Hamish: Final Thoughts, Reflections, and Advice

Looking back now – my exchange experience really did change my outlook on University and life in general. Being able to experience so much in so little time does make me sad that I couldn’t stay for longer. I went into the program as a sheltered and inexperienced Kiwi and came out as an internationalised and learned individual. After half a year of having an unimaginable experience, it’s a bitter sweet start to 2019 and back to reality.

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I’ve made friends all across the world that are worth travelling to see and I still keep in touch with some of them up to this day. I’ve eaten a tonne of all sorts of food, travelled to countries that I’d never imagined I would go to, and made lifelong connections across the globe. If I could go back in time, I would have applied for my exchange earlier, so I would be able to stay for one year instead of half a semester!

My advice to anyone is that I would strongly encourage any student to take part in a student exchange. New Zealand is a pretty small and isolated country and attending another top University somewhere else in the world while travelling is a once in a life time experience. At first, I was quite reluctant to go because there was some difficulty getting my papers transferred over and resulted in me having to extend my degree by a semester. But one semester? Who cares, I’d extend my degree by a semester any day if I could experience the life of being an exchange student.

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KR frands

The paperwork and admin to go on exchange is quite long and can be quite exhausting but overall, it’s definitely worth it. So, if you’re keen on taking part in one, give real deep thought to the place you want to go and dive into some research as to what papers you want to do and what they offer, and of course, what neighbouring countries are around your exchange University! Even if you’re not so keen or somewhat indifferent about it, I seriously challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and get out there and do it – you won’t regret it.

Overall my time at KR was nothing but pleasant and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I cherished every floor dinner, outing and even study sessions. I thank them very much for being so welcoming and nice to me and I wish them all the best. So if you’re keen to go study at NUS and you have the option to choose Kent Ridge Halls, DO IT!

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KR D Block sends their love 🙂

Thank you for reading my story and all the best,

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Hamish: Travels around South East Asia

Travelling the world is a dream for some people, but when you’re on exchange, it becomes a reality.

Since Singapore is at the centre of South East Asia, flights to countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and even Taiwan are very cheap. Transportation and daily expenses are also super cheap, especially when you’re going in groups of friends.

When you’re on exchange you’ll probably be struck by the amount of people travelling and may even get some serious FOMO. Don’t be worried or saddened – travelling isn’t a competition. Take your time and travel at your own leisure.

I personally only travelled to 3 countries – Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia, during my exchange, which was pretty minimal. Compared to some other exchangers, they were literally out every 2 weeks.

I could go on for years about each place, but I’ll just generalise each place and add some photos to sum up each place because sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words!

Vietnam

Vietnam was a spontaneous 4-day trip for me when I decided to go with a friend from America and another from the Netherlands. Vietnam’s one of the countries that require a visa but costs a pretty cheap $30 NZD.

The living conditions some people experience, and the noise pollution can be quite surprising and shocking at first. Many Vietnamese people are quite poor, doing laborious jobs like cleaning or sell snacks in small road-side stands. You also see a lot of old people pushing garbage trolleys to take them into bins for money as well. That being said though, some of them are real welcoming of tourists and if you’re lucky, you can snap a photo with them!

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Say cheeese

Food’s a big thing in Vietnam and it’s also super cheap. There are tonnes food stands and dessert places, and Vietnam is also known to be the home of phở and bánh mì.

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Phoooo

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Taiwan

Initially, I went to Taipei with a bunch of Australians for 4 days, then went on a solo trip to Kaohsiung in the south for 3 days. Taiwan is another country where everything’s pretty damn cheap and is also known for its street food and the country for bubble tea. I’d literally be like ‘I feel like some bubble tea’ and then I walk 2 minutes and I find one – there are bubble tea shops everywhere!

Despite being Chinese, my Mandarin is quite poor so communicating and ordering food was a bit difficult, but it was enough for me to practice and get around the country.

