Laila: MISS YOU ALREADY MEXICO!!! HASTA LUEGO ♡

Boy oh boy a lot has happened since my last blog post. I never would’ve guessed that events would pan out this way, but they did and unfortunately COVID-19 meant my exchange had to end 3 months earlier than planned. As sad as I am that it all came to such an abrupt end, I am so thankful I got to have this experience and I wanted to share with you some aspects of my exchange that made it so memorable and exciting.

But once again, before we begin let’s set the mood…

absolute banger, if you want to imagine how Mexico sounds in a song.. this is it

UNIVERSITY LIFE

Being an exchange student at Tecnológico de Monterrey was an eye-opening experience. In New Zealand, and particularly at UOA, there seems to be a sort of anonymity among students. Each lecture hall is filled to the brim with students, majority of which you will probably never speak to. My experience in Mexico was very different as classes were small and therefore the relationships I formed with other students and the professor was a lot more personal and informal in a sense, something I came to really appreciate.

Each of my courses were great for different reasons. My Political Science courses were very interesting and informative, I quickly learnt that Mexican students were very outspoken and enjoyed debating and discussing many topics during class, no matter how controversial. Spanish was a lot of fun because the whole class was comprised of exchange students and we spent the entire 6 hours of classes per week only speaking Spanish, which definitely allowed me to improve my abilities a lot. We also sang a lot of Shakira (like a lot). My favourite course, however, was Photography – I had never taken professional or academic courses before, so this was a really a new experience for me. The cherry on top was that my host university lent me a professional camera for the duration of my exchange, meaning I was able to capture a lot of moments on a device better than my dying phone lol.

Now I am back home in NZ, but I have decided to continue on with my Mexican courses online with the grace of our saviour Zoom. I am grateful that whilst I am on the opposite side of the world, I can still virtually connect back to Mexico almost every day and still see my friends, classmates and professors.

TRAVEL

There is something so special about traveling with new friends in a new country. I was fortunate enough to get a decent amount of travelling in before my trip ended, so I want to share with you the highlights from my top three personal favourite destinations: Veracruz, Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.

I went to Veracruz with six friends for the Carnaval, which is a celebration in Western Christianity occurring just before lent. Basically, it’s a massive parade filled with dancing, music and all around #good vibez. My friends and I stayed in a massive Airbnb right next to the sea and spent our days playing pool, hanging out and partying. My favourite day was spent exploring around the city center, attending  the Carnaval parade in the evening and then meeting up with another group of exchange students. That night we stayed up until 7am just talking and having a good time. I will forever remember that day!

Guadalajara: known for its tequila plants and production, I went to Guadalajara with three other friends and we went there on a mission. We splurged a little on a flashy Jose Cuervo tour and honestly had the best time. The tour involved traditional Mexican meals (such as Torta de Ahogada, typical of the Jalisco region), demonstrations of how the agave plant is prepared for tequila production, traditional Mexican dances, a train ride during the sunset and constant open bar with our own personal bartender! Needless to say, it was a day well spent. The rest of our days in Guadalajara were spent exploring the city, trying new food and enjoying the sun – I also rode a carriage and took a tour around the historical center!!! Horses are great.

Puerto Vallarta: being away for a solid 2 months gave me a newfound appreciation for how accessible the beach is to us here in NZ. Mexico City, being right in the middle of Mexico, does not have access to clean, swimmable waters. That’s why the minute we landed in Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful coastal city surrounded by beaches, I instantly fell in love. It was possibly the most picturesque place I’ve ever been; everyone was happy, and the sun was constantly out. I spent the entirety of my three-day stay swimming, tanning, eating and exploring. Puerto Vallarta is a place I’d recommend to anyone who visits Mexico.

As I said, it’s such a shame that my trip was cut short. I felt like there was still so much to see and do. However, I am so beyond grateful for being able to have this opportunity in the first place. Those two months really shaped my year in the best way possible, gave me a fresh perspective and a handful of memories and friends that I will never forget.

Mexico truly has my heart and I will without a doubt be returning to finish what I started

Maxwell: Routines and Travels

Hi again everyone, it’s Maxwell! After two months of being in Singapore, I’ve definitely started to fall into a routine. Due to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, the majority of my classes have unfortunately been moved to E-learning, meaning that I have no physical lectures. As such, my days have mostly consisted of sleeping in, and trying to muster up the motivation to study. However on the bright side, I’ve also gained a lot more free time in the absence of lectures! Whether that means spending more time with my friends, or even heading over to Malaysia for the weekend, my days here have be super vibrant and colourful!

