Latest Posts

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.

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Seb: Budgeting in Vancouver

Vancouver is infamous for being an expensive city. In this post I want to help share some assorted tips and tricks that I’ve picked up during my time here to hopefully make your time in Vancouver easier and more affordable.

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A beautiful Autumn day on campus!

Groceries:

  • There are two big supermarkets you’ll be going to – Save on Foods (on the edge of campus) and No Frills (a 15-minute bus ride from campus. The Canadian equivalent of Pak ‘n’ Save).
  • Groceries are overall a bit cheaper than NZ, especially if you shop around. This is partly because groceries in Canada are tax-exempt.
  • If you go to Save on Foods, which is typically more expensive, get a MoreRewards card (like FlyBuys) and take advantage of their sales.
  • Supermarkets don’t sell any alcohol, you can only find this in dedicated liquor stores.
  • There are a couple of op shops (thrift stores) close to campus. You can get everything you need for your kitchen/room from there (no need to go all the way to Ikea!)

Transport:

  • Campus is big – buy a bike or use a bikeshare service (Dropbike)
  • Don’t buy a car – Make friends with locals or use a carshare service (they are very affordable if you split between a full carload)
  • Public transport in Vancouver is amazing
  • You are required to purchase a public transportation pass when you come to UBC. You’ll be surprised how much use you’ll get out of it (even if you live on campus!)

Skiing:

  • Buy your passes for Whistler before October 7 to get the cheapest price
  • Whistler is totally do-able as a day trip from UBC. No need to pay extortionate prices for accommodation in the village!
  • There are also several other ski fields (Grouse, Seymour, Cypress) closer to Vancouver which are less than half the price of a day pass at Whistler
  • Ski gear is significantly cheaper here than in NZ. Find a second-hand store or Ski swap event for some sick gear. Sometimes brands will even come to UBC and set up a pop-up outlet store.

Housing:

  • Don’t stress over choosing between Walter Gage or Fairview Crescent (the two halls of residence where most exchange students end up). They’re both nice and well-located.
  • Walter Gage is apartment style and located right in the middle of campus.
  • Fairview Crescent is townhouse-style and is effectively its own little village slightly further from the lecture theatres but in a nicer, greener area.
  • If you’re unable to secure housing at UBC, the HI Jericho Beach hostel allows long-term stays for around CAD$300 a month.

Other:

  • Canadian University students (including exchange students) get six months of free Amazon Prime. Score!
  • Mobile plans in Canada are extortionate. At least double the price you’d pay in NZ for the same service. You’ll have Wi-Fi most of the time anyway. Just buy some Skype calling credit or a calling plan and you’ll literally save hundreds of dollars.
  • If you’re brave enough to risk a $10 haircut, Chinatown is the place to go.

Travel:

  • There’s no mid-semester break in Term 1 (September – December). If you want to go travelling, do it before/after the semester or go during a long weekend.
  • Don’t just arrive on September 1st! Get to Canada early and do some travelling around beforehand.
  • Hiking season in Vancouver lasts until around October (when the snow starts to fall!).
  • Join the Exchange Student Club. They run lots of fun events and also rent out tents – handy!
  • Under the United States Visa Waiver Programme (this is what you’ll be admitted under if you arrive in the US with an ESTA), travelling to Canada won’t reset your 90-day clock. So, if you want to visit the USA you’ll have to do all of it within a 90-day period (unless you get a travel visa – but this will add extra time and cost).
  • Vancouver Island is amazing but is also deceptively hard to get to. The UBC Surf Club runs a trip to Tofino every semester which is probably the cheapest, easiest and most fun way of getting there!

Canada:

  • I’d highly recommend going to a Vancouver Canucks game (ice hockey). Go to a pre-season match in September for the cheapest tickets (~$20).
  • In Canada they don’t call it ice hockey. It’s just called hockey.
  • Tim Horton’s is always a good idea.
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Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Whistler. All of this is less than 2 hours away from Vancouver!