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The train station for Shifen

Some popular places in Taipei are Shifen and Jiufen – both places take quite long to get to if you live in the city but it’s well worth the travel. Shifen’s one long popular street in the mountains, where a lot of people write wishes on lanterns and then set them off into the sky. The movie ‘Spirited Away’ setting was based off Jiufen as well, so it does feel quite surreal to be there if you’ve watched the movie before!

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Tonnes of food, people and lanterns
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Exteriors of Jiufen

Instead of going up the famous Taipei101, we decided to head up Elephant Mountain for the view. It’s a pretty big mountain and it takes around half an hour to go up and at times it gets really steep. You even see some people resting on the side or even giving up sometimes but the view is super worth it!

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One downside of going up the mountain for the view is that there’s quite a bit of trees that block some good views but overall, it’s still real nice place to be up.

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Preeeetty good

I happened to be in Taiwan during the Mid-Autumn Spring festival where everyone goes to temples to pray and celebrate while eating delicious mooncake.

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There are quite a lot of night markets around Taipei but the main ones I went to were Shilin and Raohe. Some popular foods are dumplings, ‘big intestines wrapped around small intestines’, stinky tofu, fried chicken and various seafoods.

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Thankful that they speak Mandarin well 🙂

After Taipei, I took a 5-hour bus ride from Taipei to Kaohsiung to see more of the country. Kaohsiung is quite different to Taipei as it’s more of a residential and traditional area than Taipei. I visited about 10 different temples as I backpacked around the city and since a lot of the tourist spots were quite close by, I ended up walking 35 kilometres in one day when it was 30 degrees. Travelling by yourself can be a bit lonely at times but it’s good in terms of being able to travel at your own speed and stopping wherever you want!

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Dragon Tiger Pagodas

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Lastly, I went on a 4-day trip to Malaysia with two friends from China that I met from halls. Since Malaysia is a one-hour flight from Singapore, some people like to take the weekend off and go on a quick getaway to Malaysia.

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View from the hotel

People in Malaysia speak mainly Malay but there are also Chinese speakers and a lot of them also speak English. There’s not a lot to say about Malaysia that I haven’t said about other countries – food’s nice and cheap, transports convenient, and the tourist attractions are awesome. But, some places can be a bit dangerous with a bit more robberies than others so make sure you’re looking after yourself and your belongings!

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The Petronas Towers
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Who doesn’t?
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Is it really a trip to KL if you haven’t been to the Batu Caves?

That wraps up the end of my blog for travelling. Also, feel free to hit me up if you have any questions on the paperwork/admin processes or anything about life at NUS/Singapore at hcha330@aucklanduni.ac.nz! I know the process is gruelling and many factors can dissuade you from going but I’m sure I can turn things around for you!!

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Hamish: Life on Campus

I’ve already talked a bit about life on campus already in my previous blogs but in this one I’d like to shed a bit more light on what really goes on campus in terms of study, food and living.

Study

From what I’ve seen, boy oh boy do the locals study hard. Since everyone has super busy schedules with their 5+ papers, the students don’t get a lot of time to chill around like they do at IC0, Science Centre or OGGB. That being said, the majority of students are also heavily involved in extra curriculars like sports/clubs/groups, giving rise to this super hardworking, efficient and productive culture.

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Dance performances at the UTown Green

I personally feel that there are a lot of opportunities, such as various clubs and groups, available at NUS that can really expand your skillset. Because students have joined so many activities, literally everyone I’ve come across has had some sort of internship which is actually pretty surprising because internships at UoA are more of an optional thing – the majority of people don’t have an internship at some top firm.

Another thing is that it’s super easy to meet new people in your courses because in most papers, especially, there’s a lot of group work. Most people dread this at UoA because there’s always people in your group that don’t really do anything, and everyone usually leaves everything to the last minute – that’s the complete opposite here. In 2 of the 3 papers that I was taking at NUS, there were group assignments/projects and my teammates literally started it on the first day. I’m not sure if that’s the same across most groups but I was pretty baffled – because I’m one of the students that start on the last few days hahaha.

