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.

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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 cheeeese

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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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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The train station for Shifen
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Tonnes of food, people and lanterns
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Exteriors of Jiufen
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The National Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall

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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Insanely intricate designs in temples
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Yasss

Malaysia

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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Rachel: Things to Note Before the Adventure – a Guide

Hello! So I’ve had some time to explore the wondrous country-city that is Singapore, and I’d say I’m pretty well settled now. “Oh, going overseas sounds like an awesome time, I’m going to do it” sums up pretty well my thought process to pursue an exchange. I love the idea of exploring the different cultures around the world, and so, an exchange seemed like the perfect opportunity. This was of course until all the admin details and logistics started to roll at me in a bunch of different directions. But being here for a few weeks already I can tell you that every stressful moment was 100% worth it, and so I thought I’d share some of the things that I found useful to research/keep in mind before departure, to prepare you to hit the ground running.

1. How will you stay connected?

Some people prefer to roam with their phone company back home, while many others decide to get a local SIM card. In the initial frenzy of everyone rushing to buy one, the options can be quite overwhelming – which SIM card do you get? In Singapore, the main service providers are Singtel, Starhub and M1. Personally, I went with a $15 prepaid SIM with Starhub. On top of the $15 credit, it came with 1GB of local data valid for 6 months, 200MB each month for six months and some pretty neat data roaming locations, handy for travelling! Singtel do have some cheaper plans, so see ahead of time which you might prefer.

2. Money?

Money is one of those things that everyone has to deal with, but sometimes can be a bit of an elephant in the room. For me, it was really hard to gauge how much money I would be spending, because I had no idea what price range to expect.

So, my observations so far of Singapore is that a meal, on campus or at Hawker Centres (food courts that are less McDonald’s and more like your Asian Grandmother’s) can range from about S$3 – S$6. If you go into AC restaurants, you can start seeing prices to rise to something similar to New Zealand, a meal that may cost around S$20. Getting from one side of Singapore to another on MRT or bus can cost around S$1.10 – S$2.00 depending on the distance, and a Grab or GOJEK ride (Southeast Asia’s alternatives to Uber) from the NUS campus to Changi Airport can be about S$25. In terms of clothing or food/daily life things from the supermarket, the prices here are pretty similar to that of New Zealand.

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One of the many designs of Singapore’s EZ-Link card (AT Hop equivalent) for $12 with $7 credit loaded. Available at most MRT stations or 7-Eleven convenience stores

And in terms of how to deal with the money logistically, I personally have been making cash withdrawals from the ATM with my VISA debit card. The conversion fee for me hasn’t been too different from the currency exchange bureaus back at home. Another common option is to open up a Singapore bank account. Popular banks are DBS, OCBC and POSB, with easy to find ATMs around campus. Different banks operate differently, but most of them have an early closure fee of around $60 if you close your account within six months. Seeing as cash had worked well for me and my exchange is only a semester long, I decided to stick with the cash. Cash is super common in Singapore, especially around Hawker Centres. I have however noticed a push on cashless payments, with payments being made by scanning QR codes from the stalls through an app which is linked to your bank card – so you never know, I soon might be a bit behind the times!

3. What do people wear with the high temperatures and humidity?

I had wondered, do people just wear the bare minimum in Singapore to deal with the heat? But despite the 35-degree average heat, people dress the same as back home, as if it was 25 degrees. Lots of indoor places (e.g. the mall, MRT station, lecture theatres) have AC, so people do brave it out and wear long jeans and long sleeve shirts when they commute from AC room 1 to AC room 2. On that note, when you’re packing all your favourite summer items, don’t forget to pack a long sleeve because sometimes, the AC rooms can actually get a little chilly.

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A bunch of us exchange students exploring the Singapore island Sentosa – can’t go wrong with shorts and a t-shirt

When we leave the house, many of us are programmed to check that we have our phone, wallet and keys, so leaving for an exchange should be no different. So before you start the adventure, doing a little bit of research beforehand can help ease a lot of the in-the-moment stress due to unpredictable events. Once all the tedious stuff is out of the way, time flies by so fast!

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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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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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