Iven: Chapter 1 of My Journey to Singapore

Kia ora! *:・゚✧(ꈍᴗꈍ)✧・゚:*

It is currently the last day of January as I am writing this post in my dorm, but how was my first month being on exchange in Singapore? What is it like living in Singapore? Are there certain things I should be aware of if I’m going to Singapore? What are the classes like at The National University of Singapore (NUS)? Don’t worry I will cover all these questions along with some of my key tips I’ve learnt along the way!

WEEK 1: Settling in and Exploring Singapore

After celebrating New Years with a bang in Auckland, I flew over 8,000kms to Singapore where I stayed at a hotel on my first night and then an Airbnb for the rest of the week. For me, I really wanted to come to Singapore earlier to be able to adjust and have time to settle in. Taking my first step into Singapore honestly felt like entering a sauna, the hot and humid air was super overwhelming.

Tip: Buy a travel adapter from Auckland Airport and bring your Student Pass documents on paper to show immigration when you arrive 🙂

The MRT in Singapore (very efficient but be prepared to stand)

During my first week, I tried to adapt to the humid weather, explore different parts of Singapore, familiarize myself with the public transport and the way of life in Singapore. Some interesting differences compared to New Zealand, which I noticed during this time were that most traffic crossings don’t make the ‘beeping’ sound and Uber is not used here, instead Grab is which essentially is Uber and Uber Eats in one ( I really love Grab).

Tip: Don’t buy your SIM card at the airport, get it at 7-Eleven because it’s cheaper. I recommend Singtel as a phone provider because they have the best data deals (bring your passport with you).

Shops and stalls at Chinatown

WEEK 2: Moving into NUS, Meeting other Exchange Students

For this exchange, I will be staying at University Town (UTown) which is the main part of campus. UTown has food courts, Starbucks, convenience stores… etc, however, it is not the only accommodation which NUS offers. Personally, I chose UTown as my first option for accommodation as I had researched and found that it’s where most exchange students stay, it is very close to the amenities I mentioned earlier and you get to share an apartment with 3 other people.

Tip: Pack your own home-ware, bedding.. etc if you don’t want to buy them here. Also learn from my mistake and don’t buy your bedding stuff from IKEA, I recommend getting it from local markets or malls, for example, Clementi Mall.

The NUS sign at UTown

The check-in date for my dorm was on January 6th, it was a long process waiting but it was worth it in the end after I got my key and found out I was staying on the 25th floor which is the highest floor! The first thing I did after dropping off my luggage was head to IKEA to buy some essentials for my room. In short, the days after I moved into my dorm consisted of meeting my roommates (who are all Australian!!), attending NUS orientations, meeting other exchange students from New Zealand and all over the world through NUS events and more exploring of Singapore.

Tip: Put yourself out there and try to attend as much events as possible! That’s where you get to meet so many new people and create bonds that will last a lifetime~

Me and other exchange students at Gardens By The Bay for the Light Show

WEEK 3: First Week of Class!- Eeekk

Before the semester began, we were able to change courses (they call it modules here) on a specific day so I submitted a list of 5 modules in order of which I wanted the most. I ended up getting a film module along with my original modules; a design module and a digital storytelling module. Before coming on exchange, I was quite nervous about the difficulty of the courses and if I would find it hard to adjust to the academic side of things. After my first week of class, my worries went away immediately, and it reassured me on why I wanted to go on exchange. The courses I’m doing are up my alley, super interesting and practical, not to mention the great lecturers. I also liked that my classes weren’t in big lecture theatres, they were more intimate and felt like tutorials back at UoA which I prefer.

Tip: Most classes are really cold because of the air-con so bring a jacket also NUS is such a huge campus that they have their own free internal bus system, but they don’t come often and there is always competition to get onto the bus! So get to the bus stop early because NUS does not tolerate lateness.