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Last Financial Economics photoshoot with my group hah

Last but not least, NUS is very competitive. Their marking system is different to UoA where they mark you according to the bell-shaped curve. You may have heard of this from high school Statistics but basically, your grade is calculated according to how well you do relative to your peers. So, if the mean is 80%, then to get a B, you need around 80%! Which is actually pretty scary, especially considering how hard the locals study here. But it shouldn’t be so important for most exchange students because their papers are pass/fails instead of transferring the actual grade over.

Food

Study aside, students love to chill and banter with friends while having a makan. All the locals call meals a makan so it’d be pretty common to hear something like ‘what time makan?’. At UoA, I feel that it’s pretty common to see people eat by themselves, but here, a good 90% of people find others to eat with. Since everybody has to eat, when people have spare time, they like to walk/bus down to a nearby canteen and have a nice catch up over food.

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One tip on when you’re feeling indecisive on what to get – there’s a custom in Singapore where you just get food where the line’s the longest because it’s almost guaranteed that it’s the best food in the canteen.

Living

Personally, I’ve never lived on campus before, so this was a new experience for me. It’s actually so good. You live so close to classes, so when I have an 8am, (I only had one phew) I literally wake up at 7:45am, grab breakfast and make it to class on time. You also live so close to cheap food and even if you live far, you just take the free University bus and you’re there instantly. And once you’re done with classes for the day, you just take a short ride on the bus and then home sweet home. Totalling up your daily expenses, given that you eat out for all 3 meals a day, comes to about $10 – $12, which is the price of a typical lunch in Auckland!

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KR D Block 3rd Floor S1 2k18

That wraps up the end of my blog for life on campus. Also, feel free to hit me up if you have any questions on the paperwork/admin processes or anything about life at NUS/Singapore at hcha330@aucklanduni.ac.nz! I know the process is gruelling and many factors can dissuade you from going but I’m sure I can turn things around for you!!

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Hamish: Accommodation at NUS

About Accommodation

Super serious about exchanging to NUS? Not sure which accommodation to go for? Choosing accommodation at NUS really does impact your experience while abroad so it’s important to choose wisely. In this blog, I’ll enlighten you on my life at halls!

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Not at halls but NUS does have the best campus life!

To give an overview, there are 6 halls (Kent Ridge, Sheares, Temasek, Eusoff, Raffles, King Edward VII), 5 colleges (Cinnamon, Alice & Peter Tan, Tembusu, RC4, Ridge View) and 2 student residences (Prince Georges Park, UTown) on campus. Firstly, let me just say that not all exchange students have all of these options – roughly half to three-quarters of the NUS batch I was with were only given the options for PGP and UTown, where most exchange/international students live. I was very fortunate to be offered all of the halls as well as PGP and UTown – I’m not sure what determines what choices you’re given so at this point I think it’s a bit of RNG.

My Reasoning For Housing

To start off, staying at halls is a very unique opportunity where mainly local Singaporean students live with dribs and drabs of exchange/international students as well. At first, my main reason for choosing Kent Ridge Halls was because it was the closest housing to my classes (Business School/Faculty of Arts).

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After thorough research, Kent Ridge was seen to be recognized as the hall that was the most ‘crazy’ – they partied the most and were the most outgoing hall; the complete opposite of me. Despite this, I strongly believe that a student exchange should be a life-changing experience – one where you challenge yourself and get comfortable with the uncomfortable. So, by forcing myself to live in a totally different environment for 6 months with no way to back out, it was my first challenge and first step out of my comfort zone.

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Entrance to the best hall heh

Halls Life

From what I’ve seen, most halls are quite similar – you’re given one room in a specific block and the toilets/showers/kitchen are all shared. On my floor, there are 16 people altogether with 3 toilets and 3 showers which does sound a bit yikes but it’s really not that bad after a few days when you get used to it. One big highlight for halls is that there is hall culture – something that’s absent from PGP/UTown. At halls, there are tonnes of events going on such as interblock games/interhalls games (competitive sporting events), block dinners and halls related groups. Also, you get some free NUS/halls shirts, so you can represent and be proud of your hall while being able to bring some memorabilia back to NZ too. When it comes down to choosing halls, it isn’t just simply picking a place to stay, it becomes more about choosing a community where you feel welcomed and happy to be a part of.

