This happened a month into Runnan Wang's first year as a University of Connecticut marketing major.
With only his father's support, the 21-year-old American applied to the institute in November 2014 and received an acceptance letter two weeks later.
Three years on, Mr Wang will graduate from the institute with a Bachelor of Food Business Management degree this December.
The New Yorker and nine course mates are now the third batch to be in Singapore for 15 weeks as part of their Asian Specialisation Programme.
Together with Temasek Polytechnic's Centre for Transcultural Studies, the students cooked a nine-dish buffet meal on Wednesday at the polytechnic's Culinary Academy.
They did this as a show of appreciation for 45 of the polytechnic's elderly cleaners.
It was part of the polytechnic's Project BECAUS (Befriending Elderly Cleaning Aunties & Uncles of Singapore).
The manager of the Centre for Transcultural Studies, Ms Amy Daga, 46, said she got the idea for Project BECAUS in 2010 after talking to an elderly cleaner at a food court in a shopping mall here.
Ms Daga recalled: "She had little to eat even though she was working in a food court.
"I realised she didn't need legal representation or lobbyists, just people to show appreciation."
The project was launched last July.
The cleaners were served grilled chicken with nam prik, pandan crepe cake, lamb satay with peanut sauce and tom yum goong.
Madam Low Hwee Thiang, 66, has been a cleaner at the polytechnic for 21 years.
The mother of two and grandmother of three cleans the offices of Block 26B.
Read also: Temasek Poly alumnus made it to Forbes list
She said: "The students are friendly and polite. I even received thank-you cards and ointments from them at times."
Ms Camille Dawson, 43, Counsellor for Public Affairs, from the US Embassy here, attended the event.
She conversed fluently in Mandarin with an elderly cleaner seated next to her and enjoyed the potatoes made with a lime and fish sauce vinaigrette.
Ms Dawson said: "It's such a meaningful and creative way of showing appreciation to these elderly cleaners who have done so much for them."
This article was first published on Feb 24 , 2017.
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