Top Ten things
Stepping outside Changi Airport, the hot and humid air hits you like a brick wall. I signed up for accommodation without air-conditioned certain that my body would eventually adapt to the new climate… I am wiser now, believing that even the Singaporeans are struggling to deal with the heat. Now, back in grey and gloomy London I dream of those hot and sunny days in this densely populated city-state. I have recommended 10 things that are must dos while on exchange in Singapore.
1. Ladies night
Wednesday is ladies night in Singapore. This means free entry and free drinks in most clubs around the city. Ku De Ta, the roof top bar at Marina Bay Sands, has an incredible panoramic view of the city allowing you to truly take in the impressive city centre. To get in, gents are required to wear long trousers and ladies high heels.
2. Roof top yoga in UTown
A number of yoga classes are on offer for NUS students. If you have the slightest interest in this activity, I strongly recommend the roof top version offered in UTown. These classes are held in the early evening on the roof of the Stephen Riady Centre. The campus and city are always busy and so it is really quite spectacular and unreal to be “zenning” high above the campus and city.
3. Food heaven
Singapore is known for its amazing cuisine and many top ten lists have probably been made to guide newcomers through this food paradise. Nevertheless I’ve chosen two places that I particularly enjoyed. Singapore’s Red Light District, Geylang, offers a less polished atmosphere compared to the rest of the city and really good seafood (the chilli crab was incredible)! The hawker centre in Pasir Ris Park is another great place to spend the evening. It’s a bit of a journey from the NUS campus, but you can spend hours trying out the traditional cuisine. Must tries are char kway teow, simple chicken rice with soy and chili, chai tow kway and spicy singray.
4. Singapore Zoo
Singapore Zoo is considered among the best in the world. Take out an entire day and evening (night safari is worth checking out), bring lunch and a camera. My personal favourite was the lion feeding sessions at night.
5. Orchard Road
Leave your credit card at home, bring a bottle of water and let yourself go in this consumer paradise. Orchard Road is an impressive and scary place, where one shopping mall replaces the other. You will find the famous global brands and more local shopping malls selling Chinese herbs and cheap electronics.
You will either love or hate this artificial island. It is a place of contradictions, which really becomes apparent when you lie on the man made white sandy beaches and eye the numerous gigantic tankers waiting to get a spot in the harbour. Besides going swimming and sunbathing, Sentosa offers adrenaline rushes in Universal Studios Singapore, soothing spas in the Sentosa Resort and scientific explorations in the Oceanarium.
7. Bukit Timah
It is hard to imagine, but once Singapore was covered by tropical rain forest. The island has undergone immense landscape change, but Bukit Timah is one of the few places where you can go back in time and enjoy an area that is close to the natural landscape. Go int he morning for a better chance to spot wild monkeys.
8. Picnic in the Botanic Gardens
Singapore’s Botanic Gardens are quite incredible and certainly worth a visit. Go for an old fashioned picnic outing – bring blankets, sunscreen, water, drinks and food. Don’t forget to clean up – Singaporeans like their Botanic Gardens clean!
9. Biking at Pulau Ubin Island
Need to take a break from the city centre? Jump on the ferry to Ubin Island and explore one of the last rural areas in Singapore. I would recommend renting a bicycle. A day’s rental is usually less than $15 and the bike paths will allow you to cover most of the island in a day. Pulau Ubin Island is only a 10 minute boat ride from the jetty at Changi Village and the cost is just a few dollars each way.
10. Evening run on the NUS track
As mentioned, Singapore is a warm and humid place! Exercising or running outside (well, actually doing anything outside!) might come across as either very ambitious or utterly stupid. However, at night time the temperature falls and the NUS running track comes alive. You don’t have to be training for a marathon, just go for a walk around the track and experience the chilled out atmosphere.
On-campus housing is the main type of accommodation for students on exchange at the National University of Singapore. There are three on-campus housing options; halls of residence, student residences, and residential colleges. I will outline the main characteristics of the three, and go into a bit more detail about the specific residential college, Tembusu, which I stayed in during my exchange. Please keep in mind that King’s cannot guarantee that your first choice of accommodation will be meet, as accommodation arrangements between King’s and NUS might change from year to year.
Halls of residence
Halls of residence NUS currently has six halls of residence; Eusoff Hall, Kent Ridge Hall, King Edward VII Hall, Raffles Hall, Sheares Hall, and Temasek Hall. Halls of residence are known to have rich histories and traditions and residents are expected to participate actively in the hall community. The halls are catered and students are required to subscribe to the catering service.
There are three different student residence, these include: Prince George’s Park Residence, Kuok Foundation House, and Ridge View Residence. Although placed in a communal setting, student residences offer a more independent living. Residents are encouraged to participate in campus-wide clubs, groups, or societies, but not required to do so. The residences are moreover self-catered.
There are currently four residential colleges at NUS, Cinnamon College (USP), Tembusu College, College of Alice and Peter Tan, and Residential College 4. These four are all situated in what is known as UTown or University Town. UTown is a very new and different campus area, which aims to create an environment where learning and living combine. Students are encouraged to participate in college activities, sport clubs and events. The Colleges are moreover catered and students are required to subscribe to the meal plan.
