John: First Impressions

My first experience with Singapore – a super liveable place filled with cultural gems!

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Welcome to Singapore!

Despite being smaller than Auckland in size, Singapore has a population larger than the entire New Zealand population! That is 5.6 million people living in Singapore versus 4.7 million in New Zealand.

Choosing Singapore to be my exchange destination has been one of my best decisions so far. It offers exposure to the busy city life that we do not get in Auckland. Also, Singapore has a diverse range of cultures as it is home to multiple ethnic groups. Because of its multicultural diversity, there is an endless option of food to choose from, and they are quite affordable too. If you like shopping, Singapore is the place for you because it is home to massive malls. Getting around the country is convenient because of its reliable public transportation. Other than that, the weather in Singapore is consistent with warm days or rainy days. Lastly, communicating with the locals is not an issue as almost all Singaporeans speak English.

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Window views are always worth it

Journey to Singapore

Singapore is about 11 hours by flight away from Auckland. That 11 hours is needed to travel the 8,400km between these two cities. Multiple airlines offer regular direct flights to Singapore including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, and Jetstar. These return flights could cost you from NZ$500 (if you book it early) to NZ$1,500 for the humble economy class. If you have some extra cash, you can opt for the first class which will set you back around NZ$3,000.

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Singapore’s airport has been ranked top in the world multiple times

Best airport in the world

If you are flying to Singapore, you will arrive at the world’s best airport (according to Skytrax). At Singapore’s Changi International airport, you will find yourself admiring its design made with the best of both modern architecture and nature.  The airport offers a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment outlets – including spas, cinemas and even Singapore’s tallest slide! Prices at the airport are reasonable, unlike typical ‘airport prices.’ It is strategically located near to the city and is accessible by train, bus, and other public transportation. Because of its many facilities and convenient location, locals even go to the airport to hang out and shop.

Unfortunately, I was too tired to enjoy the facilities and wanted to check in to my university accommodation as soon as possible. I was glad that the immigration lines were quick to move and the baggage retrieval is only a few minutes away from the taxi stands.

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The taxi ride from the airport

You do not need to own a car in Singapore

My taxi ride from the airport to my accommodation at Tanjong Hall, Nanyang Technological University was about $35. However, do note that prices will be around 25% higher if you take it during peak hours (Peak hour table: https://goo.gl/aVodr). You can opt to pay either by cash or credit card. Taxis in Singapore are metered. You could also opt for Uber or Grab. Grab is something like Uber but is more popular in Asia. These might be cheaper options, but pricing also varies according to the demand. At the airport, you can utilise the complimentary Wi-Fi to book a ride with these apps.

 

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Tanjong Pagar aka Singapore’s business district’s subway station

Alternatively, you can take the bus or train, but I do not recommend it if you have a lot of luggage. It might be crowded if you arrive during rush hour.

However, if you do not have luggage, travelling by Singapore’s subway and bus system is both affordable and convenient. Singapore’s train system is one of the top ten best subway systems in the world according to ‘The Vacation Times’. The subway stations at Singapore have restaurants and shops inside them, so you can even dine and shop at the subway. Some stations even have grocery stores.

In terms of payment, both subway and bus system encourage EZLink payments which basically is Singapore’s ATHop card. Paying by EZLink is also cheaper than paying by cash for some reason. You can buy an EZLink card from 7-Elevens (a mini mart chain usually open for 24 hours) or use your university identification card as an EZLink card.

I found the best map to navigate around Singapore is ‘Citymapper’ which tells you which stop to get off, trip time and trip cost. At the time of writing this post, it is available for iPhones and Android phones.

 

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The Hive – designed to look like Dim Sum baskets/boxes

Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

Upon arrival at NTU, I was astonished by the unique architecture. For instance, there is a building called ‘The Hive’ designed to look like Dim Sum baskets/boxes.

In comparison to Auckland University, NTU feels much larger. Getting around by foot is possible, but sometimes it might take around 30 minutes just to get from one building to another. However, NTU offers free shuttle bus service which operates all week around the campus.

For the first few days, I find myself always lost around the massive campus. But as I familiarised myself with the campus, getting around NTU is pretty easy.

NTU has around 24 halls for student accommodation. There are options for shared double bed rooms or single rooms which I am staying in right now.  The toilets are mostly communal, and so are the pantries.

