Ashley Tran, Singapore, National University of Singapore (Biopsychology)

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  1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?

Leaving my life behind in the U.S. to study abroad, definitely. I was afraid of essentially putting my relationships on hold and leaving in the midst of my senior year, but my friends and my family were really supportive of me maximizing my time abroad and I was able to pick back up from life in SB pretty quickly.

  1. What do you wish you had done to better prepare before going abroad?

I wish I had compiled a list of things I wanted to do while I was in Singapore, because oddly enough, once I got accustomed to living there, I found it harder to recall the places I wanted to visit and a lot of the different things I wanted to try. I think having some sort of checklist would have held me more accountable for the things I had promised to do back at home.

I also wish that I had made more of an active effort to seek out scholarships. Every year, so many different programs choose to fund students whose study abroad goals align with theirs, and I wish I had taken better advantage of this.

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  1. What were your favorite classes abroad? How did they compare to UCSB?

I loved the classes that I took abroad. “Vietnamese” and “Death and Dying in Southeast Asia” were definitely my two favorites.

I loved that I was finally able to learn Vietnamese in a classroom setting as it’s hard to find in a lot of schools’ curriculum. For four days of the week, we were able to just speak Vietnamese and learn about the different rules and quirks, and it ended up being an experience on its own. The class really propelled me to embrace my heritage and culture, and it helped me realize my curiosity for cultural nuances.

“Death and Dying in Southeast Asia” was radically different from the GE classes I took back at UCSB as the professor really made the effort to bring in guest speakers every week to talk about their ideas on death and dying. It deviated a lot from traditional lectures and it pushed us to explore videography as a group. It was so eccentric, but it made our days that much more entertaining.

  1. What is one of your best memories from abroad?

One of my favorite memories was making an impromptu solo trip to Saigon for a weekend. It was my first time being in my parents’ hometown and at the time I had known minimal Vietnamese. I purchased the visa and plane tickets hardly a day before leaving, planning the bare minimum for my trip. Yet from the moment I stepped off the plane to the last seconds of boarding, I was always met with kindness, with every encounter. I don’t know how I managed to get so lucky but everyone I talked to was so receptive and warm, and it really felt like I was coming home after years of having heard so much about Vietnam from my family’s stories. One of my fondest memories was sitting at the stalls eating Bánh Cuốn and chatting with the locals.

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  1. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

I think I came in with the idea that everything was going to fall into place almost right away and I’d somehow instantly find a group of friends I’d click with and would want to travel with. However, it definitely took more initial effort than I felt most people talked about.

The reality is, with studying abroad comes the uprooting and the need to reestablish yourself in a completely new place where you’re responsible for creating your sense of home away from home. And so my biggest challenge was making that shift from relying on my usual support system to learning to rely on myself and my relationships in Singapore.

  1. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?

I loved how it’s a big mix of different ethnic groups living together making way for people to pass on the escalator or respecting the rules of “choping” a seat. I loved that I could always rely on and feel comfortable in the MRT and how public transportation was such an integral part of everyday life.

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  1. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.

I didn’t do either of these while abroad, but it’s very much something I’d be interested in pursuing one day.

  1. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?

I miss the fruit juice stalls that would sell freshly blended fruit juices for only $2, as well as the Laksa and Roti Prata that were so hallmark to Singapore and Malaysia.

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  1. How have you changed since your time abroad?

Since my time abroad I have come to be so much more in tune with my family heritage – a tad closer to my family because of it – and I’ve learned to appreciate the little, simple things that colored my surroundings. I grappled with my identity as an Asian-American overseas, and with the succinctness of time I realized how important it is to always express gratitude.

  1. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?

Really make the most of your time. I think there might be a point where you find yourself getting comfortable with your surroundings – which is great and natural – but don’t forget to challenge yourself to continually try new things, eat odd foods, explore different places, talk to new people. And always ask a lot of questions.

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