The Famous Petronas Twin Towers at Night

Speaking of travelling, the most exciting part of every exchange student’s time overseas occurs around this period, and that’s recess week. During recess week, local students and international students alike take the opportunity of a free week to travel all across Asia! As a kiwi who was born and bred in New Zealand, thoughts of travelling to foreign countries have always been more fantasy than possibility. This mostly because flights to any country outside of Australia were at least several hours long, and crazy expensive as well. Flying from Singapore however, is a different story entirely, with many countries famous for their tourism located less than a 2hrs flight away. From South Korea to Myanmar, no country is safe from Singaporean university students during recess week.

Friends and Elephant Friends at Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary


Me personally, I chose to go to Thailand and Indonesia. My friends and I came to this decision mainly because of two factors. The first reason was basic: both Thailand and Indonesia are quite close to Singapore and therefore flight tickets are dirt cheap. The second reason is more exciting and that’s because we had heard AMAZING things about both countries. Whether it was their beautiful beaches, sky-high mountains or historical temples, Thailand and Indonesia sounded like they had what it took to make a dream holiday.

Crazy Blue Waters at Phi Phi Islands

Our first stop was Phuket, and right off the bat we learnt a very valuable life lesson. Bad things happen, no matter how careful you are. Upon arriving at our Airbnb, we were expecting to be greeted by our host as had been arranged. Instead, we were forced to wait an hour outside, with no real method of contacting our host(we didn’t have any data or minutes on our phones), hoping that the next minute of waiting in the scorching sun would be the last. When we host finally arrived, we all let out a collective sigh of relief, glad that we could finally seek some shelter, only to find out that the Airbnb had not yet been cleaned. And so, there was naught we could do except wait outside for another 2hrs while the cleaners tidied up. After that misshap, everyone was so exhausted that we simply decided to call it a day.

Fortunately, the next day made up for it in spades. When people think Phuket, they think of the famous Phi Phi Islands, and that was exactly where we were headed. Phi Phi Islands really was gorgeous, worthy of its fame. From the crystal water, to the white beaches, we as if we were in paradise. The only downside was that since the islands are huge, we were regrettably only able to explore a small portion of it. I can also thank Phi Phi Islands for teaching me another life lesson. Life lesson number two for me was that no matter how much a place resembles paradise, you should never fully drop your guard. Being a popular tourist destination, there are tourist traps everywhere that you need to watch out for, such as compulsory donations before entering the island, and toilets that require fees to enter (this was surprisingly common throughout Thailand and Indonesia).

Golden Temple, Chiang Mai

Our next stop was Chiang Mai, and I can say that the Elephant Sanctuary was easily the highlight of that journey. Unfortunately there are many cases of unethical elephant treatment around Thailand such as elephant riding or manual labour, but the elephants in this particular sanctuary were treated like royalty! After hearing about how an elephant spends up to 18 hours a day just eating, I was really starting to question why I couldn’t have been born as an elephant. Once I got over being a human, we participated in the care taking of the elephants, which I found much more enjoyable than I had originally anticipated. We fed the elephants bananas, helped grind up their digestion medicine, and even gave them a bath in the lake! Oh, and did I mention that I also ate a scorpion at a local food market?

Early Morning Sunrise at Mount Batur

I love Bali. I really love it. Did I mention how much I love Bali? There were so many gorgeous and amazing places to see, I even started to lose track of world-class tourist attractions. One particular highlight of my time in Bali was when we woke up at 1am in order to trek up Mount Batur. The trek up was cold and hard and possibility even dangerous, but the view when the sun rose into the sky was simply majestic. At that moment, nationalities faded away as every hiker on that peak watched the sunrise quietly, and in collective awe.

Unfortunately, the hike back down was nowhere near as nice. After we tripped over for the 10th time, we decided that we had to find an alternate method. Conveniently enough, it was at that time that our tour guide mentioned the existence of motorcyclists nearby who were willing to take tourists down the mountain, for a fee. Any nagging worries I had about cheating the hike quickly disappeared as I got onto the motorbike. That ride quickly took its spot as one of the best moments of the trip, as we were treated to amazing views of lakes and villages; all while racing along at exhilarating speeds!

