Licheng: Final Reflections

Five months have passed and so ends my semester here at NUS.

I felt that studying at NUS was particularly challenging as my class seemed to be full of bright and outspoken people. I felt that the courses here had a stronger classroom involvement than our courses back home as there were always volunteers to share their ideas and solutions. However, despite having a very strong education system, there were still many apparent flaws. The typical semester workload at UoA is 60 points, or around 4 courses. At NUS, the typical semester workload was an equivalent of 75 points; around 5 courses, however, due to the competitive nature of University it wasn’t uncommon for students to be taking 6 courses a semester. I once met a scholarship student taking 8 courses one semester, a notion I couldn’t even fathom happening back home in Auckland! I noticed that this overloading of courses didn’t always achieve the intended results; students always seemed stressed out, pushing against deadlines, sacrificing sleep and social life to grind for a better grade. Studying strategy became a matter of retaining enough knowledge to get a good grade, before clearing mind space for the next onslaught of courses.

One of the more important lessons I learnt this semester was that grades didn’t mean everything. As an exchange student your credits will be transferred back on a pass/fail basis, alleviating a lot of the pressure to study and time commitment towards your courses. I find that the people who are eligible for exchange, especially to a top university such as NUS tend to be quite studious, so it may be challenging at first to place studying as a lower priority but people gradually loosened up! I found that spending a lot of time with different people and placing myself out of my comfort zone was an invaluable experience. There’s so much I learnt outside of the classroom, from having better relationships to seeing different ways of life. I feel like these experiences have definitely gone a long way towards shaping my identity and made me an overall more wholesome person. I’ll never forget Singapore!

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Licheng: Choosing the National University of Singapore

When I first browsed through the prospective universities open to exchange, I couldn’t make my mind up on where I should go. I watched a lot of American television growing up, so I felt like I could transition well into a US school, or alternatively if I chose a school in China I could become more connected to my ethnic roots. After doing research on my shortlist of universities, I discovered that Singapore lay at the intersection of eastern and western culture. As an ethnic Chinese person growing up in New Zealand I always felt stuck between the dichotomy of my Chinese identity and my Kiwi way of life, so I truly felt that I could learn a lot if I were to go to Singapore. With Singapore appearing to be the best of both worlds, I set my first choice university to be the National University of Singapore, and my second choice to be Nanyang Technological University.

Singaporeans were known to have a diligent and disciplined work culture. The start-up scene in Singapore was always fairly notable which gave me the impression that Singapore was a technologically advanced, innovative and forward thinking nation. Taking into consideration the warm climate and low crime rates, Singapore was beginning to look like a firm contender for me to devote my career towards. With 95% of Singaporeans travelling abroad for leisure, alongside world leading ranks in math, reading, and science education, I really looked forward to surrounding myself with these well-educated and well travelled people.

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Now that I’ve spent 5 months in Singapore, I realise that some of my initial expectations were a tad naive. Singaporeans are indeed very hard-working, so much that it wouldn’t be uncommon to see students still up and studying until 2 in the morning. In fact, at one point I even felt a bit self-conscious that I was the only one sleeping 8 hours a day. However, Singapore also has one of the highest digital consumption rates in the world, so all those hours staying up aren’t necessary spent productively. The infrastructure and public services are indeed very impressive, however it comes with a hefty price; rated world’s most expensive city for the 5th year straight, Singapore doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to making you spend money. A perfect example is the notorious $88 per litre alcohol excise tax!

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Licheng: Travelling Southeast Asia

One of the things I was really excited about in this exchange was how easy it was to travel around Southeast Asia. Singapore is located in southern Malaysia and offers affordable flights to any of the neighbouring countries. If you’re into big cities try Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Kuala Lumpur. If you want to have an enriching cultural experience visit Myanmar, Chiang Mai, Taipei, or Siem Reap. If you love the beach be sure to visit Batam/Bintan, Bali, Phi Phi Islands, Cebu, or Brunei.

