Anastasia – Nanyang Technological University
Semester 2, 2019
Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Information Technology
At a speed of 893kph and an altitude of 11580 meters I was mostly terrified at the start of my journey from Brisbane to Singapore. I couldn’t imagine myself being in a different country with no friends and family. I felt so scared that there was a chance that in fact I might be alone for 5 and a half months and might be heading back home sooner than I had planned. So, it is safe to say that I was more than definitely outside of my comfort zone.
Arriving in Singapore
My first day arriving at the university was the worst. It was hot, I didn’t know where I was going, I lost internet connection and somehow accidentally got on a bus that took me off campus – leaving me to walk all the way back. Oh, and just for good measure, my bag broke. I felt that everything that could go wrong, practically did. For the first couple nights as I was also unable to find out how to put credit on my air-con card – I spent them without air con. A little fun fact for those who don’t know but Singapore is 1 degree off the equator; which means it is extremely hot and humid. So, I think it is safe to say that I was not a happy little Vegemite.
Do not worry though, as the second day was much better. I found a nice bakery and had some delicious sort of sweet roll; which then lead me to the campus grocery store, where I was able to stock up on all the necessities that you are so used to just having around you at home.
But I didn’t really find these places all by myself – I went out of my dorm room and just went up to strangers asking them directions. Which is how I met one of my best friends to this day. From beginning my journey with knowing no one, to people just snowballing around you – it’s one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. So yes, the first week might have been tough but after that it was worth it.
After the first week and a half I can definitely say that I was better adapting to the way of life over there as well as the humidity. And it was really great having all my “exchangers” in the same boat as me, who were also experiencing the same things. Being able to talk about all the simple challenges I was facing, from the subject selection process to catching the right bus; talking about it with other people – in the exact same position – really made me feel less stressed and worried.
About life in Singapore
Singapore is exquisite. You can visit cultural temples where locals are proud and eager to share their culture with you or even go to one of the many hawker centers (outdoor food stalls) where you can taste all the authentic cuisine. From Laksa and Satay to Hainanese chicken rice there really is no shortage of delicious food. While just a 10-minute MRT ride away from Marina Bay there are places like Chinatown’s Smith Street and Lau Pa Sat – traditional hawker style food stalls, where the atmosphere is buzzing with life.
Being a major foodie one of my favorite dishes I have to recommend is the local dish known as ‘Carrot Cake’. Please do not be deceived by the misleading name – this dish does not contain any carrots nor is a cake. The dish is more of a radish stir-fry and I can promise you is extremely delicious, so much so that you will want to order both the white and black versions. Another recommendation would be finding some Pandan Chicken, this dish uses Pandan Leaves to flavour the chicken; by wrapping them around the chicken pieces and then frying them.
The plant is widely used in Asian cooking and because its leaves are so fragrant it gives a sweet flavour to your dish that is nothing like you would have ever tasted before. Now after all that, if you are still hungry by the time dessert comes, I recommend you go to Bugis Street Mall. There is a small stall right at the end, where you grab some Kaya Balls. Kaya is very popular in Singapore and is basically a coconut jam that can come in many versions – the sweeter dessert version is used in this treat and I would compare it to a sort of syrupy caramel. These little treats are balls of pancakes with a kaya paste inside. But be sure to get these ones fresh off the stove – as they are best eaten nice and hot when the kaya is still partially melted.
Now of course the food was incredible, but by far the most breathtaking place I ever went to in Singapore was by far Gardens by the Bay. Particularly by night when all the lights go on and they play the rhapsody; crowds of people gather in amazement, while the park is brought to life by a symphony of lights and music.
Activities and events
During some parts of the year they will dress up the park for special events, such as the Mid-Autumn festival and Christmas. If you think it couldn’t possibly get more magical than it already is – just wait and see. There were nights my friends and I were able to stay back after the touristy crowds had left, to just enjoy the whole park to ourselves. Going on exchange although at the beginning you start off doing all the touristy things which is absolutely natural, further into the trip you start feeling like a local and connecting with the Country on a different level.
As I said Singapore is truly a unique nation. From its big businesses hub to the local Singaporean Uncle selling hawker food; from the high retail fashion to then go to a local family owned fabric shop; and then from brilliant already acclaimed artists and musicians filling the city with inspiration to the university where students are still aspiring, and full of ideas.
If I had to say my favourite thing about exchange – it would be the people. The people you meet along the way are incredible and the friends you make will inspire and help you grow as a person.
Tips, tricks and advice
In the beginning everything was confusing – I constantly felt lost and was unfamiliar of my surroundings. Then it was like pieces started coming into place and my mental mind map of the area started growing. I felt more confident in catching transport alone and finding the more hidden less touristy spots. I think that one of the most important things going on exchange is to really just have common sense. It pays off a lot when you get into those unpredictable situations where you can start feeling under a lot of pressure, but your common sense tells you to take a step back and think things through sensibly.
Now after my exchange I feel that I have become more confident, resilient and have a better understanding of other cultures. I personally have found Singapore to be a place of dreamers. Where technology, culture and passion come together to create a forward-thinking nation. Singaporeans are kind to one another and are always there to lend a hand. They welcome everyone no matter their background and share their traditions. Showing us that embracing and sharing culture is the most beautiful and personal thing you will find.
So spoiler Alert; I did end up surviving on exchange and quite honestly it was the best experience of my life. Going to Singapore I felt that I would learn so much more about Singaporean culture, but I have learned not just about that, but about cultures from all over the world thanks to an amazing group of exchange friends I met along the way.
Singapore thank you for the most amazing experience of my life, you will forever be a part of my heart.
P.S Great tip for new exchangers; bring with you a small tube of Vegemite and tell the other exchangers it tastes like Nutella; it really is a great way to make friends.