Broken Beach at Nusa Penida

Located to the east of Bali is Nusa Penida, the final stop on our recess week trip. Never had the phrase “saving the best until last” rung so true to me. As far as I’m concerned, Nusa Penida is just a collection of the world’s most beautiful places all placed conveniently on one island together for us to enjoy. Weaving along the ridiculously tight two-way road with only one lane , we visited places such as Angels Billabong, Broken Beach, and the famous Kelingking Beach. Is there such a thing as too many beautiful things in one place?

Kelingking Beach Ft.Me
Ianely Steep Hike, But Every Step Was Worth It

That’s about it for my travel story! The amazing sights I saw during those eleven days were definitely worth my currently messed up sleeping schedule. It’s been a long blog post, but I’ve really enjoyed sharing the stories of my trip with you. Thailand and Indonesia definitely exceeded my expectations, and if you ever get the opportunity to visit these two countries I highly recommend it! For now, I need to start studying again ugh. Until next time!

Harry: Brains like Berkeley

I’m now just about halfway through my semester abroad and time is flying by. For this entry I thought I’d focus on the academics and also some impression on Berkeley as a whole.  Pictures are unrelated, but give a bit of a peak into life.

I was a little apprehensive about coming to Berkeley because it has a reputation for being hard and highly competitive but so far, it’s been pretty on par with UoA. Berkeley, and from what I’ve heard, the American system more generally tends to have a lot of little assignments which are due weekly/biweekly. This means most weeks you have three or more things due and I think the constant looming deadlines contributes to the stressed out culture on campus. However, in my experience these have been really manageable so long as you stay on top of them. Also, having little assignments due all the time also forces you to review the content each week and helps you keep up. This should probably also be taken with a grain of salt if you’re a math/physics/engineering major though because the problem sets for some of those classes have a reputation for being particularly hard. I also haven’t sat my midterms yet so maybe I’ll be complaining more in my next entry!

Another difference is the diversity of classes available. Unlike UoA, classes at Berkeley have a lot less restrictions and prerequisites. There’s a four week period at the beginning of semester when you can swap classes around so you can judge for yourself whether the difficulty level is right for you or not. This has meant I’ve been able to take a couple of upper division psych courses without having ever done psych before. While there has been a bit of a steep learning curve and I’m not as well versed as other students, it’s been a great opportunity to study something I’m passionate about at higher and more specialised level.

I’ve also been attending the graduate colloquium for social psychology and once a week they invite a speaker from another university to present some of their research. So far, the speakers have been from UCLA, Stanford and Northwestern and it’s been inspiring to be at such an epicentre for academia. The talks also count towards your credit requirements.

More generally, being on campus is a lot of fun. We’ve been blessed with exceptional ‘winter’ weather (thanks climate change!) and I spend an hour or so most days just chilling in the glade with a book or some friends. I’m a commuter at UoA and my trip usually takes about an hr and a half each way so being so close to campus has been life-changing. The proximity of the students to the university definitely contributes to the feeling of community and strong campus culture and I’m enjoying it a lot. The people here are also great, because Berkeley is a competitive entry school known for its academics the students here are all passionate about learning which translates into a passion for life. Everyone you talk to has other things outside of school that they’re into and they’re generally really open and eager to tell you about it.

The Glade

Berkeley is also a great location, it’s just as easy to get into the heart of San Francisco as it is to be completely away from civilisation in Tilden Park. I haven’t done a lot of exploring yet because there’s so much going on at the co-ops and school but look forward to seeing more of the area in the coming weeks.

Until next time,

Fiona – Midterms, Spring and Soccer!

Hello y’all,

The first month at Cal is over and soooo many things have happened! Here is your inclusive insight into Fiona’s very lively rollercoaster ride in America:

Midterms

My first midterms are done and dusted and boy, I am so relieved. None of our lecturers were willing to instate a piazza or provide previous exams for practice and there are no lecture recordings, which made studying for the midterms quite a challenge and unnecessarily anxiety-inducing – at least for someone like me that can get a bit freaked out when I cannot practice under “fake” exam conditions with a practice exam beforehand. If I hadn’t found people to create group chats with before the midterms I think I would have just ended up sitting in a corner and feeling sorry for myself – so make sure you make some friends in each class that are happy to communicate with you and answer questions as they arise or give you lecture notes if you missed a lecture.