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Canadian canoeing on the Exchange Club’s Sunshine Coast trip!
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Surfing in Tofino. Yewwwww!

 

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Ritika: First Impressions of Bologna

Pre-departure:

Like a lot of other universities, it takes you a very long time to get an acceptance letter from the University of Bologna. I received my acceptance letter at the start of June which meant my exchange was finally official and I could apply for my visa.

I would highly recommend starting the visa process as soon as possible as it can take up to a month (fortunately I received mine in a week!) and as they require a lot of documents including all your flight tickets before you arrive in Italy, insurance, and proof of accommodation.

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Arriving in Bologna:

After a month of travelling around Europe I finally landed in Bologna on the 3rd of September ready to begin my study abroad experience. I was extremely nervous to say the least. I had never been to Italy before and could barely understand the language.

I moved into my accommodation the next day. Luckily the two other Kiwis moved in to the same residency on the same day!! (we had never even planned this it just seemed to all work out perfectly!)

I arrived in Bologna two weeks before my classes started so I had enough time to settle in and explore the city.

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The city itself is beautiful and extremely hot when I arrived (it was about 33 degrees every day). All the buildings are different shades of red, orange and yellow and has many different alleys to explore, the quintessential European city for you get lost in its streets! We even have a leaning tower in Bologna that leans more than the famous leaning tower of Pisa!

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An important thing to remember is that it does take time to adjust, you can’t just expect to be settled in in a few days. It was the first time I had been on an exchange this long and the idea of being in a country where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language scared me, but trust me you will eventually adjust and love it!

Campus:

The University of Bologna is the oldest university in the Western world and extremely large (there are about 85,000 students this year!). The city itself is covered in university buildings. As I am studying commerce all my classes are found in the economics building and it is super close to the other faculties, restaurants and shops.

The past one and a half months have been overwhelming but really exciting. I’m really loving my time here in Bologna so far.

Thanks for reading! Look out for my next post where I’ll tell you all about finding accommodation in Bologna.

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Gabbi: Welcome to St. Andrews!

I’ve been here in St Andrews for five weeks now, enough time to have generally gotten the hang of things and be able to start reporting back on the ins and outs of St. Andrews student life!

One of the great things about St Andrews is the multitude of traditions that exist here. I’ll give you a quick run through of two of my faves – the Academic Fam and the Rad Red Robes.

Overhearing people chatting about hitting the town with their mother or complaining that they’ve now only got nine siblings because one’s joined another family would sound a bit odd to your average student. But here in St Andrews, its commonplace conversation! Welcome to the concept of The Academic Family. Usually third year students adopt a bunch of first years who become their academic children, however, my academic father graciously said it didn’t matter that I’m a 4th year and older than him and so I now belong to a happy family of 11! Academic families are essentially just a cool bunch of people to hang out with. The parents are there to host events, give us advice on the best study spots/cafes/shortcuts to class, and to generally make the transition into Uni easier for first year students. I really love that this is such a prominent tradition as it gives some great support and definitely adds to the St Andrews vibe.

Another prominent tradition is that of the red gowns. The university sells these to new students and encourages us to wear them at any formal occasion. During the first week we had the introductory pier walk (another tradition) and all the students rocked up in their red gowns – it looked very cool, although a little Twilight-esque…

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The extremely windy Pier Walk
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Red gowns as far as the eye can see

 

As well as the old-school traditions, a lot of the university’s buildings are historical and full of character. The hall of residence I’m staying in is University Hall (UH represent!) and it’s quite different from Uni Hall at UoA. As the oldest of the current day Halls, it comes complete with two libraries, a range of room sizes (from cupboard under the stairs to grand master bedroom) and is an absolute rabbit’s warren of corridors. I’m really enjoying living here as there’s a great sense of community and a mix of all year groups to hang out with.

This hall is a catered residence, something I was slightly worried about after my experience with Flame Tree at UH Auckland… But no fear, the food here is really quite good, although they do have a tendency to serve three types of potato at every meal.