As you are all well aware, New Zealand is notoriously expensive to fly out from so really take advantage of where you are! Return flights from Singapore to Phuket can get as low as $150 SGD while the lowest Auckland to Phuket return will cost you $800 NZD. I really pushed myself to travel as much as I could in this exchange. In doing so I met people who inspired me as well as made countless invaluable memories. It’s up to you to create your own highlight reel, and here’s just a sneak peak into mine!

I met these bunch of American and European exchange students and we set out for an adventure in Taipei! One of my favourite moments was when we personalised our own sky lantern at Shifen Old Street. You can choose different colours that represent different values for each side of the lantern and write your personal wishes for each side. After this experience I feel like we all got to know each other just a little bit better.

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The Comp Sci cuties explore Phuket! These Boston CS students and I had a great long weekend getaway that included island hopping, walking down the infamous Bangla Road, experiencing the Vegetarian festival, as well praying at the Buddhist temple! (No tigers were harmed in the taking of this photo)

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What happens when New Zealand meets Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan? A big group with bigger mischief in the streets of Saigon! I travelled with a lovable group to Southern and then Central Vietnam, where we got into all different kinds of trouble. What happens in Ho Chi Minh stays in Ho Chi Minh. I don’t think I could ever forget my diet rotation of Banh Mi and Pho for 7 days straight.

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Find this place and prepare yourself for Saigon’s finest!!
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Go for a peaceful boat ride at Hoi An!

Throw a birthday party in Batam! A two hour ferry away from Singapore, with really high price value resorts. As part of celebrations we tried paddleboarding, tubing, jet skiing, and other fun activities!

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To make the most of your adventures, don’t forget that it’s journey before destination! Keep an open mind and be patient with one another. There will be several occasions where you let your fuzzy side show, but don’t let that stop you from having a good time!

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Licheng: Making Friends in Singapore

There are a lot of different ways to go about this topic, and building relationships with others depends a lot on your personality. Some people are social butterflies and establish themselves in multiple friend groups, while others spend more time with people they see the most often, such as roommates or people in the same housing. There are also the rare bunch of exchange students who travel to a new country every week and buddy up with whoever happens to join the trip. There really isn’t a best method here and it’s important to know what you’re most comfortable with. Personally, I’m an extrovert so I love the notion of meeting new people and becoming acquainted with different crowds. There are always moments where you can introduce yourself, whether it be in the stairwell, the elevator, or even in the laundry room. A helpful tip to meeting new people is to remember names. In the first two weeks you’re likely to meet upwards of 50 new people so if you’re able to connect a name with a face, it goes a long way towards developing your relationship with them.

There may be some rough first impressions here and there, but it’s important to keep an open mind because at the end of the day, everyone’s going through the same thing. If you’re not that comfortable being around a lot of people, spend more time in smaller groups and know that it’s okay to take things at your own pace. There’s definitely a lot of excitement at the start of the exchange and it’s really easy to get caught up in other people’s pace. At the very least, I challenge you to not watch a single episode on Netflix for the first two weeks and spend most of the day outside. The best time to make friends is at the start of the semester – it’s as easy as striking up conversation with the person at the same bus-stop as you. There are several events organised by the NUS GRO (Global Relations Office) that give students the opportunity to do stuff together, so it’s not a bad idea to check those out. I like to frequent populated areas so I’ll often be chilling at the pool, at the study area next to Starbucks, or inside Starbucks.

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Making friends with Singaporeans should also be on your to-do list because it’s always nice to hear things from a local perspective. NUS receives a high volume of exchange students so most of the locals are accustomed to exchange students around campus. You’ll find that work culture here is a fair bit more intense than back home, in fact it wouldn’t be surprising if most of the locals you meet average around 6 hours of sleep. So don’t be disheartened if you don’t get to spend too much time with them, but do make the effort to invite them out for dinner or drinks.

Within Singapore there are these open-air areas with a large variety of food stalls called hawker centres. These centres contribute significantly to the food culture in asia, and can also be found in Malaysia, Indonesia, or Hong Kong. There are many uncles/aunties at the hawkers who specialise in a signature dish, passing their recipe from generation to generation to finetune and perfect the taste. Be sure to try iconic dishes such as chilli crab, satay, hainanese chicken rice, hokkien mee, char kway teow, and popiah!

