Bronwyn - National University of Singapore

B Mathematics/Science
Semester 2, 2018

Academic experience

During my time at NUS I studied a range of 3rd year physics courses, called modules in Singapore. The standard for a UQ student is to take 4 modules, however there were many locals who took many more than that. It is quite similar to UQ in the number of contact hours that I was expected to attend each week and the amount of work that was required in my field. There are, however, a lot of weekly assessments so it can be a little difficult to not lose yourself in work and remember to actually go out and explore the new country. The study was intellectually stimulating, though there is a lot of pressure on the local students to perform well, so they may come off a little bit offish with exchange students who only have to pass.

Personal experience

Living on hall I was able to get involved in many extra-curricular activities. I was able to meet locals playing on the netball and squash teams, and it was a great way to have fun, stay fit and meet new people. There was a really tight nit group of exchange students, and I was so lucky to meet people from all over the world. I became friends with people from China, Mexico and throughout Europe, as well as the local Singaporeans.

I loved exploring Singapore itself, though I did tend to stay away from the tourist attractions due to the cost. My favorite place to explore is an Island off the north east of Singapore called Pulau Ubin. This island is easily reachable by bum-boat, costing all of $3 per person per way. The island is not as developed as Singapore and really is like a traditional village, or "kampung". I love to hike and be out in nature, and this was really so amazing on Pulau Ubin because there are tracks going all over the island. On one of the three times I visited the island I rented a mountain bike with some friends and it was by far one of the best adventures I had on exchange. It was cheap and we were able to just explore the local nature and experience the outdoors, a huge contrast to the high tech city center. 

Throughout my time in Singapore I was exposed to Mandarin, Malay and Timal on a daily basis. I was able to pick up bits and pieces of each of the languages, because they become so ingrained into the local Singlish, a bit like Singapores version of an English slang. It took a little bit to get used to, but was really interesting in how all of the languages and cultures meshed together. 

I spent a few days exploring Penang, Malaysia, with a good friend made on exchange just before returning back to Australia and it incredible, the perfect mix of culture, history and the outdoors. 

Throughout my exchange I met so many different and interesting people, and formed truly strong bonds with my fellow exchange students. It was such an amazing experience I would highly recommend to everyone.

Accommodation

I lived at King Edward VII Hall (KEVII) on campus, which was honestly one of the highlights of my experience. I lived with about 400 other students, of which only 21 were exchange students, with the rest being international or local students, which I preferred in comparison to other accommodations such as PGP and U-Town that were mainly exchange students. Applying for accommodation was rather straight forward, though you are responsible for making sure that everything is in my the deadline, which can be a little ambiguous. Applications are done through NUS Housing and all of the halls and apartment style accommodation is applied for in the same form, where you denote your preferences. If you wanted to stay at a college instead, there is an additional application which is due much earlier. 

I loved the accommodation at KEVII. I had a spacious room with a single bed, desk, fan, large wardrobe and drying rack. There was plenty of storage space, though the lack of air-conditioning in the Singaporean humidity can be a bit of a shock to start with. Wifi was available in every room. Each room opens up onto an outdoor corridor which runs the length of each of the blocks, with each floor being either male of female, but blocks being co-ed. Each floor had a bathroom with 3 showers and toilets as well as basins. Most students took all of their toiletries in a small plastic basket and left these at their respective toilets. Each block had a kitchenette, several pantries, a launderette and a lounge, one of which was located on each floor. The facilities were pretty basic, given that KEVII is the oldest student accommodation at NUS, but they offer great places to catch up with friends and have a cup of Milo (a Singaporean favorite). 

KEVII is a tight nit community, and offers many opportunities to get involved. In Singapore, students are required to part take in extra-curricular activities in order to keep their position in student residence. Exchange students are waived of this, however I would highly recommend getting involved within the clubs and societies, which are a fantastic way to meet friends and explore Singapore. Whilst there I was part of the Netball team, Squash team, KE Vision (Photography) and KE Band. All being student run activities, it's an awesome way to meet locals and really get a chance to experience what it is like to live in Singapore.

