently announced an extension to June 1.

An additional four weeks may sound tough for those itching to go back to pre-Covid days, but for Divya and other Malaysian students, staying indoors is something they have grown used to. The MCO was extended four times and is now due to end on June 9.

Divya, who is now doing home-based learning like all other students in Singapore, has this advice for her Singaporean peers: “Spend your time wisely, pick up new hobbies with your free time and spend more time with your family. After all, our lifestyles have kept us busy all this while and this could be the perfect opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves and bond with our loved ones.”

All three students interviewed by The Republican Post said that they greatly miss their friends in Singapore.  

Sharvani, for one, is looking forward to the day when the distancing measures are fully lifted and she can mingle with her friends again. She said: “I would love to go to the arcade and food court at Causeway Point with my friends. It’s a regular hangout place for me and my friends and it’ll help getting a sense of our normal life again.”