Since I’m only doing 3 modules and tutorials didn’t start until week 3, my timetable was pretty chill so while I had class, I still had plenty time to explore more of Singapore and hangout with my new exchange friends. One of my favorite places we visited (other than all the amazing food we ate)was definitely the Jewel Changi Airport, when I arrived in Singapore like my other exchange friends, we didn’t get to see the pretty waterfall that everyone knows of when they think of Singapore so we went back and wow!!

Tip: Almost all food places, especially at NUS, don’t give you straws! Oh and they give you LOTS of ice! for drinks so be prepared.

WEEK 4: Chinese New Year + Trip to Malaysia!

At this time, on the news and basically everywhere, people are talking about the Coronavirus. Everyone is starting to wear masks and people are paranoid, the university is also taking a lot of administrative matters to keep students safe. It has been quite scary but with that said, it didn’t stop the Chinese New Year’s festivities. CNY is a big holiday here in Singapore and Asia, everything is shut down essentially. For Chinese New Years, me and a few of my exchange friends went to Tioman Island in Malaysia which marks my first trip to another country whilst on exchange! It was so serene and unreal, there’s something about being on an island away from city life, away from work, away from the humid weather that is so tranquil.

WEEK 5: First week of Tutorials

The start of this week marked the start of tutorials, although class had begun 2 weeks prior, the tutorials were the first time I was able to interact with other local students. As an exchange student I did have a fear of being ostracized but that was far from reality. As the semester rolls on, I’m looking forward to more fun times with all the beautiful people I have met here on exchange. It’s only been a month and I already know I have made lifelong bonds and I’m already dreading the day I will have to say goodbye…..Well that’s it from me now! Don’t worry, there will be more chapters, memories and more fun stories to come. This is just the start of what will be one of the best times of my lifeヽ(^◇^*)/

P.S Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for more exchange content coming soon I promise!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥  https://www.youtube.com/iventhepanda ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ 

Iven aka IvenThePanda Signing Out…..

Tom: Arrival in the Garden City!

Arrival

I arrived in Singapore on Monday the 6th of Jan, admittedly still slightly dusty from RNV over New Years. Yet still ready to get fully immersed in the exchange experience.

I had made sure to get to Singapore a few days before the opening of the dorm accommodation at NTU in order to get a feel of the city on my own. This did mean that I had to book a hotel, but I have to say it was definitely worth it.

The first thing you notice in Singapore is the heat, it truly is a city within a jungle. Situated only just above the equator, temperatures in Singapore vary between 30-35 degrees Celsius, with humidity hovering around the 70-80% mark. This can be quite jolting to some people (especially some of my exchange friends from colder climates), but I love the heat here. If it ever gets overbearing it is super easy to seek out the sweet relief of air conditioning or even better a swimming pool (of which there is a free one on campus). That being said, Singapore probably isn’t for those that love the cold.

Looking at Downtown Singapore from the Civic District

Another thing that is great about Singapore is the absolutely insane amount of infrastructure that is present in the city. Massive public parks such as the infamous Gardens by the Bay litter the city and there is an MRT station seemingly every third block in some parts of town. The trains are fast, cheap and extraordinarily convenient. They come past every 5 mins and a trip won’t ever cost you much more than a dollar… I walked out of the terminal at Changi airport directly onto a train and arrived within a block from my hotel (Auckland Transport take notes!).

More of Downtown during Sunset

Accommodation at NTU

After a sick couple of days exploring the city on my own it was time to head to NTU and check out where I would be living for the next four or so months…

Accommodation in the on-campus housing halls is guaranteed for all exchange students at NTU. I really see no reason why you wouldn’t stay in this housing. It’s probably cheaper per month than the weekly rent in an Auckland apartment and provides insanely easy access to the university. More so it also allows you to get right amongst the action on campus with locals and other exchange students from all over the world (it’s been really easy to make friends here, remember everyone else is in the exact same boat as you!).

Me and fellow UoA Student (and blogger!) Maxwell

The only disadvantages of NTU’s campus is that it is about as far away from downtown as you can get within Singapore, however it is still only an hour MRT ride to the centre of the city! And the trip is a breeze for anyone used to commuting in Auckland.