Midterms are generally ongoing because they are regular and at different frequencies in each class, unlike at UoA, but the first set of Midterms (after one month) was bunched together and quite challenging as everything had to be learnt at the same time with extremely limited resources. I know better now and here are a few tips that will hopefully make your studying at Cal a little easier:
1. Make sure you’re up-to-date and reflect on lectures on the same day;
2. Ask a bunch of questions during office hours (I cannot recommend enough smaller-group time with lecturers!)
3. Talk to other people in the group chats about lecture content.


To me, these things helped a lot in this huge University with limited access to resources and no class reps that could make facebook groups (I cannot stress this enough! We are very spoilt and coming here has made me feel quite grateful for what we have at UoA). I still love every single day here but feeling lost and ‘uncared’ for has had a big impact on me mentally until I found the right people and, as far as I am aware, it’s a very common thing here – so it’s important to make connections and find people you can relate to to have a good time at Cal! (Go Bears!!)

Spring feels like summer?

Now to my second topic – Spring feels like summer! Spring has only just begun but I wildly underestimated the weather (and apparently the impact of climate change in sunny North California) so I am sweaty all the time.

If you come here during spring semester make sure to bring summer clothing, you will need it for at least 2 reasons: Firstly, whilst the buses are free for Cal students, they come infrequently, go down very random routes, and there is no collective app that shows current schedules so you will find yourself walking through the spring heat regularly – I often ended up not trying to find a bus and just walking up and down hilly North Berkeley instead. Secondly (and the slightly more exciting reason), a lot of people like to chill in one of the many grassy areas and play frisbee or have a drink in between lectures. There’s limited shade but the vibes are amazing and it’s easy to feel right at home – lots of people have picnic blankets or hammocks and I can guarantee you that there will almost always be a doggo that’s chasing a ball that you can sneakily observe.

On another note, I recently decided to raid the ReUse store on campus that has cheap second-hand clothing and is student-run so now I am kitted out with a lot of promotional Cal t-shirts, all for 2$ each, and feel like a real Bear that doesn’t need to evaporate in the sun. (Go Bears!)
The only thing is that I am starting to miss the beach a lot – I used to go nearly every day in New Zealand (rain or shine!) and the closest beach here is nearly 1.5 hours away on the bart and bus. I haven’t had time to go because I finished the midterms just recently and something just doesn’t feel quite right without sand, water and fish’n’chips nearby!

Intramural soccer team!

Lastly, I am very excited to tell y’all about Intramural sports teams! I didn’t realise that there was more than the famous athletics teams but when my Golden Bear Orientation leader told me about Intramural sports I knew I had to get a whiff of American soccer! I decided to join as a free agent which means that a captain from any team can invite me into the team if they’re within capacity. It’s a small fee (~$25?) to sign up for a rec membership and I had to buy some new turf boots (~$45) but everything else was pretty straight-forward. The games are weekly and so far we’ve had two – which we both lost (yikes)! It has been so much fun participating in a team sports and just being able to enjoy the game and be around people from different countries where we all communicate in the same ‘language’ on the field has been awesome. The other free agents and I are included in various activities, on and off the field, so I feel like we truly are part of the team and that’s been a great experience. (Go Bears!)

Intramural soccer – we played pretty late, at 9pm! That blurry chunk is me!

As y’all can see, there’s lots going on and I’m having a great time, even if the academic side is a little stressful. I’m looking forward to the next months and can’t wait to tell you more!!

Bye for now!

Shanti: Culture and Trip Reflection

Hi all, it has been a little while since I have gotten back to New Zealand, but I still want to post my third instalment of my adventures. One of my favourite things about studying in Taiwan was being able to immerse myself in the Culture and Language. Being back in New Zealand, I have really been able to appreciate the improvement I have made in both my confidence and ability in speaking Mandarin. I definitely recommend doing a 360 exchange program or language exchange if you enjoy travelling.

Apart from just daily life, the Chinese Language Centre at NCKU also organised some cultural trips especially for the University of Auckland students. These trips are definitely in my top list of memories of my time in Taiwan. In addition to the cultural excursions, we also had different cultural classes and electives that we could choose from.

Full Day Trip:

As part of the program organised by the University of Auckland and the National Cheng Kung University Chinese Language Center, we were taken on a full day trip to Kaohsiung (高雄), a city one hour North of Tainan. First, we were taken to Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Museum, a massive complex that houses multiple shrines, pagodas, and even a Starbucks. I often go to the Auckland branch of Fo Guang Shan Temple, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was on the itinerary. At the museum we were also taught the traditional ceremonial way of serving and drinking tea.