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Wardlaw, a part of University Hall

I can’t introduce St Andrews without mentioning the gorgeous landscape that the Uni is situated in. We’re right on the coast, as in right on the coast – some of my classes are in a building called Edgecliff (literally edge of the cliff). This means that if I’ve got an hour break between classes, its as easy as pie to grab a coffee and go for a wander along the beach at West Sands

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Edgecliff – the philosophy tutorial and seminar rooms

West Sands is also a prime place to meet dogs out and about on their walks/swims! I’ve been blessed to meet so many pups here and am happy to report back that Scottish dogs are extremely polite and incredibly adorable. I’ve yet to go for a swim here myself but it’s definitely on my to-do list!

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West Sands beach (on a rather miserable day)

There’s also the ruins of St Andrews Castle and the remains of a massive medieval cathedral (built in the 12th century) which I found really interesting to learn about. These historical sites make St Andrews feel quite different from home as it makes you realise just how long people have been living here!

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A view out over the cliffs to St Andrews Castle

I’m really looking forward to the rest of my semester here! The people have all been incredibly welcoming, the Uni very supportive and involved, and the town itself so picturesque.

Until next time!

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Eliza: Adjusting to Life in Vancouver

I have been in Vancouver for just over a month now and it still feels surreal to be here. The landscape is breath taking and the campus is huge! Although UBC isn’t located in city central like the University of Auckland, you can hop on a bus and be downtown in around 40 minutes so it is still convenient if you want to visit.

I managed to secure a place in on campus housing and am living in Fairview Crescent, which is town-house style housing. It is a complex with around 700 residents. I love the layout of townhouses with a brick courtyard in the middle. The complex has a really homey feel and even has a coffee shop in the middle – perfect for studying! I have 3 roommates: Camryn, Sara and Jordyn. They are all domestic students from Canada and were so welcoming when I first arrived. Our house has a really fun dynamic and we have all become great friends!

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Fairview Crescent
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Keith Urban Concert with the roomies! (Left to right: Sara, Jordyn, Me, Camryn)

Throughout my first few weeks of lectures I did notice some differences compared to New Zealand in the class layout. In classes, there are is a lot more participation required. It is a part of your grade and you normally get marks through the use of a clicker to answer questions. I have this in two of my classes and really enjoy using it. The questions are normally reviews of the lecture and give hints as to what the lecturer sees as important concepts to grasp, so they give a good indication for what could be assessed in midterms, assignments, etc. They also track attendance, which means there is no lecture recordings. The lecture recordings are definitely one of the things I miss most about the Auckland system, as they were a great way to look back on anything you missed or didn’t understand during the lecture, so it has been adjustment not having them as a back up.

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i-clicker: used in classes to answer questions and track attendance

While it is important to keep up with studies and stay on top of assignments, it is just as important to make the most of your time while on exchange and go out and explore, and this is one of my main goals during my exchange. Over the last month I have been lucky enough to visit downtown Vancouver several times, go hiking at Joffre lakes, go to a Keith Urban concert with my roommates, and even have a weekend away in the Rockies over thanksgiving break!

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Sunset in Banff, Alberta
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Columbia Icefields, Alberta
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Joffre Lakes with Abby, another exchange student from UoA

Overall, I have had an amazing first month at UBC and although it has been an adjustment compared to my life in Auckland, I am really enjoying myself and am excited for what’s to come over the rest of my exchange.

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Lake Louise, Alberta

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Hamish: First Impressions of Singapore

Arrival

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

Changi Airport.

6:35am.

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

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Some badly taken photos at Changi Airport due to my tiredness

 

 

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

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

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

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

The Country

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

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

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Gardens by the Bay!

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

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Surreal views on National Singapore Day
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Marina Bay Sands

Food

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

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

That’s right.

$3.50.

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

Cheap right?

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$0.90 iced coffee after I took some sips heh

The Campus

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

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

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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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