Costs

Staying on campus was by far the most economical option. Between the compulsory meal plan of breakfast and dinner, and the rent, I paid a total of $2,700. I found that any other food was exceptionally cheep in Singapore, as eating at a Hawker Center would on average cost about $5 for a meal and drink, sometimes up to $10. I budgeted $60 a week on additional food, though I know people who spent a lot more or a lot less. 

Transport is very cheep if you get an Ez-Link card. The MRT in Singapore is incredible and will completely reshape how you think of public transport. A trip from campus through to the Esplanade or City center would cost $0.77, so it is extremely economical to travel all over the island on a small budget. I budgeted about $20 a fortnight on topping up my card.

Entertainment can be a little expensive in Singapore, though if you present your student card or students visa you can go to most tourist attractions and galleries for a reduced price. 

I didn't do much travel, though there are plenty of budget airlines flying throughout South East Asia so it's pretty cheap to travel. There are also very cheap buses to Malaysia and ferries through to Indonesia. 

The OS-HELP Loan covered most of my expenses, and I didn't have to dig too much into my savings.

Challenge

Homesickness was a surprising but very real challenge for me on exchange. I have always been a very independent person and have rarely experienced homesickness before, despite having traveled for several weeks previously. Living on my own for the first time really heightened this, because it's when you're doing "homely" activities like your washing or cleaning that it really hit. While I was away I also had the unfortunate passing of my dog, and this just heightened the feeling of loneliness and isolation that do start to appear. 

Making friends and finding people who I could rely on were the key to really overcoming this feeling of being lost and alone. I kept in contact with everyone at home and would quite frequently call home, but it was the people in country with me that really made the most significant difference. Opening up and really relying on someone else, having a friend to distract you or just someone to talk to made all the difference. I used to have milo in the communal kitchenette with one of my friends 2-3 times per week, where we would just sit and chat for hours at a time. Whenever I would feel homesick, this made me feel a lot calmer and like I was really welcome and at home in this new strange place.

Professional Development

Being exposed to a culture and way of life that is in many ways so different to the life we live in Australia has given me a new perspective when approaching problems and challenges. I have been lucky enough to live internationally prior to this experience, but living in Asia for the first time really highlighted how even though we all have our own ways of doing things, at the core of it all we are very much the same. Being able to understand not only the differences, but the similarities between Australian and Singaporean culture is an incredible skill that I believe will enable me to work between the countries and really understand the meaning of being culturally intelligent in how I work and lead. 

Throughout this experience I also developed the ability to make important decisions quickly. Living on my own, I didn't always have someone to consult when things went wrong or when I had to make decisions. 

I was also lucky enough to attend a leadership program run by Westpac in Shanghai for a week. I was able to learn about business in Asia, leadership practices and what it means to truly be an international leader. It was an amazing experience where I learnt and developed a lot of skills that will help me in my professional development.

Highlight

The friends that I made on exchange are the highlight of my trip. It was the people just as much as the surroundings that made every day an adventure. The small things that we did every day, from running to catch breakfast together before a class to the late night waffle runs to the Super Snacks. Meeting people from so many different backgrounds, with such an incredible range of personalities all thrown together in this melting pot created the most interesting discussions and outings, from attending the Singapore Writers Festival to riding mountain bikes on Pulau Ubin.

Top tips

Everything at NUS is done through the online system and there is a lot of paperwork. Make sure that you read all emails they send you very thoroughly and submit everything on time. Singapore is also the land of fines and many laws that are actually enforced. Don't be tempted to jaywalk, fine. Don't eat or drink in the MRT stations or on the train, fine. Don't import chewing gum, illegal. However, if you follow the rules and you make sure to do a little bit of reading before hand it well makes up for it with the amazing experiences and the high level of safety. Do consider getting a local sim as many friends had issues with not doing so, the biggest providers being Singtel and StarHub depending on what you need.