What I Wish Singapore Had
The academic semester is over in Singapore, and there’s also less than a month remaining of my semester on exchange at Lund University. I got to thinking about what I would miss the most from Sweden and Lund University, and what I wish Singapore had, so here are a few:
The Climate and Weather
The Scandinavian climate is usually associated with the cold, and this year wasn’t the greatest in terms of weather either, with the cold persisting until mid-April. It did get rather tiresome, opening up the weather app on my phone every morning only to see predicted highs of 5°C and the taunting ‘snow flurries’ symbol, after three months of people assuring us that “spring weather is far nicer, just you wait”. What I know, however, is that I would still prefer this climate and weather to the blistering heat and humidity of Singapore.
For one, there is actually variation! The sun and the warmth is nice and all, but I think I would probably appreciate it more if it wasn’t my only option (besides rain, that is). It’s refreshing to be able to look forward to changes in the weather and temperature, and to be able to realise that hey, I might be able to get away with only wearing two layers instead of four today!
With spring arriving, I’ve also now experienced how pleasantly mild the weather can be – it’s just right, not too cold or hot – some describe it as being in an air-conditioned room all the time. It is just so pleasant, and I would certainly be willing to suffer through six months of the snow and the cold to get a month of this wonderful weather. At the very least, it is better than never-changing heat and rain with no respite in sight, as it is in Singapore.
Perhaps I only think this way because of the short time I’ve spent in this climate, and people have told me that they would much rather have Singapore’s climate (it’s difficult to resist from insisting that they are simply wrong), so it might also just be a personal preference, but yes, the climate is definitely one of the things I’m going to miss the most about Sweden.
On a related note, being in Sweden really makes me wish we had seasons in Singapore. The fact that there is no seasonal variation in Singapore means that we miss out on all sorts of seasonal celebrations. Sure, we do have the mid-Autumn festival and the Winter Solstice, but they are more like Chinese cultural festivals than actual seasonal celebrations. Seasonal cycles have always had a great significance for humanity, dictating harvests and essentially our survival, and it is no wonder that many of the most ancient festivals and celebrations in the world all revolve around the changing of seasons.
So, what is Valborg Day? Basically, it is a day to celebrate the coming of spring, otherwise called “Siste April” (the last day of April), and to quote the Lund University website, “During the day, students gather in “Stadsparken” (the city park) for barbecues and drinks, in the build up to the traditional Valborg bonfire and singing of songs in the evening.” On Valborg Day, over 25,000 people gather in the city park from early morning till the evening, picnicking and drinking the entire day, welcoming the good weather that comes with spring. The Wikipedia page points out that “considerable amounts of alcoholic beverages” are consumed, and alcohol is definitely at the center of this celebration, but even if you don’t drink, it’s still fun to just hang out at what is essentially a gigantic picnic for an entire day, and watch the bonfires in the evening. This year’s Valborg Day was unfortunately rather cloudy, and one of the most memorable things was a whole park cheering every single time the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds – it’s just a day where
everyone relaxes in the park with friends, and I really do wish Singapore had a festival similar to this.
I talked about this in my previous article, but after more than three months of participating in nation life, I’ve come to an even further realization about how unique this ‘student nation’ system is, and it is probably the number one on the list of things I really really wish Singapore had. Referring to Wikipedia again, there really isn’t an equivalent that Singaporeans would be familiar with – it’s not like the hall life of NUS or NTU, nor really like the frats of American universities that we know of through popular movies and TV shows. The student nation system used to be more prevalent throughout European universities, but today, it is not only limited to only a couple of European countries, but in those countries, only a few universities have this system in place. In Sweden, the two particular universities are Lund and Uppsala University.
So, what are nations again? To pull a few quotes from official websites, nations are “large student social clubs” that organize “a very wide range of activities and services, including pubs, housing opportunities, sports, night clubs, career fairs, formal balls” in their own locations, each with “its own particular atmosphere”. For example, nations might be known for having a large proportion of international students, or for being sports or music-centric, and they also differ in size, with some being huge communities and others more tight-knit and intimate. While you can only belong to one nation, once you belong to one, you are able to visit and attend the events of all other nations.
Nations provide a specific physical space for students to gather and socialize, be it over lunch at a nation, having a drink at the pub or events such as formal dinners. This is something I really appreciate, especially as it allows me, an exchange student, to interact more with local students. Joining a nation has also given me the opportunity to, as their website mentions, “learn more about the service industry and gain experience in it”. Nations depend much on volunteer workers for their cafes, pubs and clubs, and I had the chance to work a few times at my nation’s club, something I probably would never have gotten to try in Singapore. Picking up empty beer bottles, being the coat check girl, working in the kitchen (yes, there are people who order sandwiches at a club at 1am in the morning) – it was all very new and interesting to me, and being able to join in the after parties that happen after the club closes with my co-workers were a fun bonus too!
It can be difficult finding a sense of belonging in a large university, and nations do
very well to facilitate student life and integrate students into the community. In any case, nations are just a fun place to hang out with friends or meet new people – most other exchange students I talked to all pointed the nations as something they wished their home university had, and I have to wholeheartedly agree with them.
Honestly, there is still a lot more I could list: fika, sittnings, the ease of traveling to so many other European countries, the beautiful nature all around, but this article would get far too long. It is quite a downer thinking about how all these will be gone from my life in a month or so, but it also means I’ll be reunited with my beloved Singaporean dishes (for all that Sweden has to offer, food is not one of them), so I can’t feel too sad about returning back home again!