Photo from the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Museum

Next on the list was lunch at a themed restaurant. This restaurant had a massive model train going through it, with tables and seating inside. The rest of the restaurant had a strong Japanese influence, something I had found to be common throughout my travels in Taiwan. This is something that initially surprised me, as I did not know too much about the relationship and current sentiment between Taiwan and Japan. However, with Japan ruling over Taiwan for 51 years after the Treaty of Shimonoseki, much of the development of Taiwan is attributed to this time.

After lunch, we went on a ferry ride to the 红毛港文化园区 (Hongmaogang Cultural Park). This cultural park preserves remnants of a small fishing and shrimp farm village. Called “Hong Mao” or ‘red hair’, in reference to the Dutch, the park features old buildings and photos of what life was like before the development of the area into an international port. The people who once lived there were relocated, but the cultural park keeps the history alive.

 

Half Day Trip:

The half day trip was an optional tour available to all students at the Chinese Language Centre. On this trip, we went to some historical sites around Tainan, including the first school in Taiwan, and the Old District Court. The first school in Taiwan was a Confucian temple and though the main structure is currently under restoration, we were still able to see the outside courtyard. The half day trip was actually the second time I had been there. The first time I went, we also explored the surrounding streets, one of which has a cute market that has lots of stalls selling homemade items, a few hidden restaurants and a palm reader.

One of the outer buildings of the first school in Taiwan.

The Old District Court was built during Japanese rule and is now a Judicial museum. It also features an interesting sculpture which is an inverse clock tower, reflected on the shiny tiled ground. It’s a bit hard to describe but I will put a photo below. Lastly, we went to the Grand Mazu Temple that was constructed in 1664. This temple definitely felt like it had a lot of history surrounding it and I took the time to wish for a good year while I was there.

Cultural Classes:

As part of the University of Auckland language program, our group had several cultural classes and experiences. One of the most interesting experiences was the Taiwanese foot massage. To say it was relaxing would be a bit of a lie. My feet definitely felt different after, but the actual process was a bit painful to be totally honest. As well as the actual massage, our overall health was assessed from how our feet were looking. I was told that I should sleep more and earlier, something I already knew but still need to work on.

One of my favourite cultural classes (maybe because it involved food) was our cooking class. As a group we went to a nearby high school to cook some Taiwanese food, Sweet and Sour pork, crispy fried mushrooms and some classic 真祖奶茶 (pearl milk tea). This was a fun hands-on activity and it was good practice listening to the instructions in Mandarin with minimal translation. Another more hands-on activity was stamp engraving. In this class we carved our names onto slabs of stone, which could be coated in ink and stamped on to paper as a signature. Stamps were widely used, mainly for high class as an official signature or to show one’s rank (such as in the army). Later on, stamps were also used by everyday people who were illiterate, in order to sign documents.

In addition to the organised cultural activities, we were also given the opportunity to choose an extracurricular class with the other Chinese Language Center students. I chose 书法 (calligraphy). I found the classes really relaxing and my characters improved somewhat over the lessons.

 

Studying Abroad: A Reflection

I am so happy that I took the opportunity to study abroad. The experience not only improved my Mandarin speaking skills, but it also gave me more insight into Taiwanese culture. Because the program was part of a University of Auckland Summer school paper, I was able to gain 15 points towards my Chinese degree as well as explore another country for a month.

C1班, my class of three weeks.

One thing that really helped me in terms of funding my study abroad was the Prime Minister’s Scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to students and others who are going to Asia (or Latin America) so that Kiwis like me can learn more about the cultures of their destination country. The scholarship also aims to strengthen the ties between New Zealand and these two regions, as well as promote New Zealand’s education system. So if you are interested in going on exchange, or one of the many overseas opportunities that the University of Auckland provides, I fully recommend applying for a Prime Minister’s Scholarship. There are both individual and group scholarships available. If you have any questions, the 360 International office team are always there to help.

I think that studying abroad was such a great opportunity, not just to learn, but also to make new friends and to travel. In Taiwan I made new friends, not only with those from our University of Auckland group but also with our language buddies and fellow Chinese Language Center students. It was great to hang out with people around the similar ages as us and to get some inside scoops of the modern Taiwanese youth culture, as opposed to just historical and traditional culture. It was a bit of a sad departure, but I’m super keen to go back to Taiwan to visit. After I finished my course, took the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing in Taiwan, and I also visited Singapore. This was my first time travelling alone, so it was a great opportunity to use my Mandarin skills with no one else around to help me. Because New Zealand is quite far from many countries, it was also good to travel while I was already in the area. Solo travel, though initially quite daunting, was both a challenging and enjoyable learning experience. I definitely recommend doing some sightseeing if you study abroad.

