Studying abroad at the National University of Singapore

Singapore by jvnunag

This article was written by Meera Ved, published on 15th October 2012 and has been read 20621 times.

Meera is a third year Geography student at King’s College London, and for the second semester of her second year she had the amazing experience of studying abroad at The National University of Singapore (NUS). She says, "Spending five months in warm (regarding both the weather and people) South East Asia was absolutely amazing... I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself I actually was there." Here are her top tips for survival at the university, safety, socialising, finding somewhere to live, useful websites and other top tips for life on your year abroad in Singapore...

In Singapore I gained more insight into myself as a person and global contemporary issues than I could have imagined. The experience not only made me more confident when meeting new people in unfamiliar surroundings but also made me feel very positive and excited about my future as it made me realise global opportunities and experiences are possible to reach (albeit with a pinch of organising and perseverance). 


My choice of destination came pretty easy for me as I was adamant that I wanted to go to a host university in a country that had evident cultural differences compared to England. I felt this was important because not only was I to study in the university; I was also going to be living in the country for a semester, therefore it was a great opportunity to try out somewhere new. I think that studying abroad is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to live in a foreign country. There is a big difference between visiting somewhere on holiday and actually living there, which can be very satisfying as you really get to understand how the country functions and interacts with the rest of the world. Plus you get to hang out in cool places you may not find on a whistle-stop tour!

NUS is a huge campus university so it was nice to gain the experience of living on campus as this is not something my home university can offer…I’ve now been able to experience the best of both worlds through one degree! The university puts a lot of effort in to the landscaping and planning of its campus and has recently completed a new area called U-Town which is pretty impressive (Photo 1)!

Photo 1: U-Town
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Photo 2: One of the bus stops of campus. Various free shuttles bus routes that take you around campus plus public buses stop on campus too.

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One of the highlights of my overall exchange was most definitely meeting a diverse array of intelligent people from all over the world with the same outlook towards travel and exploring new countries. This common ground made it incredibly easy to settle in to my new far away base for four months. As all exchange students were so far from home we quickly became a big family supporting each other throughout our journey. NUS staff and students also helped us settle in smoothly by planning a variety of orientation events that took place around the exciting city (Photo 3). The warmth and care they showed for us in that week was just a taster of what was to come, as we soon found out that Singaporeans in general are extremely forthcoming and are genuinely interested in meeting and helping foreign visitors.

Photo 3: Orientation Week - City Tour run by local students

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During my time in Singapore I felt right at home with the warm atmosphere of people and its exciting culture. Like London, Singapore always has something going on and with their extensive recent tourism pushes (which I was able to discover through the module Changing Landscapes of Singapore) it seems the city will continue to be vibrant and exciting.

Photo 4: Marina Barrage – A must see if you can! It is quite a confusing walk from the closest station (Marina Bay) so consider getting a bus or taxi (Taxis are much cheaper than London don't worry)

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I hope you find the following little bits of advice helpful to prepare for your journey.

Before getting to NUS

Try to book with an airline which has student prices whereby you can get a larger baggage allowance. You can open a bank account in Singapore if you want but can only do that once you arrive in Singapore. The common banks people go with are OCBC and DBS. NUS can arrange for a welcome buddy to greet you from the airport... it was lovely to have an immediate unconditional friend to help me settle in to my new room. Mine was lovely enough to go out of her way to show me to the local mall and market to get things for my room as bedding was not provided (really did not have space in my suitcase to take a pillow with me!). My welcome buddy then kept in touch with me throughout my time at NUS. It was great as she was going to be studying abroad next year so we were able to help each other with advice.