Also your accommodation will be allocated on ballot style system. Keep in mind single rooms are in especially high demand and as such are hard to get. I got given a twin room located in Hall 12 which looks like it was recently refurbished. Living with a roommate, whilst taking slight adjustment to begin with, has been a heap of fun. Once you get the air conditioning system figured out (which did take a while!) life on campus is literally a breeze…

Actual Uni – Classes & Slight Hassles

Unfortunately exchange isn’t just a giant holiday, surprisingly you will need to take classes whilst here…

As Finance and Management are my Majors my classroom experience here is limited to the Nanyang Business School. I am taking four papers as of the moment, all of them are in the format of a 4-hour long seminar style session once a week. Each of these seminars has about 30-40 students in it and the level of education seems pretty consistent with what I would expect from third year commerce papers back home. At the moment I have one of these seminars each day from Tuesday through to Friday. This is quite a difference from the 1-hour long lectures at UoA, and I have found it a little hard to maintain my attention span for such a long period of time. However most professors here are quite relaxed and allow plenty of breaks as well as often finishing class up to an hour early.

My classes have been a mixed bag in relation to who is actually in them. Two contain about 70% exchange students (not surprising as they are both international business related papers), whilst in the other two I am one of perhaps three exchange students in the entire class.

It’s not all been study… Clubs in Singapore are a step above Bar101 back home

Whilst my classes have been quite interesting, they did involve a lot of hassle to organise. The system for allocating your courses here is called STARS, and local students have accurately named the allocation period ‘STARS WARS’, it can be difficult to say the least.

I would recommend having at least 6 courses pre-approved before arrival in NTU. This would help you avoid the majority of hassle involved in getting courses during the two week add/drop period at the start of semester. Keep in mind that ‘approved’ does not mean ‘registered’. I had many courses approved that I simply could not get registered due to the class size restrictions and lengthy waiting lists. Definitely something to keep in mind if you are in desperate need of a certain paper for graduation back home.

Food

If there is one thing Singapore is known for then it would be its food… From the tastiest Chicken Tikka Masala you’ve ever had in Little India to Michelin Starred $4 Chicken Rice in Chinatown.

A filling delicious meal in Singapore will cost you approximately $3-6, the canteens at NTU are all around this price point and have an insane amount of variety for you to choose from. Including a decent amount of vegetarian options. In total there are about 10 or so canteens scattered amongst the campus and its halls. But don’t worry there is always a Macca’s and Subway right on campus for when the inevitable cravings for something other than rice or noodles hit.

$5 for all this!

These incredibly cheap prices are offset by the high prices you can expect to find in Supermarkets. Staples like milk in NZ are all greatly more expensive here ($6 for 2L), due to the fact that most of these foods have to be imported.  

Till Next Time…

I hope I’ve been able to provide a decent overview of my time here so far through this post. For all those at home wondering if they should embark on their own exchange I can only recommend it to the absolute maximum. I’m having the time of my life and will continue to do so for the remainder of my trip.

I have already started planning further travel overseas for during my semester, so the next post should highlight some of these travel experiences! In fact I’m headed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia this weekend and Bali the next! The fact that Singapore is a major travel hub results in some insanely good deals on flights, which I’m sure I’ll be taking full advantage of…

An American, Kiwi, Two French Canadians and an Aussie…
Singapore has been the perfect place to make a bunch of mates from all over the World!

Rachel: Home

Just in case there aren’t enough cheesy one-liners out there about studying abroad, I’d like to add that it’s definitely an unforgettable experience. It’s quite a bittersweet feeling to have finally landed back in New Zealand. The places I visited, the friends I made and the memories I formed make me want to do it all over again.

