Cultures of Singapore

Aakanksha, B. Bachelor of Information Technology/Bachelor of Mathematics

Nanyan Technological University (Singapore) (Semester 2, 2016)

In the heart of South-East Asia, Singapore has more to offer than its incredible airport. Spending five months at the Nanyang Technological University as an overseas exchange student, I have learnt an immense amount about Singapore and myself. Singapore has most definitely established itself as being one of the most advanced cities in Asia, if not the world. So much so, it is the preferred location for many leading companies to have their regional APAC headquarters.

If regional culture is what you want to experience, Singapore is where you should end your search. Singapore is home to four main ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (which everyone else falls into and is roughly 3.3%). As a result, of these four very different groups, it seems like there is holiday or festival every few weeks. While on exchange, I experienced: Singapore National Day, Diwali and the Hungry Ghost Festival, with each festivity bringing its own traditions. Being originally from India, it was awesome seeing how big a celebration Diwali is outside India. Going to “Little India” on this day, I felt like I was back in any Indian city.

If you are a foodie, or if you just want food that is cheap and tastes good, you can’t go wrong in Singapore. From hawker centres to high end restaurants you will never go hungry. NTU campus had over 19 food courts each having various cuisines. In most cases you may only need to spend $10-$20 a day, even if you are on campus. Cost of living in Singapore can vary. In terms of food and transport, it is significantly cheaper than Australia. The maximum you could pay for a trip would roughly be $4; this would only happen if you go from one end of Singapore to the other (which I had to do when going from NTU all the way to the airport). Transport within Singapore isn’t the only thing that is cheap, even going overseas is. For example, I was able to make a trip to Thailand to see Krabi and the beautiful Phi Phi Islands, which was most definitely a highlight.

Accommodation within Singapore can be very expensive. I was lucky enough to get accommodation on campus and had to pay a full semester rate that was equivalent to that of an apartment for only one month. If you don’t want to stay on campus I strongly recommend finding somewhere close to campus and share an apartment with other exchange students. An advantage of staying on campus is that you save a great deal of time on travel. The NTU campus is located in Jurong, which is located one end of the island. If you want to go the main city, it can take up to an hour by MRT.   

There is one word to describe life on campus at NTU: awesome. As QUT does not offer the choice to live on campus, this was something that I was seriously looking forward to. It is not only the flexibility of being able to walk to class, but the ability to forge friendships with local and international students. With these friends you can go to hall and campus events and even overseas trips. After spending so much time together, you know you have formed friends for a life time.

Saving the serious for last, academics in Singapore is challenging, especially if you are taking core subjects (I was taking four). The thing that is drastically different to QUT is the fact that Singapore grades on a “bell curve”. This means that your grade is scaled according to everybody else’s in the class. I didn’t let this effect me too much and studied hard to ensure I did my best.

If you want to be challenged academically, the opportunity to experience different regional cultures, eat great food, travel within South East Asia at amazingly low fares, Singapore is your place!

 

Ottawa Ontario

Joel, R. Bachelor of Mathematics

University of Ottawa (Semester 2, 2016)

My first night at the University of Ottawa in Canada’s capital city was 30 degrees Celsius and muggy.  Not at all the weather I expected, but perhaps that was simply thanks to my lack of research into my host city.  My housemates were chatting in the lounge as I walked into my new home, a Chilean, Russian and a Belgian rounding out our multicultural apartment, and they made the next 4 months far more welcoming than that first hot night.

Before arriving in Canada I took the opportunity to visit Europe, managing to visit Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna and Munich before finally heading to North America.  I then spent another couple of weeks in Kelowna BC, Canada, a beautiful town which offers a huge amount of outdoor activities and natural beauty.

As the first weeks in Ottawa went by I took the opportunity to explore and meet my neighbours, generally fellow exchange students from places like Ireland, Sweden, England, China, the Netherlands and everywhere in between.  Ottawa is a curious mix between city and town, not as big or busy as Toronto or Montreal, but with just as much history.  Originally a frontier logging town, Ottawa prospered into the home of Canada’s government.  Separated from Quebec and one of its cities, Gatineau, by a large river, Ottawa is a city of beauty and variety as I came to discover during my time there.

Eventually the university semester started and I began my first classes in a new country, an experience that ended up feeling very similar to those I had at home.  Professors used technology to present lectures, answered class questions and gave assignments, just like they do at QUT.  The only major difference was the rack of winter coats hanging at the back of the classroom by the time cold weather came through in about November.  Snow followed soon after, transforming an already beautiful city into a winter wonderland (as corny as that sounds).

My apartment, while not luxurious by any means, was cosy and sufficient enough to keep me alive through the cold weather.  I was relieved to find the cost of living similar enough to Brisbane, with goods roughly the same or cheaper in Ottawa.  My housemates and our neighbours grew accustomed to the idea of spending 15 minutes or more just layering up enough to brave the -25 degree weather to go get some shawarma or poutine from the local store.

Through all the pitfalls of a new country, like dealing with tipping, winter clothes and the rules of hockey, I was lucky to have a tight group of friends to go through the same experiences.  We shared trips to Toronto, Montreal, Niagara Falls, even managing a week in Cuba, and meeting people like them has been the most important takeaway from my time overseas.  My advice to future exchange students is to focus on that network of friends, push yourself to talk to anyone and everyone.  Any city in the world has things to do, but it’s the people in that city that sets it apart and makes exchange a truly worthwhile experience.