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1,200 exchange students occupy one of NTU’s larger lecture halls during our orientation

 Orientation

There are 1,200 exchange students from 40 different countries enrolled in NTU itself!  NTU encourages exchange programs as it sends about 6,000 of its students on exchange abroad every year.

There are two orientations organised for exchange students. One is for all exchange students, and the other is specific to my business faculty. Both orientation programmes are mostly about an introduction to the university’s facilities and administrative matters.

Making friends during orientation is entirely up to you. There aren’t any ice breaking activities organised, but I feel almost everyone is open to being engaged in a conversation.

NTU offers exchange students membership in the NTU Gem Club (Global Education and Mobility) which is a club exclusive to exchange students. They organise trips and have a ‘buddy pairing’ system similar to the one from AUSA at Auckland University which pairs you with a local so they can help you around town.

‘Starwars’ is what they call their course registration period after their ‘STARS course planner system’ because enrolling in courses is quite competitive. However, exchange students are given somewhat of a priority because some courses are pre-allocated before our arrival.

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NTU Fest 2017 – it’s carnival style fun

Welcome week

The first week of classes in NTU is also the ‘welcome week’. During the first two days of this week, there will be club expo. There are a wide variety of clubs to join in NTU and many interesting ones such as the beer brewing club, Chinese Medicine club, and the Taxation club.

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Edgar – NTU’s interactive robot

On the Saturday of the welcome week, NTU celebrates its new semester with the ‘NTU Fest’ which is a carnival open to the public. At NTU Fest, there are many games to play from such as laser tag to bottle tossing. You can even get your face painted. There is also an expo held which shows off NTU’s talents from different faculties. I had the opportunity to fly a drone using only my hand gestures. There was other cool stuff like an interactive robot and 3D printed masterpieces. The NTU Fest ended with live performances from famous artists.

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Warm and humid – that’s Singapore!

 Warm and humid at the equator

Unlike New Zealand, Singapore does not have four seasons due to its location close to the equator. There is only rain or dry seasons. The temperature in Singapore is warm and ranges from 25°C to 37°C. It is also very humid compared to Auckland. One thing I noticed is that you sweat a lot when you walk outside.

Remembering from my own soaked experience, the rain in Singapore is much denser than Auckland’s. Do not be shocked if you hear lots of thunders because it is a frequent occurrence.

 

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The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands – you can even get a canoe ride in this mall

Literally, shop ‘till you drop.

Or at least, shop until your wallet is empty. The malls in Singapore are huge in comparison to the ones in Auckland. You can even do walking exercises at these malls!

Malls in Singapore are also designed to be a one-stop destination for shopping and dining. Their plan is to keep you there for as long as possible, and it always works. Most malls have a have a great variety of food ranging from affordable local food to Gordon Ramsay’s signature restaurants.

 

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Busy day at Bugis Street

You should visit one of Singapore’s famous ‘street malls’ like Bugis Street. These ‘street malls’ are similar to the night markets at Auckland but are open all week and even in the mornings. There are a wide variety of affordable goods from Singapore branded souvenirs, power banks, to sunglasses. You can also enjoy delicious Singaporean street food here such as the beautiful ice-cream bread. As competition is fierce in street malls, certain shops invite haggling but some only offer fixed prices.

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‘Yong Tau Fu’ offered at one of Singapore’s hawker centre

Cheap and Yummy Food

Singapore has a wide variety of delicious food reflective of its diverse multicultural heritage. For the same money in Auckland, food in Singapore is much better in value. For around 3 Singaporean Dollars, you can enjoy a full meal. A cup of joe would only cost around 1 Singaporean Dollar.

Expect the food here to be different because most foods are Asian style but western food is also popular.

I will be writing a detailed post about Singapore’s delicious delicacies with my recommendations soon!

The language

Almost all Singaporeans speak English. English is also a common first language here.  English is an official language together with Mandarin (Chinese), Malay, and Tamil. These official languages reflect on the three main ethnic groups: the Chinese, Malay and Indian. Most Singaporeans are mostly bilingual because learning a second language is compulsory at school.

Questions?

I am always happy to help anyone interested in going exchange to Singapore. Make sure to comment on this blog post, and I will reply whenever possible. Alternatively, you can email me at jlee575@aucklanduni.ac.nz

If you want to check out more of my pictures, please follow my Instagram account: johnleekw.

https://www.instagram.com/johnleekw/

Cheers!

Adobe Spark (2)

Singapore

This vibrant city offers University of Auckland students two opportunities to study: Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore (U21 including Law). adam-qi_national-university-of-singapore-1163-1

Let’s hear what our students have to say!

