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Musings of an Exchange Student

The National University of Singapore is increasingly morphing into a global education hub with its far-reaching exchange programmes and summer schools. In interacting with incoming exchange students, we commonly welcome and open conversations by asking for their opinions on the Singaporean cultural diaspora. Andrew Lim hails from New Zealand, and readily offers a collection of musings over the aspects of life relevant to an exchange student.

Kia Ora, or Hello! My name is Andrew Lim and I’m an exchange student from Otago University in Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand. For many students, going on an exchange not only provides a new educational experience but also immerses you in a different cultural setting. Singapore’s important geographic location as an international sea and airport allows one to encounter people of all races, nationalities and religions. Besides Asians and Europeans, I have met Africans, Arabs and Latin Americans. Amidst this melting pot of races, Singapore is a shopper’s paradise and travel hub. In addition, for those of us coming from colder climates, most days feel like summer, and hence the frequent shorts-and-sandals outfit. So far, my first month on exchange has been an exciting and stimulating experience! Here are my thoughts on the following factors that form the core experiences of an exchange student.

Life on Exchange

Many exchange students would have observed apparent differences between life at home and at the NUS. Firstly, prices here, particularly those of food and drinks, seem to be cheaper. For example, a meal would often cost around $2 to $5. Back in New Zealand, the same meal would be thrice to five times that price. A wide range of non-alcoholic beverages also sell at a maximum price of $1. For many of us, eating out in Singapore (and much of Asia) will be a delicious, gastronomic experience that will bring back fond memories.  Each faculty and residential hall is seemingly incomplete without at least one food court that operates from breakfast to dinner times. Some of these food courts have more options than many shopping malls back in New Zealand.

Counting my  and blessings!

Weekly 1.5 hour lecture slots seem to be the norm at NUS, while one-hour lectures held twice a week predominate back in my university. The downside is that students and staff have less time to interact. Most NUS students also take at least five modules per semester. However, three to four modules is the norm for students at my university since most of them balance part-time jobs to help pay for living expenses.

On the positive side, NUS modules emphasize more class participation and produce a stronger turn-out for lectures and tutorials. There is also a wider range of coursework assessments including group projects, films and class presentations. Many modules are cross-listed, which means you are free to take subjects outside your department while still scoring module credits. What’s not as ideal? Less flexibility. If modules’ exam dates clash, you have to drop one even though the lecture schedules and tutorials do not clash. Some universities would make special arrangements for students to sit for one of their affected exams on a different date.

Not quite there yet!

Frankly, technology features prominently in Singapore’s everyday life.  There are cash debit cards which can be used for a wide range of services including public transportation, school printing, washing machines and dryers in halls, and even shopping. However, cash is still commonly used for most basic transactions like food and groceries (anything under $20). Cool air conditioning is also a ubiquitous feature of public life here. There is a strong presence of efficient public transportation like the mass rapid transport systems and buses, which are clean and fully air-conditioned. Despite setbacks like the MRT breakdown last December, the MRTs here are at least much cleaner and better maintained than those in London and New York.

 for the efficiency and convenience!

There are many basic similarities between Singapore and other societies. We are all part of a global village linked by the market, technology and the media. Mobile phones, iPods and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have become staples of everyday life.  Nevertheless, there are several noticeable differences like the strong hand of the government in public life and strict laws against littering, spitting and chewing gum. While there is now more open discussion, Asian societies tend to remain more conservative with regards to sensitive areas like politics, civil liberties and counter-cultural lifestyles.

In terms of conservation, there is now more environmental awareness among students. There is an active movement to stop the consumption of shark fins.  Within NUS, adoption of several progressive green policies includes setting printers to print double-sided by default and limiting air conditioning to 25°C. Another is the ten cents tax on the purchase of plastic bags.

Racking up a total of  !

Going on overseas exchange indeed highlights both the similarities and differences between different places and people. For me, it has bred an appreciation for each and every one of these aspects.

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