During my exchange I stayed in the residential college, Tembusu, in Utown. Utown is as mentioned very new (some areas are actually still under construction). It is quite an unreal area, combining big city life (high rise buildings, Starbucks and Subway) and the more village type campus experience (common green, small scale college events and a strong community spirit). You stay in your own room; each floor has an air-conditioned common room and you will have easy access to kitchen facilities and laundry rooms. Tembusu is known for its Master’s and Fellow’s Tea, which are small optional seminars with distinguished (or just interesting) people. Tembusu has 21 floors (the view is great from the top), which are split into smaller so-called houses. I was part of the Shan house, where students and staff organised BBQ nights and other events. The required meal plan is enjoyed in the Dining Hall where you have the choice between a number of different cuisines. If your meal credits run out or you crave something different, UTown also houses a minimarket and two food courts. My favourite thing about UTown was the gym and roof-top pool, which are available to all NUS students (even though you don’t live in UTown you can still use the facilities). Access to all amenities are included in your accommodation fees.
Modules at NUS run over one term and follow the same set structure of a six weeks instructional period, one week recess, another seven weeks instructional period, reading week and finally a two week examination period. Most modules are set up in a similar manner to King’s with lectures and tutorials. Size classes will vary depending on subject matter and popularity.
The NUS campus is quite large. Depending on where you live and what you study you might be able to walk, otherwise the free internal shuttle bus service will take you around campus to the different faculties. There are many slightly hidden walking paths between the different faculties which are worth figuring out, these are covered to shelter you from the sun or rain and will allow you to avoid the busses, which are usually quite crammed between classes. As a student you have access to all NUS libraries and study rooms.
Assessment at NUS is often more holistic than at King’s, in the sense that your assessment is usually a combination of written work, presentations, exams, class participation and attendance. Some modules will moreover have a mid-term often before or after the recess week. This holistic grading means that you will usually be assessed though out the term, but it also means that each kind of assessment will be worth less of your total grade. Group work is part of many module assessments, you might be asked to do group presentations or write group reports. Your work will be marked by your professor or the teaching assistants (TA’s).
You are encouraged to discuss assignments or other work with your professors or TA’s during their weekly office hours. Most professors will also be willing to set up a meeting if you just drop them an email.
Find the academic calendar online.
Elsewhere I have recommended cycling around Pulau Ubin Island, which is a great way to spend the weekend. If you are a fan of the two wheeler, then night cycling is another cool way to experience the city. The reasons to go night cycling are many. First, the sun is away making temperatures bearable and second, the roads are less busy. The city slows down at night and it is just very surreal and cool to cruise through the streets. The different colleges in NUS arrange night cycling throughout the semester and if you are a smaller group wanting to go then you can usually hire bikes from most colleges.
If you are hitting town during the weekend, I recommend starting the night on the pedestrian bridge between Clark Quay and Riverside Point. The bridge is full of backpackers and students and usually everyone just chills out and gets to know new people with a few beers from the nearby supermarket or 7/11. All of the Clarke Quay area is full of restaurants, clubs and bars so you will be right in the centre of the Singaporean nightlife once you have had enough of the bridge. The amazing thing about the Singaporean climate is that it does not get cold and you can stay out all night.
Weekend trip to Malaysia or Indonesia
Singapore is quite a small place, and even though there are many great things to do, you might find that visiting one of the nearby countries is a perfect way to spend the weekend. You can catch a ferry to Bintan in Indonesia from the harbour front. Bintan Island is about 45 minutes away by ferry and a perfect place if you need a break from the city. Rent a hut on the beach and enjoy the calm. A bit further away, but even more amazing in my opinion, is Tioman Island in Malaysia. This is a little paradise on Earth, really beautiful, very chilled out and perfect for diving and snorkelling. Take a bus to Mersing on the east coast of mainland Malaysia and from there take the ferry to Tioman. The historical city Melaka and capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, are equally close to Singapore and potential destinations for a weekend trip. Order bus tickets online and take advantage of all the great travelling possibilities!
Reflections from home
A year down the line, my semester abroad is starting to feel a bit like a crazy and wonderful dream. Had it not been for the numerous albums documenting my time away I would probably begin to question the fact that, for just about six months, Singapore was my home.
My time in the city-state was fantastic; I loved living in the campus bubble, the intense studies, getting to know lots of wonderful people as well as exploring the Island and parts of South East Asia.
I am already an international student at King’s and therefore I imagine that my study abroad experience might have been slightly different from those students who were going to live abroad for the first time. I had to change the times I could Skype with family and friends, but other than that it was relatively easy to leave London and I did not experience much homesickness when being away. I did, however, encounter a slight ‘culture shock’, this being my first time in Asia. Now, I know that most people laugh a bit about the whole idea of culture shock, but the Singaporean lifestyle, customs and politics continued to surprise me and illuminated new ways of thinking and doing throughout my stay. One of the most wonderful things about living in a place that is underpinned by values very different from the ones you are used to, is, that you are constantly forced to question the values that you usually take for granted. My time on exchange in Singapore also provided me with what felt like a very secure and protected introduction to South East Asia, and I quickly understood that six months were nowhere near enough time to properly experience this amazing part of the world. I would love to return to Asia and I would not hesitate for a second if I got the chance to work there for a longer period of time.
Things are again about to change now that my time at King’s is coming to an end, and my study abroad experience has certainly had an influence on my future plans, especially with regards my post-graduate studies. My interest in issues of identity in the urban landscape was really sparked in Singapore, where the topic received immense attention in both the public and academic sphere. I have decided to pursue this interest in my further studies and I have applied to different two-year masters that offer study abroad opportunities for at least one semester. My time in Singapore has furthermore reaffirmed my desire to live in and explore as much as the world as possible, a wish that suits my interests as a geography student perfectly. There is no better way to engage with a place than to live there and to completely immerse yourself in the culture of that area.
As cliché as it might sound, the study abroad experiences that I have had in Singapore, but also as an international student at King’s, have certainly been key to my personal and academic development and I would recommend this to anyone who is up for a challenging and really exciting adventure.