Derek C., Singapore – National Univ. of Singapore (Statistics)

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Lost five pounds from the sweltering heat, gained ten pounds from the galore of cheap and amazing food in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

ACADEMICS

1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?

I took 2 major classes and 2 GE classes abroad. One of the major courses I took was actually pre-approved so it was convenient knowing that I would be getting credit for it back at UCSB. My other two GE classes I took were classes that are not offered at UCSB: Food in Japan and Business Analytics. I think the classes there were harder than at UCSB, and all the classes there were graded on a bell curve so I would describe it has hard to get an A but also really hard to fail. Most classes didn’t have TAs, so if you needed help, you would have to speak directly to the professor.

2. What was your favorite class abroad?

My favorite class abroad was Food in Japan, where we learned about different Japanese food and traditions each week. One week, the CEO of Singapore’s Kikkoman branch came to talk about soy sauce and all of us also got a bottle to take home. Another week, we learned about the Japanese tea ceremony and got to participate in one for our sections.

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

Unfortunately, there was a law from Singapore that said that exchange students couldn’t intern. However there were many opportunities to volunteer via the volunteer organizations on campus.

HOST INSTITUTION

4. How would you describe your host institution?

NUS seems about the same size as UCSB but has twice as many students. Different parts of the school house different colleges (or “faculties” as they call it). So if you’re taking most classes in the same faculty, then most of your classes will be in that faculty’s location on campus. There is also a big bus presence on campus, and is the most convenient way to get around campus, as the school is a lot more hilly than UCSB. What is nice is also that there are a lot of shaded/covered areas since it rains a lot in Singapore, so when it rains, you won’t get drenched trying to go to class. There is also an MRT station for NUS called Kent Ridge, so it’s convenient to leave campus to go to the rest of Singapore.

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5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?

There are a lot of organizations and clubs for students to join. I joined the archery team there for 5 weeks and they taught us how to shoot, and it allowed me to meet a lot of local and international students. There are also some organizations where they are specifically meant for helping bridge the gap between local and international students. One organization helps organize a buddy system between a local student and an exchange student, so I would highly recommend joining and applying for it because it allows you to make local friends.

HOUSING

6. Describe your housing situation.

I lived in Utown Residences with no AC. I applied for it through the NUS website, they will email you and tell you when your ‘passtime’ is and when it’s your pastime you need to log on asap and try to secure your spot because housing is competitive there. Utown was an apartment format, so it had four rooms, with a bathroom and kitchen shared with all 4 people. The people in your apartment could either be local students or exchange students, and for me it was all exchange students. Housing was definitely cheaper than living at UCSB/IV because I had a single room and only paid roughly $600.

FOOD

7. Where did you eat most of your meals?

Food in Singapore was so much cheaper so I did not feel bad eating out almost every meal. They have multiple cafeterias on campus, called canteens, that are situated like a food court and you just go up to the stall and pay for what you want to eat. Around Singapore there are also similar set ups but they are called hawker centers, and it has a variety of Asian cuisine. There are also a lot of fresh fruit juices in all these canteens and hawker centers.

8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?

An average meal was around $3-$5. I would say be mindful of your money because everything is so cheap, you feel like you aren’t spending a lot but it definitely will add up. Also restaurants are more expensive and not as cheap as hawker centers, but still cheaper than the USA.

9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?

I would say that it is more difficult for vegetarians, especially in Southeast Asia, because a lot of their meals have meat in it or are cooked in a meat-based broth. But I do know that in all the cafeterias there is a vegetarian stall, and every stall also has meals that do not have meat.

10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

My most memorable dining experience abroad would be sharing a large hot stone rice and meat dish with exchange students and locals when we went out to eat one night. You could choose how big you wanted the bowl depending on how many people you wanted to share with.

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

I really miss Yong Tau Foo, which is a food stall where you pick 3-5 different things, like veggies, tofu, hard boiled egg, and a noodle type, and they boil/fry it up for you in a broth. It was SO CHEAP. The whole bowl cost roughly $3 US and it was huge! And it was the best thing to eat when you’re sick because the soup really soothes your throat and sinuses. They also have so many noodle types to choose from which made eating it every time a different experience.

HOST CITY

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12. Describe your host city.

Singapore is small, very easy to get around, and very safe and clean! If you want to get somewhere quick, they have Grab (their equivalent of Uber). They also have a bike-sharing program called Ofo (and other brands) that allow you to bike around Singapore.

13. Was it easy to get around?

Yes. Subway was most convenient. Buses are also convenient but their schedule is more confusing so I would recommend downloading the bus app or using google maps to help plan your trip if you intend on taking the bus.

14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?

Yes, super safe! But if you plan on traveling to neighboring countries be aware that they are not as safe as Singapore, and it’s best to always travel with someone else. Also always keep your student ID/Solar Pass on you.

15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?

Exploring HDBs, the housing units. Some had amazing views if you can sneak your way to the top. Going to Sentosa and having fun at the beach or going zip lining. Shopping at Orchard, there’s also so many good food places around there.

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HOST CULTURE

16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

They are quieter, and keep to themselves, and you usually need to be the one to talk to them first. But once you get to know them, they are as nice as anyone else.

17. How did you handle culture shock?

N/A

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

Everyone was very polite, and is always willing to help, especially when you’re lost.

TRAVEL

19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

Too many!! But I was able to check off my Singapore bucket list of staying at the Marina Bay Sands. Me and 8 of my other friends crammed ourselves in a two person room to experience the Singapore icon and its rooftop infinity pool, and it was awesome. Definitely would not pay the full price for it, so glad I was able to gather some friends to share this experience with me.

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REFLECTION

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

Being completely alone and away from family for so long. At first it was hard adjusting but later on things got a lot easier and it didn’t become an issue anymore! It really taught me a lot about independence.

21. What was your biggest challenge abroad?

Probably the academics and keeping up with the classes because being abroad I was more relaxed and didn’t take my academics as seriously as I should have from the start, so there was a lot of catch up to do later on.

22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?

Definitely have learned to appreciate the world more and explore areas I never would have thought of exploring. I’ve grown more independent, have learned that it’s okay to be alone and do things on your own, otherwise you’ll be missing out on your own experience. I’ve also gained a lot more common sense and how to hold myself up and manage myself when in a new environment and I’ve also learned so much new slang from both locals and other exchange students!

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

Do it! Take that jump and dive in, you won’t regret it.

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