On the lifestyle:

“My first impression of Singapore can be summarized in two words- hot and humid. Apart from the killer heat, Singapore is nothing short of fantastic” – Adam Qi, National University of Singapore

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“My first impression of Singapore was that it is an extremely modern city. The architectures are amazing and also interesting. Singaporean people are also extremely friendly. When I was having difficulty finding my way around the university, a lot of the students were happy to help me out and actually offered to walk me to the building. Singapore is considered the most expensive city in the world. However, because I was a student and spent most on my time on campus, I felt that the cost of living was lower than Auckland. What they offer  on campus is heavily subsidized and I did not spend as much as I expected. However, once you go off campus and go to restaurants they are quite pricey.  Although there are cheaper options like hawker centers (which are similar to food courts in New Zealand).” – So Jung Choun, National University of Singapore 

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On campus:

“The campus of National University of Singapore (NUS) is incredibly large. Therefore, it provides students with internal shuttle bus service to help them go between different lecture halls in different faculties. The Kent Ridge Campus (the main one) owns 4 different routes namely A, B, C and each route will access to 8 to 10 stops around the campus. The shuttle buses are always crowded during peak hour even though they come every 5 to 8 mins.”- Annie Lyu, National University of Singapore

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“Life on campus was extremely easy to adjust to. With two food courts, a Starbucks and several grocery stores all within a short 5-minute walk from my room; it’s no wonder walking became such a chore after returning to New Zealand. Local students were extremely friendly and inclusive, always eager to show you more of their country.”  –  Adam Qi, National University of Singapore

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On accommodation:

“My accommodation was located in a newly built “educational hub”, the University Town (“U-town”), which has created a lively intellectual, social and cultural environment via residential spaces, teaching facilities and study clusters. You may eat (there are two food courts and other cafes in U-town), study (U-town provides 24-hour studying facilities throughout the whole semester) and use the sporting facilities – swimming pools, climbing walls, dancing studios and climbing.”- Annie Lyu, National University of Singapore

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“I really loved my accommodation on campus. I was able to experience the university spirit and engage with a lot of local students as well as the exchange students. It was my first time living on campus and found it really convenient. My residence had a dining hall, which allowed me to interact with many different new students each day and in turn helped me improve my interpersonal skills.” – So Jung Choun, National University of Singapore 

“Unfortunately for me, my room at a Residential College on the NUS campus did not come with air-conditioning. However, it did have the basic necessities (with the exception of bedding), all with impeccable hygiene. My accommodation even included a compulsory meal plan which will become the envy of all of your friends who do not have one.” – Adam Qi, National University of Singapore

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On food:

“Singapore is well known for its varieties of fantastic food with incredibly low prices. A meal in a food court, on average, costs around 5 to 6 Singapore Dollars and the price is even lower on campus due to the subsidies from the Singaporian government. However, the Western food is extremely expensive. A simple plain pizza with cheese would cost you around 20 Singapore dollars. Therefore, you will miss cheese so much if you choose Singapore for exchange!).”- Annie Lyu, National University of Singapore

On travel:

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“Being an exchange student in Singapore opened up a lot of opportunities for me to travel around South East Asia. There were a lot of cheap options to travel to various countries and it again allowed me to make a lot of friends from so many different countries. I learnt a lot and became thankful for what I already had in my life from travelling around.” – So Jung Choun, National University of Singapore

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Top tips:

  • Transportation is a breeze with their MRTsystem and extremely cheap taxi fares.
  • Living costs are in general much cheaper than NZ with most meals ranging between $3-$5. Some favourites included the famous Chicken Rice, Young Tau Foo and Kaya Toast
  • Take ‘no’ out of your dictionary – embrace the opportunities offered to you
  • Visit the Esplanade, which is a theatre shaped like the Singaporean fruit durian
  • The heat is the biggest challenge in Singapore – you rely heavily on air conditioning which can be expensive so try to find alternative ways to cool down
  • University Town – This is the heart of NUS’s campus, and features Foodcourts, shops, a gym, study spaces, and a rooftop infinity pool!
  • Attend Orientation – in the first few weeks there were numerous events and activities involving sport, tours around the city, cultural events and parties. This was the perfect opportunity to make friends with the locals and the 300 other exchange students from all over the world
  • It is very affordable to travel to other countries in South East Asia – this is highly recommended!