Saturday, 24 June 2017

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International Exchange in Singapore - Overview

Gardens by the Bay - an iconic photo for Singapore
Exchange is a phenomenal experience. Although it is a fairly expensive experience, you can really make it a worthwhile experience that's incredibly enriching and memorable.

So going into exchange, I had taken an additional course the summer earlier to have a reduced course load during my time in Singapore. This meant that I had four courses during my semester, and with a lot of strategic scheduling I managed to fit everything into my Tuesday and Wednesday - meaning I could travel from Wednesday evening until Monday and practically had a 5 day weekend.

Small note - the "BOSS" bidding that SMU uses is quite annoying, make sure you plan accordingly when you make your bids or else you might still have an incomplete schedule even as school is about to start.  Also, most courses are Pass or Fail for exchange students which explains the relaxed attitude and student demeanour throughout the semester. 

 I didn't leave every single week (although some other exchange students did manage to get away with doing so with some questionable behaviour) due to the cost but it was also because I did need to have a few weeks to catch up with my workload at times or else failing was a real fear.

Exchange is interesting - you go into it knowing that it will be a cultural learning experience, but I found that I actually learned more about other international cultures (European specifically), rather than Singapore's. The reason this happens is because people simply congregate and clump together based on common interests. Meaning, exchange students typically end up staying together with exchange students and don't actually associate as much with the local students - which can be unfortunate.

However, since SMU has a heavy emphasis on group projects (I had one for every single class) it is the only way where are put in a situation where you do meet local students in your class and work closely together. Although most students are going on exchange and are thus quite sympathetic, exchange students do have a reputation for being deadweights so you should probably try to contribute as best you can. With that being said, a group of only exchange students can be quite dangerous and unfortunate for whichever student is left to do all the work while others are out of country (this happened to one of my friends)!

Skyline of Singapore

Although I lived with the Finnish and the French, we had neighbours in the apartment which were Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Austrian, Irish, and German as well. It's no wonder that I ended up learning so much about European culture! It was interesting to hear about small little nuances in sayings, or customs, but there would also be discussions about the educational system, travel, values and politics. Having exposure and the opportunity to learn about this just through some light chatter and banter was something I truly enjoyed.

A lot of the Canadians would typically hang out with other Canadians and keep to themselves but it was pretty interesting because there was actually a slight difference that I noticed between the other Canadians and the Europeans. I was actually slightly older since my school does exchange in the last year and because I was completing my fifth year for my dual degree. In contrast the rest of the Canadian schools typically go during their third year, which meant that there was a bit of a gap. Interestingly enough, people were generally my age or older for various reasons, which included being in the army, taking a gap year to travel or to work.

Anyways in terms of living situation, I lived in Farrer Park, which is only about two stops from my campus through the MRT (25 minutes by subway approximately) or simply one bus (15 minutes). With the subway it did require one transfer each time, but it wasn't too bad as: Farrer Park -> Purple line -> Dhoby Gaut -> Circle Line -> Bras Basah.

Despite leaving the day before Christmas, I arrived in Singapore the day afterwards (effectively missing Christmas altogether). Since then I travelled from the first week of January onwards to the first week of June. I had my 'weekend trips' - which included one Recess week, as well as a six-week long backpacking trip after my exam was completed.

My weekend trips included the following cities:

  • Malaysia: Kuala Lampur, Malacca
  • Thailand: Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Chiang Mai
  • Hong Kong
  • Taiwan: Tai Pei,
  • Vietnam: Ho Chi Min, Mui Ne
  • Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kurashiki, Okayama, Hijemi, Kobe
My six-week backpacking trip included the following cities: 
  • Philipines: Coron/Palawan
  • Vietnam: Sapa, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay
  • Thailand: Ko Phang An 
  • Cambodia: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh
  • Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake
  • Indonesia: Bali (Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, Canggu), Gili Islands (Gili T, Gili Air), Nusa Ceningan

Anyways that is my brief intro - and I will be back with more updates. Hoping to include itineraries, worthwhile attractions, hostels, and possibly food recommendations. 



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