My local friend took the liberty to label some of the dishes he brought us out to try, so take a cheeky gander and prepare your bellies! (hint hint: invite people to go hawker hopping!)

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Licheng: Tips and Tricks for life in Singapore

I had different ideas on how to approach this blog, and after thinking it through, I feel that it would be most helpful to just structure this as a personalised tips and tricks guide. The aim is to help you deal with unfamiliarity as well as introduce some of the issues and challenges that I faced. The first part of this blog shall detail arriving and setting up life, here in Singapore.

Now if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You have been nominated to the #1 ranked university in Asia. There’s a new adventure just over the horizon, and it’s bound to provide you many character defining experiences.

The NUS application process tends to throw a lot of information at you, and it can be quite challenging to keep track of everything. Here are some key bits of information to help you get through the administrative experience.

  1. Student card ≠ Student pass

The student card is also known as the Matriculation card. This is a physical card that allows you to enter NUS facilities/housing. You will mainly use it for the elevators though.

The Student pass is essentially your student visa. It is card that you receive shortly after settling down on campus. Make sure you finish the relevant paperwork for it though!

  1. Don’t be afraid if you didn’t get your modules the first time

In your NUS application you would’ve been asked to select 10 modules for your workload. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get any of the modules you were looking for! I only got 1 out of my 10.

Around 2 weeks before semester starts there will be a module add/drop period in which you can apply for the modules you want. If there is a capacity issue and you need the module to meet graduation requirements, you can write to the course administrator and present your case. They tend to be fairly reasonable.

  1. Regarding housing, most people end up in Utown Residence

So to make it simple, you want to avoid Prince George’s Regional Park (PGPR) accommodation as the rooms are smaller and all the fun is situated at Utown. Within Utown you have Utown Residence (UTR) and the Utown Residential College Programme (UTRCP). It can be a bit confusing here, but UTRCP consists of 4 residential colleges (CAPT, Tembusu, Cinnamon, RC4) which has a larger local community. They have a greater emphasis on developing culture and community so they’ll have some sort of activity running every night. UTR is essentially two 25 storey twin towers (North tower and South tower) where students share an apartment with 3 other people. There are fewer locals at UTR as it is predominantly exchange students and postgraduate students. The majority of people either end up in UTR or PGPR.

Alright, moving on:

Upon touching down in Changi airport you should really just take your time and wander around. Changi has been rated world’s best airport for 6 years running so it’s really worth your while to find out if it’s worthy of that title. After you’ve looked around a bit, you should start considering how to get around:

  1. Uber in Singapore was acquired by a company named “Grab”

Typically, ride sharing in South East Asia will be through Grab instead of Uber. There’s an interesting discussion here over why Uber lost the market to Grab so you can go do that homework in your spare time.

  1. Singapore has a very consistent railway transport system

Singapore’s railway system is called the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and features several lines that spans throughout the entire island. To use the MRT, you need to purchase an EZY-LINK card (AT-HOP card equivalent) so find a booth at the airport and you’ll be good to go. To get to campus, take the East/West (Green) line from Changi to Buona Vista, then transfer to the Circle (Orange) line to HarbourFront and get off at the Kent Ridge stop. From there either walk to PGPR, or take the D2 (free student) shuttle to Utown. Alternatively if that’s too much to take in just take a Grab to Utown Residence.

Download this app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.exploremetro.sg&hl=en) if you want to familiarise yourself with the stations.

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So, after you’ve arrived at your accommodation you should think about buying some bedroom essentials as well as some plants/lights if you want to curate a nice living space. Typically there’ll be a Facebook group for exchange students, so take this opportunity to post and ask if anyone wants to go visit Ikea as a group. Alternatively, just knock on your neighbours door and see if they’re down to go with you. If you’re planning on staying at NUS for two semesters, I really recommend buying a mattress topper as the given mattresses are very hard and uncomfortable. For stuff like detergent, laundry hampers, pillows, and shampoo, you can find them pretty cheap at Clementi shopping mall. (Be sure to try some Tian Tian’s chicken rice while you’re there!)

Settling in is a great opportunity to meet new people. Be sure to challenge yourself and really put yourself out there!

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