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Kent Ridge exteriors

Another thing is that since you live with the locals, it becomes more of a cultural exchange where you learn the way of how Singaporeans like to live – study hard and play hard. The average UoA student takes four papers a semester whereas Civil Engineering students take an all-time high of five papers. Meanwhile in Singapore, these people take on average five to six papers per semester.

I found out about this during orientation when I was talking to a 2nd year business student and I asked how many papers he’s taking this semester and he said ‘I’ve got it quite easy this semester, I’m only taking 5 papers’. And I’m just thinking, yeah bro… real chill… I’m taking 3 papers LOL.

On top of that, I’ve seen students take seven papers because they’re doing a conjoint degree and want to graduate a bit earlier. Heck I’ve even heard of one student that takes EIGHT COMPUTER SCIENCE PAPERS WHILE STUDYING. I don’t even know if that’s even possible. Academics aside, the majority of the students are also in a tonne of NUS groups and sports teams, so their schedule is super packed.

That being said, while living at KR, I really do get to appreciate the ‘study hard/play hard’ culture. It’s not surprising to see people up at 1am everyday studying – it’s actually more common that not. I’ve even woken up at 4am to catch flights at KR and I’ve looked across some blocks and there are people in their rooms with their lights on, studying.

It was week 2.

Halls Food

Halls food is catered for the whole semester where you pay around $500 NZD for breakfast/dinner 6 days a week for about 18 weeks. You’re probably thinking the same thing as me – that’s DAMN cheap. That’s about $2 per breakfast/dinner. That being said, the food isn’t the most glamorous – it’s not some 5-star meal served with some wine or normal restaurant food. Some people like it, some people don’t – if you don’t then you can always just go out and get food which is cheap anyway.

Breakfast is usually cereal plus a small portion of fried rice or porridge or sandwiches. The main highlight for me about breakfast is there’s chocolate milk!! I basically drink two cups and I’ve got my money back, but breakfast is only served from 6:30am to 9:30am so if you’re a late waker like me, you’ve got to force yourself up to go eat – and what motivates me to do that? Chocolate milk 🙂

And then there’s dinner. It’s not the best food out there but it’s really not bad for $2 in terms of quality and quantity! It differs everyday but it’s usually chicken/fish plus two extras side foods like veges/fish balls/chicken nuggets plus some soup/drinks. There’s also ‘dessert’ but it’s usually just a small jelly or some fruit which isn’t bad either.

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Food is plonked on with not much care but presentation’s not important here

Overall, you’re getting quite a bang for your buck. It’s also a lot cheaper/more convenient than having to go out every day for every meal because those food and drink expenses really do rack up despite the cheap meals.

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Churr

That wraps up the end of my blog for accommodation. Also, feel free to hit me up if you have any questions on the paperwork/admin processes or anything about life at NUS/Singapore at hcha330@aucklanduni.ac.nz! I know the process is gruelling and many factors can dissuade you from going but I’m sure I can turn things around for you!!

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Hamish: First Impressions of Singapore

Arrival

The first day of Singapore. Oh boy – let’s just say it was a very vivid memory that will be etched in me forever.

Changi Airport.

6:35am.

I wake up after an hour’s sleep at the end of a rough 10-hour flight as the overhead speaker lets me know that we’ve arrived in the land of cheap food, hard-working people and of course, humid climate – Singapore. My young, sleep deprived brain was struck by the size and beauty of the 4-terminal sized Airport. Having to wait 8 hours at Changi airport for my 2pm check-in at halls wasn’t an issue for me since Changi Airport is insanely beautiful and something to experience in and of itself.

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Some badly taken photos at Changi Airport due to my tiredness

 

 

My first meal at the airport was cheap relative to New Zealand, but expensive relative to on-campus food. I ordered a dumpling noodles and tea set (interesting) which cost me about $7 and the conversation went something along the lines of:

Me: One dumplings noodles and tea set please
Cashier: What tea you want?
Me: What types do you have?
Cashier: ________ and black tea
Me: What was that?
Cashier: ________ and black tea
Me: uhhh, pardon?
Cashier: ________ and black tea
Me: … one more time please : ))
Cashier: ________ and black tea (annoyed)
Me: uhh, yeah the first one

Yeah, I had no clue what he said. Turned out to be milk tea.