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A perfect birthday memory

Engineering at UoA has a very specific schedule and NUS is notorious for being strict with their initial acceptance of modules (courses). So like many exchangers before me, I went over with only two confirmed classes out of the four I needed. There was nothing I could do until the module add/drop period that happened during the first week of classes. Looking back, it was the biggest hurdle that I had to overcome, mentally, before I could commit to my exchange. At the time, the idea that I might have to delay my graduation did not sit right with me. When you add in all the pre-departure anxiety and the various concerns, I felt very hesitant about it all. Now at the end of the tunnel, I would like to report back that the experience definitely outweighed all my worries. If I were to decide again, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

And of course, you’ll experience ups and downs when you’re so far from home, the occasional wave of loneliness, the sporadic moments of FOMO hearing the stories of your friends back home and the odd time and time again of feeling a bit lost. For me, I did find some comfort in recognising that it was okay to feel such, and its human to feel the ups and downs no matter where you are.

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The classic tourist spot with an excellent light show at night

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A spot close to Chinatown – the contrast of the buildings’ styles always stops me in my track

 

My exchange may very well be the part of university I look back to the most fondly, for I would encourage everyone to take a leap of faith and, just go for it.

Rachel

Rachel: Beyond Singapore – The Traveling

Singapore, the financial hub of southeast Asia, is located not only to the benefit of its economy, but also to the benefit of those wanting a glimpse of life beyond the clean and fast paced city. The travelling culture amongst exchangers is very strong, whereby it’s extremely difficult to run into anyone who hasn’t made a single trip outside of Singapore. Now that Singapore’s Changi airport has recently opened its Jewel terminal with the world’s largest indoor waterfall, there’s no reason not to fly out every once in a while. I’ve personally been out and about to quite a few places and so below are some my favourite moments and sights captured (in a fun combination of both landscape and portrait, some would say I’m a professional photographer).

Bangkok – Thailand

Although not official, the main religion of Thailand is Buddhism, and so this leads to a lot of temples. To be respectful when visiting them, long pants and covered shoulders are a must. Although don’t worry if all you packed was shorts, because you’ll spot plenty of vendors selling those Thai-elephant-patterned pants, and plenty of people wearing them too. The markets are also well worth a visit if you want to get some shopping done. One of our friends, the least excited for the markets, ended up going home with the most amount of shopping!

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The beautiful colours of the temples

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Wat Chaeng – You actually get the chance to climb half way up this temple!

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Riverside buildings

Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

This destination is essentially everyone’s first baby trip out of Singapore. Only an hour by plane or five hours by bus – although if you’re travelling during the peak hours of Friday afternoon the bus trip can be as long as ten hours!

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Petronas tower – tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 at 452m

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Sultan Abdul Samad Building, located in front of the Independence Square

Li Island – Indonesia

So I had always thought Bali was a city of Indonesia, but turns out it’s a province which includes the island of Bali and a few of the smaller, nearby islands. Bali is perfect holiday location as it has a lot to offer in terms of variety when it comes to activities and sightseeing. There are some amazing beaches around Nusa Penida, and some great waves around Kuta beach. This is in contrast to the very-green rice terraces in Ubud, the uplands of Bali, and the heights of active volcanos, like Mount Batur.

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We managed to catch the sunset at Kuta beach our first evening

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Sunrise trek up Mount Batur – something definitely worth waking up for

Hanoi – Vietnam

Oh how I would go back to this place in a heartbeat. My favourite food being Vietnamese, I went with some great expectations and I was beyond impressed! Most places we went to specialised in only one dish, which meant the flavours were fantastic and made ordering with our non-existent abilities to speak Vietnamese a breeze. Watching locals ride on by, carrying up to four people on one scooter, and pedestrians strolling through the chaos calmly is a vibe that I miss very much to this day.

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One of my favourite meals – Chả Cá Thăng Long (Vietnamese Turmeric Fish with Dill)

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Train street is beautiful and pretty calm – until a train comes by and I kid you not I got pretty scared

Siem Reap & Phnom Penh – Cambodia

I knew very little about Cambodia prior to this trip, so after seeing the sights of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, we made an overnight trip to Phnom Penh where I learnt about the Cambodia Genocide during 1975 – 1979. During this time, the Khmer Rouge Regime led by Pol Pot resulted in the death of approximately 1.7 million people, almost a quarter of Cambodia’s 1975 population. I had the humbling experience of visiting the killing fields of Choeung Ek, a former orchard and mass grave of the genocide, as well as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former security prison used for torture during this time. For something so horrible that happened not that long ago, I was grateful for having the opportunity to learn about it.