Accommodation

Halls where you have to purchase a meal plan often have more in-hall social events but even if you do not stay there, there are many societies you can join. If you opt for self catered residences such as Prince George’s Park or U-Town, you can easily get a meal for around SGD$5-$7. Both Prince George’s Park Residences and U-town have their own convenience stores (open till 9.30pm), restaurants (ie open till 10.45pm and 2am) and food courts (open till 8.30pm). During exam time there are 24 hour facilities available to help students get through their revision disrupted sleeping patterns. If you do not get an air conditioned room you can buy a desk or standing fan at the beginning of your time in NUS (I did this near the end of my stay and wished I had done it earlier!). However, I would definitely recommend taking a jumper or cardigan to lectures and tutorials as they make up for the absence of AC in most dorm rooms by putting it on full blast in lecture theatres! Plugs in Singapore are the same as in England so you do not have to worry about adaptors (Maybe just have one in case you travel around the South East Asian region) Purchase an EZ- Link card which you can use for paying for laundry, printing in the library and even for public transport.

Hurdles to overcome when in NUS

If you are going abroad for your second semester and have coursework for your home university due in that semester, try to complete the coursework over the Christmas break if possible. I found that the modules I took had components that required essays to be written as a group. This was new to me and took some time to adapt to but most of the local students are very helpful and help to guide you through the process of group essay writing. NUS has a much shorter revision period than King’s. We got one reading week after lectures finished followed by a two week exam period. Grades at NUS are awarded on a bell curve basis. This is a bit like how A-Levels were graded whereby you are compared to rest of your year.

Other Advice from my exchange friends

‘If you need certain courses that are required for your home university, label only those courses as compulsory in your application and the rest as non-compulsory.’ Khugan Shanmugeswaran, Canada

‘Make sure you have several (i.e. prepare a list of courses prior to going!) backup courses when you go on exchange and try and speak with the professors in person rather than going through the administration to get into courses - I found profs are more likely to help you.’ Rahul Kulkarni, Canada

‘I agree with Rahul with the back-up courses. And not to close to one faculty because that happened to me, I could have taken another one but didn't know of its existence in the engineering faculty. Also, do not bring too many long trousers as it is too hot!’ Carlos de los Reyes, Mexico

Social life

Good times for short trips around Asia: Recess week (February), Chinese New Year, Christmas holidays. You will probably find exchange students with similar thoughts towards travel when you are here in NUS so will be able to plan with them once you get settled in. NUS has an excellent welcome week for exchange students where you will be able to meet lots of people and do some amazing sight seeing. Clubs and bars- Ladies night in most clubs is on Wednesday nights - girls enter free with free drinks included. The usual place to hang out before nights out is on ‘the bridge’ in Clarke Quay…any exchanger will know of this bridge by the end of their trip. Vivo City is a huge mall a few stops away on the train at Harbourfront station. Clementi is also close by and can be reached by a bus. These may be useful aces to visit on your first few days in halls as bedding and cutlery are not provided in halls. There is also an Ikea reachable by two busses.

Helpful websites

Sistic is a bit like Ticketmaster and sells tickets to a variety of cultural and popular events. Groupon is in Singapore too! Just check with the company regarding availability before purchasing a voucher Radio 913 is the Singaporean radio station for when you want an English music fix. Your Singapore is a tourism board website to keep up to date with interesting things happening in the vibrant city. SMRT is Singapore’s equivalent to TfL. The closest station to NUS is Kent Ridge MRT station. Internal shuttle buses also operate for free around campus, including to the train station.

Staying safe and (not getting ripped off!) when travelling in South East Asia

I never felt like this was a problem in Singapore but in case you travel around Asia here are some tips:

Most cities have one or two main taxi companies…find out what these are and only use them. Keep a couple of your hostel business cards with you so you can just show the driver of the taxi/tuk tuk/whatever mode of transport you are taking. This will be convenient if the business card has a map of the location of the hostel and if the address is in the local language in case the driver can not understand English. Don’t be shy to haggle (not very common in Singapore though)


I hope this helped. Best wishes for the exciting journey ahead,

Meera

For more insights into the life of a student in Singapore, check out the video below by Maastricht University student Markus Hahn!


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