My first impression of the Singlish accent was not great, especially knowing that I probably wouldn’t understand half of what Singaporeans would be saying during my 6 months stay. From what I’ve learnt and experienced, the accent is strong, spoken quickly, and often informally with the combination of Mandarin and Hokkien.

The Country

The very first thing I noticed as soon as I stepped foot outside was the hot blast of the Singaporean humidity – absolutely destroying me in my chino pants and t-shirt. On average, it’s about 31 degrees every day here and at night it drops to an (all-time) low of about 27 degrees. But it’s usually the humidity that gets to you so if you’re packing for Singapore, I probably wouldn’t suggest any jackets or jumpers!

Singapore itself is a very, very small country – you can probably travel from one side to the other in about 40 minutes or so. The Grab that I ordered (Singaporean Uber) cost me about $15 for a 30-minute drive which is pretty cheap compared to taxiing/Ubering around in New Zealand and since Singapore’s so small, it doesn’t get much more expensive than that during the day time.

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Gardens by the Bay!

Generally, living costs in South East Asian countries are very, very cheap compared to New Zealand. To get around in Singapore most people use the underground MRT system where you usually won’t be paying more than about $2.00 to get from one side of the country to the other. And since NUS is around the middle of the country rather than one end, your average train cost is about $1.20.

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Surreal views on National Singapore Day
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Marina Bay Sands

Food

I was thinking of putting this under ‘Country’ but I think food deserves its own category here. Just like most other Asian/South East Asian country, food here is super cheap, since a lot of the costs are subsidised by the government. Singapore is known to have a lot of food canteens or what they like to call hawker centres around the city, where food is probably the cheapest you’ll get. These prices are on par with campus prices – but I’m here to talk about campus food.

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There are food canteens everywhere on campus – about 6-7 off the top of my head – but there are probably a few more seeing as I haven’t actually been to every faculty around campus. Basically, what you’ll see is that the shops don’t actually have names, instead it’ll be just the type of food that they sell, for example ‘Japanese’, ‘Western’, ‘Si Chuan’, ‘Northern Indian Halal’ etc. Every food canteen has a super diverse range of food that you can buy, but at what price? On average, you’re looking at $3.50 per meal.

That’s right.

$3.50.

And what can you get in New Zealand for $3.50? Absolutely nothing. Maybe like a sub-optimal $1.80 Irvine’s pie at Munchie Mart topped off with a cheap chilled beverage of your choice, which is everything but healthy and doesn’t provide you with enough nutrients/energy to keep you going at your optimal state for study. Compared to meals in Singapore, the quality and quantity of food that you get for $3.50 is quite amazing. They also serve small things like ‘dim sums’ which are small Asian bite size snacks which cost around $1. Since Singapore strongly promotes a healthy diet, you’ll be able to buy a bag of chopped fruit for about $0.70 or convert it into a large smoothie drink at about $1.50.

Cheap right?

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$0.90 iced coffee after I took some sips heh

The Campus

The NUS campus is massive – so massive to the point where there are literally about 6 types of buses specially made for convenient travel around NUS that come every 5-10 minutes to every stop around campus. If you were to walk from one side of the campus to the other, it would take about 30 minutes. At first I didn’t know the buses were free, so I made my first mistake of asking the driver how much the ride costed. He replied ‘free’ as everybody just stared at me while I walked to my seat, happily.

That wraps up my first blog in Singapore and please keep reading if you’re going/interested in going to Singapore for exchange – I might just convince you! 😊 Also, feel free to hit me up if you have any questions on the paperwork/admin processes or anything in Singapore at hcha330@aucklanduni.ac.nz! I know the process is gruelling and many factors can dissuade you from going but I’m sure I can turn things around for you!!

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