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Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor – a journey made by nearly 50% of all tourists who enter Cambodia

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Although very cool to look at, the temples can struggle from the weight of the trees sometimes

Rachel

Rachel: National University of Singapore Halls

Where you live can have quite a significant impact on your experience abroad, whether that be on or off campus. At NUS, most of the exchange students can be found in a residence or college in UTown, while the other exchangers are scattered amongst different NUS halls or have found off-campus accommodation. The residential towers in UTown can be likened to Carlaw Student Village at UoA, but instead of greeting the motorway on your way to class, you would be exiting straight into the ‘quad’  where many of the uni-wide events are held.

For me, I had chosen to live in a hall, with the hopes of being able to meet more of the local students. While I do not regret this choice, it was difficult at the start when almost every one of my exchanger friends I had met during O’week lived in UTown. This meant that everything always seemed to involve the hassle of a small bus ride (the uni has blessed everyone with free buses to get across its enormous campus), which you can imagine wasn’t all that fun. But despite the initial hurdles, I’ve come to really love living in my hall and I would choose to live here again in a heartbeat. Without getting too biased about why halls might be the greatest, I thought I’d share some of my favourite memories so far, as well as some of the things I’ve learnt along the way.

Favourite memories:

DnD (Dinner and Dance) Regalia Formal dinner

Everyone dressed up in their formal attire for formal dinner, located in and catered by a hotel. We had waiters that would bring out the food, dish it out into individual portions if it was soup or noodles, then bring out the next dish after we were done. While all the food was happening, there were band performances and a pageant happening at the same time. Each block nominated a guy and a girl to run for king and queen, so everyone was solidly entertained as each pair put on a dance/song/skit performance that quite literally had the crowd screaming

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Here is my block looking lovely

Block suppers

The suppers seem to always have a punny name that would score a 10/10 for effort (e.g. B-A-E supper night for blocks A, B and E on the week of valentines). This is where the block committee would prepare food and activities on a random night once every two or three weeks, and everyone gets together to have a jolly time. Sometimes there are even prizes!

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Cheeky non-landscape photo of our Japanese themed supper

Random celebration get-togethers

We always have card signing and surprise cakes for the birthday kiddos, and we also got together to celebrate Chinese New Year. Everyone got their hands dirty trying their hand at creating them delicious dumplings.

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Everyone hard at work preparing for our Chinese New Year dinner

Some of the things I’ve noticed and learnt while at halls:

  • Since halls are mostly populated with local students, they all tend to go home over the weekends. Now, this was a strange thought for me until I realised that their trip home was not likely to take up more than an hour. This also explains why the compulsory meal plan (breakfast and dinner each day) skips out on Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast – may as well give the lovely catering team a day off while most of the students are back home anyway.
  • Singaporean students take on a lot more responsibility for their extra-curricular happenings. A lot of the events (sports practises, block suppers, camps, and the formal dinner) are organised by the students themselves with minimal input from the staff here. This is on top of all the assignments and studies that they have to do. Granted, involvement in hall activities earn them points which help them secure accommodation for the following year, but I am in complete awe of their participation and dedication within the hall.
  • The first floor of every block are always the male floors. I didn’t think much of it until someone mentioned that it was likely to be a safety measure due to the obvious foot traffic of anyone and everyone walking around. Safety is taken very seriously in Singapore; there are CCTV cameras around the hall and a security guard who is always present during the night.
  • Sports run from semester one to the beginning of semester two, which means I didn’t get to experience this part of life. There seems to be a team for every sport imaginable and it appears that everyone I spoke to played in at least one of the teams (and my hall is not at all known for its sporting abilities)
  • People here are really into wearing NUS merch/promotional t-shirts around here. It could be a sport-team shirt, an orientation camp shirt, an NUS faculty shirt or a shirt from a particular committee/culture group, 70% of people seem to be wearing one at any given time.
  • Now this isn’t a hall-exclusive thing, but on my way to breakfast every morning I’m almost guaranteed to run into a squirrel or a gecko/lizard (re: my reptile identification skills are still awaiting improvement).