Over the my few years at university, so many people have told me to make the most of my time at university, because once you graduate and start working, you will most likely be stuck in a full-time job with little opportunities to travel. So I am giving whoever is reading this the same advice, take up the opportunities while you are still studying and go on 360 exchange and/or study abroad!

– Shanti Truong-George, 張湘婷。

Iven: Chapter 2 of My Journey to Singapore

Heyyy y’all  *:・゚✧\ʕ◕ᴥ◕\ʔ

I hope you all are healthy and having a blessed day, as semester one at UoA is soon approaching, it’s the ‘recess week’ here at NUS which is our mid-semester break. I am currently living the tourist life in Bali with a few of my exchange friends while writing this blog post.

For this chapter, I wanted to continue on from my earlier chapter and talk more about what I have been up to but in the form of key highlights rather than by a weekly basis. Also, I have uploaded my first YouTube in Singapore! So please click the link below to watch, it has more helpful tips and info about exchange, especially at NUS 😊

Dragon Boat: #TeamEggplant 🍆

All my life I always wanted to try Dragon Boat Racing as it’s something I’ve seen my relatives in China do and talk about. Here on exchange, I was finally able to learn and try it out for the first time!

This was an event which was created for exchange students to sign up and try out dragon boat racing for a day. We all got put into separate teams by colour which reminded me of Survivor (one of my fav tv shows) and then we got started by learning the basics to some fun tricks to winning races! By the end of it we were all soaked but it was 100% worth it, being able to meet more exchange students and bonding as a team especially during this time when the Coronavirus was preventing a lot of events from happening.

All the exchange students on the Dragon Boats
Me and my fellow #TeamEggplant🍆

CNY Festivities with a BANG!

The first of February marked the final day of the Lunar New Year festivities which is one of the most beloved festivals in Chinese culture so I was glad I was here in Singapore to celebrate as it’s not as big in terms of celebration compared to New Zealand.

The festivities at River Hongbao were so amazing to see, especially the elaborate fireworks, the beautiful decorations and the well-choreographed parade which included various ethnicities and their native attire and dance.

Volunteering Internship with MatchMde

Before coming on exchange, I really wanted to expand my connections career-wise as living in a new country it is inevitable to meet people that will help you gain experience in your field of study. I was fortunate to be involved in filming an advertisement for ‘MatchMde’, a dating app involving A.I which lead me to helping their marketing and social media team. This is something I do on top of my uni work, I wouldn’t recommend doing a volunteering internship for those of you who aren’t able to balance uni work but I would recommend it if you are able to balance and really want to expand your CV and set up your future career by gaining this valuable experience.

Once in an Exchange Moments

February has been a special month for me as I got to celebrate my exchange friends’ birthdays. I really am so thankful to meet so many people from all over the world and create such close bonds with them to be able to celebrate their special day – it’s truly a once in an exchange but also once in a lifetime moment.

Living my best life in Bali!

As I mentioned earlier, it is recess week at the moment, so this is when almost every exchange student travels to different countries, for example, a few of my other exchange friends are in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam right now. I chose to come to Bali as it is a very cheap plane ticket away from Singapore, I’ve never been here before and I’ve heard good things about it.

My exchange friends and I have been exploring Bali and still are as I am writing this blog post so for my next chapter I will talk more about Bali but for now goodbye until next time :))

Iven aka IvenThePanda Signing Out…..

Tom: Weekend Traveling

It hasn’t been that long at all since my last post, but it feels like a lifetime ago that I was writing it. Part of the reason that my time here has felt so long is because of the amount of travel that I have been doing. From Singapore it super cheap and easy to fly to destinations all over Asia, and the exchange students here at NTU have been taking full advantage of that!

Despite some slight worries about the COVID-19 Virus and its spread, most people continue to travel often. In fact I know some particular exchange students that have been away every single weekend since the start of semester… whilst I may not be at that level of travel I have gone to a few places and plan to go to even more in the future. 

Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

My first trip from Singapore was an organised weekend away with a bunch of other exchange students from both NTU and NUS universities. This ‘organised format’ of travel allowed me to ease into the trips overseas. Included in what I paid was a bus trip to KL (Kuala Lumpur), multiple meals, accommodation, two insane nights out and tours of some of KL’s most famous attractions.

The trip up from Singapore through Malaysia to KL was quite memorable. We all jumped in a party bus from central Singapore which took us the entire 5 hour journey. After making our way through immigration we drove for an hour until we reached a small traditional Malay roadside restaurant. Here we had a meal of local dishes, including chicken, seafood and vegetarian options. I enjoyed the spicy Tom Yum Style soup the most, as it was the perfect blend of spice and powerful flavours.

After this pit-stop we continued on our long journey north, and the trips host distributed the long awaited drinks. We had a long time to socialise with our fellow passengers and made a bunch of new and interesting friends from around the world (some of which I have hung out with afterwards aswell!). Four hours and a few too many toilet stops later we made it to our hotel. The Hotel became our base to explore the city and we immediately spent a long night out in town (we made full advantage of the comparatively cheap prices in Malaysia).

Petronas Twin Towers
Previously the World’s Tallest Buildings (1998-2004)

The next day we spent exploring some of KL’s more famous sights. Attractions such as the Petronas Towers, Central Market and Chinatown… The contrast between Singapore and Malaysia was quite clearly visible walking around the streets. Whilst Malaysia had beautiful buildings and districts akin to Singapore there was also a very clear undertone of poverty and the city was very clearly nowhere near as developed as Singapore. The contrast between rich and poor was very clear when looking at luxury apartment complexes next to neighbourhoods made entirely of corrugated metal. As such our trip was quite an eye opener as to how lucky we all were to study in Singapore, which is so incredibly safe, efficient and well-polished.

After yet another long night out, the next morning was spent at the famous Batu Caves Temple Complex. It was a few days before the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in which the deity of Lord Murugan is celebrated, and as Batu Caves has the world’s largest statue of Lord Murugan it was a perfect chance to experience Malaysia’s minority Hindu culture!

43 Meter Tall Statue of Lord Murugan

We went back late that night to Singapore, and it felt comfortably like I was arriving back home as soon as I saw my dorm in the distance. Overall I really enjoyed Malaysia and will definitely plan to spend a week or so there in the future after my exams.

Bali – Indonesia

The Friday after my trip to Malaysia I was already jetting off to Indonesia. You can’t get more stereotypically Kiwi than going to spend a long weekend in Bali, especially since I went with my mate DJ from Australia!

Indonesia is super cheap compared to Singapore and NZ! Therefore me and my group of 4 friends were able to afford a very nice villa in the heart of Seminyak to call home for 5 nights. I thought it wasn’t even possible, but Bali was even hotter than Singapore… So having a pool to cool of in after the long sweaty days was super nice and our villa definitely felt like paradise on earth.

I can neither confirm nor deny if I jumped off the roof into the pool…

One of the first things we did after our arrival was hire scooters. These are by far the best method of getting around the island on your own and at 5 dollars a day hiring them was also well within budget. I hadn’t driven one before getting there yet got used to it really fast and although the traffic was absolutely mad it was a bunch of fun weaving between cars, other bikes and over footpaths. In fact the most fun I think I had all week was hooning down country lanes between the rice paddies.

Using our scooters we explored various parts of the Island, including waterfalls, the famous monkey temple and many of Bali’s beautiful beaches. We also spent a day on Nusa Penida (a smaller island about 40 mins away) which has world famous beaches and amazing seascape vistas.

Kelingking Beach on Nusa Penida

Another thing that Bali is known for is its nightlife… We spent time at various beach clubs such as Potato Head, as well as the Brazilian themed La Favela bar! Bali was definitely a heap of fun and I believe I’ll probably head back here in the future as a break from NZ!

Future Plans

All this traveling has amped me up to continue my trips from my home base of Singapore. One great opportunity for travel is the mid-semester recess break. During this time I’ll be spending 10 days in the Philippines on the southern islands of Cebu and Bohol.

One thing about studying abroad in Singapore was that I missed the majority of the summer holidays back in NZ. But since my last exam will be taking place on the 8th of May this means I have approximately two months before semester two starts back at UoA! I’ll be using the most of my time and have brought my hiking backpack from home to continue my travels throughout South East Asia. I plan to backpack my way through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam… spending two months or however long my funds last.

Till next time!

Not bad for a long weekend!