Dion - National University of Singapore

B Mechatronics Engineering/Information Technology
Semester 2, 2018
You are the culmination of the people and cultures around you. And an exchange is a unique opportunity to explore another side of who you are.

Academic experience

In UQ equivalent terms, I studied Robotics & Automation (METR4202), Introduction to Operating Systems (CSSE2010), Electromagnetism and Modern Physics (PHYS1002) and Innovations in Organisations and Society (Unspecified IT elective). 

Of the courses that I originally planned to take, I only got one of them approved. This was because NUS was a lot stricter than UQ for course acceptance and only a certain number of students can be allowed in each semester. Of those, you must have completed all the prerequisites and any timetable clashes would result in a failure to enrol in the course. This made it quite stressful since I had to repeatedly submit applications for different courses and due to high demand, the computer science division had not responded until week two of classes. So I ended up finding the faculty office and they were very helpful in finding an appropriate course for me. 

One thing I found quite interesting about their system was that the local students actually have to bid for their courses through points accumulated from completing courses. Thankfully, the exchange students don't need to go through this process.

Personal experience

I went to Singapore focused on exploring their culture and meeting a lot of locals. But what took me by surprise was all the friendships I gained from meeting other exchange students. In the end, I came away from friends from all around the globe ranging from Germany, to Alaska, to Hong Kong. I think that the value of these connections should not be ignored. And whilst meeting the locals were incredibly valuable, a lot can be gained from being open to friends of all backgrounds. 

With a mixture of the friends I had met and my family members towards the end, I ended up travelling to Shanghai, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Macau. The plane tickets to travel around Asia was super cheap compared to Australia and I would definitely recommend taking advantage of that while you have the chance.

Accommodation

I lived on campus at UTown Residential (UTR). The accommodation consisted of roughly half exchange students and half post graduate students from all over the world. UTR was a 5-minute walk to the campus shuttle bus and took around 15 minutes all up to get to the nearest MRT. I would highly recommend UTR because of its convenience and the friends that you get to meet along the way. It is the central hub for bonding with exchange students and they host a variety of events to facilitate that. 

A couple of things to note, however, is that the rooms aren't especially clean at the start and are quite small. You can choose to opt for air-conditioned rooms which is nice because Singapore can get very hot and humid. But even if you don't get it, you always have the option of paying for one to be installed and the price is roughly the same. There are around 20 floors total and until around level 8 there can be bugs that get in through windows occasionally but obviously nothing compared to our beasts. Finally, they don't provide mattresses which took a lot of students by surprise, so you'll have to buy one when you get there.

Costs

Honestly, I'm a total mess when it comes to finance and to this day, I have yet to check how much I'd spend on exchange - perhaps due to laziness or fear. I would, however, highly recommend opening a bank with DBS and getting a card delivered. This alone saved me a bunch of stress and is definitely something I'd recommend if you want to move money around easily. The process can be done all online and is quite straightforward. The food and transport there were super cheap, and you can easily spend under $10 for food in a day. One thing to be careful of though, is that while the cheap food is very cheap, any decent looking restaurant can be very expensive, so I would actively try to avoid those most days.

Challenge

I'd travelled to Asian areas before, so adapting to the environment in Singapore wasn't as much of an issue for me as it could've been for most. But compared to the other Asian countries, I'd say Singapore is the most similar to Australia with its beating hot weather and its English speaking multi-cultural society. My biggest challenge when on exchange would probably have been adapting to the veggie-starved food. While the meals where super delicious, Singaporeans tend to be stingy with their vegetables because most of it must be shipped from Malaysia. So I tried to a nice fresh cup of vegetable and fruit juice each day to replenish my wellbeing. Even if veggies aren't your thing, the meals are quite unhealthy in general, so I'd recommend trying to balance it out a bit.

Professional Development

Professional development was actually one of the focuses I'd set for myself before going on exchange and I think Singapore was actually a great place to do that. I study Mechatronics Engineering and IT so I'm very invested in the tech space. The NUS society NUS Enterprise alone held events for their students almost once every week and most of them were located at BLOCK71 which took around 20 minutes by public transport from NUS. During my exchange, I attended most of their events as well as 4 different hackathons where I met a bunch of amazing people. I'd say that the freedom to just go to a bunch of these events and be open to meeting more people was instrumental to approving my ability to network and gain knowledge of how things work globally.

Highlight

My highlight were the nights where me and my roommates would spend hours at night talking about either incredibly deep world philosophies or incredibly inappropriate topics.

Top tips

My top tips would be:
- Attend as many of the events you see of the flyers as you can especially at the start
- Find the good cheap food spots
- Make sure you know how to get to your classes (mechanical engineering faculty is a maze)