Living in a hall has given me an amazing opportunity to expose myself to the life of an NUS student and it makes me sad even now to think that at some point I’m going to have to leave. I’ve been able to grow really close to the small handful of exchange students who live here, and I’ve had some of the most entertaining banter and hangouts with the local students.

Despite the lack of AC, I’ve definitely found my home.

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Oh yes, the place also makes you get used to stairs because there are no lifts

Rachel

Rachel: NUS Campus – What’s On?

One of the best ways I’ve found to knit myself into the community here at NUS is to partake in the different events that happen around campus. So many things happen all at once, so I’ve decided to share with you below little snippets of what’s been going on thus far.

Orientation

In the first week of arrival before university courses start, a multitude of orientation activities happen, something almost every day. An added bonus: a lot of the people I’ve been lucky enough to go travelling with I met at these events.

  • Clementi Shopping Trip – The first event of the season which happened the day of arrival. I was able to grab all the living essentials that didn’t make the cut into my check-in luggage while having my first introduction to people with many many different accents and backgrounds.
  • SG Kaki Group – An afternoon of ice breakers and little challenges. Ice breaker-like games seem fairly popular around here, because according to one of our Kakis (meaning buddy), most of his time during his first-year orientation camp was spent doing similar types of activities.
  • Singapore Food Hunt – We went around to three different Hawker Centres in one afternoon and pretty much didn’t stop eating. I was introduced to biryani, cendol, qing tang and many other popular foods among Singaporeans.
  • Amazing Race – More exploration around the city. We followed clues and hunted for murals and elephants around little India, and tried to dress up one of our group members as the Merlion (official mascot of Singapore) with newspaper and string at Sentosa Island.

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Our task to find the elephants was a success!

ENGIN Day

A day of carnival-like games within the Engineering department was a perfect way for everyone to ease back into the study grind. NUS students are known for being academically focused and driven, so believe my surprise when I found out that most of the classes within the Engineering department were cancelled from 12pm onwards! I’m starting to think the locals like to follow the approach of ‘work hard play hard’. There were different stations dotted along outside the lecture halls, grouped by different colours. The goal was to collect different coloured stamps from different stalls, which we could then use to exchange for goodies like free burgers, ice cream vouchers and ENGIN day t-shirts! Some of my favourite games/challenges that day were:

  • Angry Birds real life edition (a life-sized slingshot with dodgeballs hitting down boxes and teddies)
  • Beer pong (minus the beer of course)
  • Learning common phrases in sign language
  • Guiding a distance sensing drone across an obstacle course with our hands

As with any carnival, there was a raffle of course! So some people walked away not only with the buzz of an afternoon of fun, but also with a tablet, a TV, and even season passes to Universal Studios.

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Our card to keep track of our stamps for the goodie swap

Dragon Boat Race

Dragon boat racing is a canoe sport, and is a competitive sport many Singaporeans take part in. A team is usually made up of 18-20 people, sitting in rows of two with a paddle each. Each semester the Peer Advising Programme organise a day out where we get to experience this fun sport. .

This event took place on the Kallang River, which is actually part of the water catchment area for the Marina Reservoir storing water that gets treated for drinking. This meant that whenever someone on board would threaten to flip the dragon boat, we would (kindly) yell at them saying that none of us wanted to eventually drink each other’s bath water. There was a total of six dragon boats on the river that day, and the natural rivalry between the boats meant that a lot of splashing happened as we were racing up and down the river.

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I often don’t realise how many different things I’ve been up to since embarking on my exchange until I catch up with my friends back at home. The fast pace of life in Singapore means I’m always on my toes, something I’m finding myself to really enjoy. I think I’ve found a good balance going on here between me having fun and me studying, despite what my family must think when I spam them with photos that aren’t of my books.

Rachel