Why Singapore?

Penelope F., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
Singapore Management University, Singapore (Semester 1, 2017)

The most common question I’ve been asked over the last few months is, “Why Singapore?’ Why did I choose to spend 6 months studying and undertaking an internship there? I could answer this question in a million different ways but it mostly comes down to these two things:

Singapore is the gateway to Asia, and as an International Business and Law student wanting to pursue a career in International Trade it was the perfect exchange destination for me.  I wanted to go somewhere different and challenging, and Singapore offered all of this and more.

Secondly I was given the amazing opportunity to undertake a 2 month internship at the National Australia Bank (NAB) Singapore, in the Trade and Working Capital Team (TWC). The internship was offered by QUT and the Australian Government New Colombo Plan.

The beginning of my exchange journey started with me completing a semester at Singapore Management University or SMU. SMU is located in the heart of Singapore City (compared to other uni’s which are far away from the city). After what was an incredibly stressful few days of enrolling into classes, I began my journey at SMU studying international business subjects. The teaching methods at SMU were very different to QUT. All my classes had a 3 hour 45 minute tutorial each week, with lots of in class participation. While SMU was stressful at times, I was able to do a lot of travel during the semester to Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.

After finishing my semester at SMU I then commenced a 2 month internship at NAB Singapore in the TWC Team. I had no idea what to expect of the internship, but it greatly surpassed my expectations. The team were incredibly welcoming and I learnt all about International Trade. I would strongly encourage anyone to apply for the internship, especially if you are interested in International Trade and/or Finance. As NAB has fewer than 100 employees in Singapore, I was able to see what each department did and how all the department’s interacted with TWC. It’s only since coming home that I realised how amazing of an opportunity the internship was. It’s opened so many new doors for me already and given me a great group of networks.

Overall my time in Singapore was one amazing journey. I strongly encourage students to consider Asia as an exchange destination and research the New Colombo Grants offered by QUT.

Hostel life in Singapore

Singapore is the 2nd safest city in the world (2015). Singapore Management University and its’ students are of a high standard on a global level. English makes Singapore attractive to many Westerners –but you’ll still be one of a minority; to my knowledge I was the only Australian at SMU (though there were two Singaporean students whom went to Australia to complete degrees, only to return as exchange students to their home country!).

Many exchange students elected to stay at the SMU-contracted hostel. I chose not to as I was concerned about the number of rules, and the signing of a semester-long contract. Also, the hostel was not exactly close to SMU. I stayed in a filthy yet homely ‘backpacker hostel’ in Singapore’s red-light district –Geylang (only 4km away from the city and SMU). I picked the hostel purely by chance from browsing the net and seeing the attractive price (SGD $22 a night, then later SGD $500 month). I lived there the whole time, and next-to-no tourists stayed there (the Trip Advisor reviews repelled most!). I enjoyed staying there as it had a family-feel to it with a dozen Singaporean resident ‘uncles’ calling it home (they were mostly poor, or people who chose a simple, communal lifestyle, or whom simply needed a bed -given most worked 6-7 days a week, doing 9 or 12 hour shifts). I think the communal living and daily chatter was the only sense of sanity for many of these very hard working men –many complained, and, also mentioned the luckiness of Australian society and work culture.

Before departing Australia, I started networking with several people living in Singapore via LinkedIn.com. I successfully arranged to hang out with a consulting professional a number of occasions and ended up becoming good friends discussing many topics about Singapore. I also arranged an internship with a company. Although it fell through, by chance, one of my Singaporean uncles at the hostel told me about his daughter working at an events and team building company, so I managed to work a few events and make some money too which was interesting and fun!

Chilli (and the best trains in the world) in Singapore


The Singapore Spirit

The Singapore Spirit

The general

In no particular order: Chilli is the norm with almost every dish, and, most bread is processed with large amounts of sugar. Regarding road safety: motorists will almost run over your toes and your heels when you cross the road on a green pedestrian light -they don’t wait, so watch out. Cover up for mosquitos – I unfortunately contracted dengue fever when I was in Singapore. The tap water is safe to drink in Singapore. SMU students must complete compulsory community service as part of their degree, and also an internship (although these don’t apply to exchange students).


The train systems are probably up there as the best in the world. Very frequent and very cheap (by Brisbane standards) and can get you reasonably close to many places on the island. Taxis are also comparatively cheap at around $10-15 for a 15 minute trip (which will get you most places). The buses will get you really close to where you want to go, but it may take you 30 minutes longer to get there given waiting times.

‘Singlish’ – a different world at SMU

I enrolled into 3 units -Economics, Accounting, and Strategy, with lecturers from the United States of America, China and South Korea respectively (all units are challenging, therefore I don’t recommend completing your ‘weak units’ in Singapore -unfortunately I didn’t have any electives available). All ‘courses’, as they are known, are taught in English. On the subject of language, the Singaporean language of ‘Singlish’ (Singapore English) was considerably hard to understand at times during group meeting with peers.

All courses are comprised of a heavy weightage on participation ranging from 10-25% or more. This ensures everyone does their readings and homework or, you won’t be able to ‘contribute’ competently. In Strategy for example, after every class (which was twice a week) you had to vote online for the one student who ‘contributed the most meaningfully to the class discussion’. All SMU courses are conducted in what QUT would call ‘lectorial’ style -where a lecture is given, though you are encouraged to comment and ask questions to the lecturer when needed.

There is a maximum capacity for about 40 students per class, but class sizes usually averaged in the thirties with high attendance most days. Local SMU students may tend not to team-member with exchange students as “exchange students tend to travel on the weekends and during the mid-term break and so hinder regular group meetings and projects”. Group meetings occurring at least twice a week is the norm. Regarding SMU’s software programs: some were really up to date while others were considerably dated and in need of an overhaul! Be prepared to spend extra time in the opening weeks signing up for classes. Studying at SMU made me really appreciate the useability and importance that QUT places on its’ IT systems. Good systems save so much time and labour!

A semester at Singapore Management University

The School of Business at SMU

The School of Business at SMU

I spent one semester studying at Singapore Management University (SMU). I chose SMU because: English is the main language spoken in Singapore, I enjoy Asian cultures, there were limited competing applicants, and there was also an attractive scholarship on offer.  I enjoyed the experience and I learnt a lot -both academically and of the local society. The study culture is hypercompetitive and the heavily loaded -students and staff embrace this culture and are somewhat ‘proud’ of this fact. For example, many students wear T-shirts advertising they are a ‘Smugger’, that is, SMU combined with ‘mugger’ which means a person who studies very intensively.

I felt many students had little time outside of university to do anything but study, many local students agreed with me. I believe students are not entirely ‘self-driven’ but perhaps more-so externally influenced. I learnt employers inspect your academic grades very meticulously when choosing to employ you or your peers in jobs or internships. I also learnt that most blue collar jobs in Singapore are very low paid (in comparison to Australia) so, if you do not do well academically, you may not attain the socio-economic life style you desire. Although it felt at times like a relentless drive towards a limitless sky, I heard Singaporean employers are generally quite impressed by the heightened extraversion and skills of SMU graduates given the breadth of topics in each unit and the focus on active classroom participation.

SMU students and staff were usually easy to get along with and almost everyone is professional and polite. Singapore in general seems like a harmonious country to live. I would even go as far to say I felt safer in Singapore than in Australia. Further commenting on SMU students, it was not unusual for both male and female students to wear suit attire to class!