Alexander - National University of Singapore

Bachelor of Advanced Science (Hons)
Semester 1, 2018
Singapore: serenity amongst the skyline.

Academic experience

I studied courses in biochemistry, microbiology, bioinformatics and neuropharmacology while also taking a masters-level subject on audit for my own interest (advanced optical spectroscopy). 

One of the main differences between NUS and UQ was the lecture structure; there was only one two-hour lecture per week as opposed to three one-hour lectures like back home. This was fantastic as it allowed me to focus more on understanding what I was taught rather than cramming in information, something I believe UQ should do, too. This allowed me time to follow up on some extension material while actually appreciating what I was taught. I mean it also opened up time for exploring but it was helpful academically too ;) Class sizes are small (third year, around 20 - 60 people) which also helped with learning. Labs are similar to UQ and so is the assessment system. 

Word of advice: they work on the bell-curve, however as one person told me, 'it's hard to fail' so there's that too.

Enrollment is pre-approved - unlike UQ where you can add nearly any course up until census (because of class number caps?) and you could only add or change subjects twice: once before semester, part of my uni application, and another on the first two days of semester. Do be prepared for this.

Personal experience

Exchange flung me into a world in where I had to make friends in many different situations (class, on international trips, etc.), which was challenging as many exchange students naturally formed tightly-knit groups with similar demographics (ie. Americans + Canadians, Scandinavians mainly). In spite of this, I persevered in meeting other peeps and have become friends with loads of nice people - as many native Singaporeans as exchange students. 

Additionally, this was the first time I spent an extended time away from home, cooking/buying food and providing the trivial necessities of everyday life. It was hard at first, but it's a valuable skill I would have learnt sooner or later. There were always other people to spend the time with so it was never a solitary existence.

In terms of travel, I bussed up to KL for a weekend but spent most of time exploring Singapore and all the sights and experiences. I don't regret not traveling (internationally) more, but other people might feel differently.

Accommodation

I stayed in on-campus accommodation in a single room on the top floor of an apartment complex. On my floor there was a large, clean kitchen and shared toilets - both of which were cleaned daily. There were many food stalls underneath, laundries and even a mini-mart for shopping - everything you could need, apart from an ATM which was located 300m up the road at the MRT station anyway. On that note, my room was quite close to the MRT station and I frequently walked to it for travel and their bakery (the lotus bun was absolutely amazing)!.

Admittedly I lived in older accommodation, but everything was well-maintained and I had the opportunity to raise concerns about faulty things or stuff that needed repair. It was also close to a park which I used for running now and then.

Costs

I received the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant ($5000) which covered my airfares ($1200) and accommodation costs ($2000) with money to spare for food and necessities. Exchange subjects are also cheaper ($800/course).

Standard of living in Singapore is very low cost, with good meals costing under $5 at Uni. Elsewhere is mostly under $10. Alcohol was more expensive ($15/pint for craft beer, near the MRT) but is manageable. Domestic transport is cheaper than Translink student fares, and international travel via plane is only a couple of hundred dollars.

Professional Development

There were many valuable take-home skills I learnt from my biostats course, which will help me in my application for a Summer Research opportunity at UQ. There are also many opportunities for internships over there (ASTAR had a international student grant, for something like $1500/month) if you like that.

Highlight

After a big night at the Blu-Jazz Cafe, my friend and I decided to pedal our way around 20kms back home through the city in the dead of night. The streets were empty, and we were able to sight-see the metropolis from our bikes, stopping off at a WW2 exhibit along the way. We arrived back at 4am, but it was a great time.

Top tips

Take advantage of the small classes and meet people, including the lecturers. Involve yourself in the exchange activities the uni has - you meet people there too. Exchange is better with others, but do what you want to do and go where you want to go. Be liberal with your time because NUS gives you some, so explore.