I was sitting on the bus the other day, and was continuously met with strange glances and stern looks. I had been in a rush that morning so I was wondering whether I had a weird hairdo or perhaps I had a stain on my shirt. Then I realised it. I was chewing gum. I quickly stopped, and the looks came to an end.
The strange and strict laws in Singapore may be your first encounter with the country when you first consider an exchange here. You might even also hear some stories about students who are eventually deported because of their misconduct in the country. I was told, on several different occasions, about two German students that had done graffiti and were consequently sent home after a brief tenure in a Singaporean jail. Stories like this might discourage you, especially when they turn out to be true (damn those German guys!). But really, living here is not much harder than residing in Lund. As long as you do not chew gum, eat or drink on the subway (or in the stations!), and abide by a couple of other laws you will do just fine here. But if you do do something wrong, you can be sure that the authorities will find you due to the frightening amount of surveillance cameras everywhere.
You may also have heard that Singapore is a very clean city, which is true, in certain parts at least. The Downtown area and more touristy parts are very clean and you will have to look hard to find a piece of trash lying around, which is quite impressive since there are barely any trashcans anywhere. I guess the locals walk around with garbage in their pockets all day. However, you will not be impressed if you venture to the more genuine parts of Singapore. I have seen some of the cleanest streets here in Singapore, but also some of the filthiest beaches. East Coast Park is a park and beach that is highly regarded by locals. I have no idea why though because there was more trash there than outside McDonald’s on a Saturday morning. Examples of what you can stumble upon after a short stroll along the shoreline are old sandals, diapers, condoms, and I am pretty sure something was moving in that box!
I had the pleasure of arriving in Singapore in time for their 50th anniversary celebrations as an independent state. The festivities were concentrated around the nicest area here in Singapore, Marina Bay. It is also here where the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel resides with an infinity pool on top of the boat like structure. The day featured a parade, some (propaganda) broadcasts, and an impressive air show put on by the Singaporean Air force. It is quite evident that they are a proud people, and very fond of their home after experiencing their national day. They also seem very patriotic and nationalistic (my professor in Public Finance mentions their incredibly excellent army every other lecture), which comes to me as a surprise considering their young history as an independent country, and their diverse but separated population. Singaporeans are made up of mostly Chinese, Indians, and Malays. I say separated because I get the impression that these various groups rarely spend time together. It is very seldom, if ever, I have seen a group consisting of various ethnic groups here in Singapore. My sample size is of course quite small but it is something that I noticed after browsing lectures, study spaces, common rooms at the university, and, of course, walking around town.
I came here to study, and of course I do a bit of that as well. NUS was already highly ranked before I arrived here and it just recently climbed to place number 13 in the world according to the QS rankings, and remains as Asia’s top university. So for those of you who are considering an exchange at NUS, do not just take my word for it, but also find solace in the rankings, when I say it is a good university. I study Economics in Lund and do so here as well. For that reason, unlike most students in Lund, I do not attend lectures in the fancy building that is the Business School, but instead spend most of my time at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). The buildings are quite old, but the lecture halls are decent, nicer than the ones at LUSEM really. The lectures hold a sceptical level. To be honest I would expect more from the best university in Asia. I think it is quite noticeable that FASS, unfortunately, does not receive most of the resources from the university. In that aspect it is quite similar to LUSEM, the economics education being overshadowed by the business programme. However, where the lectures lack, the tutorials (lessons) do much better. These are conducted in smaller groups and the professor really makes an effort to get to know their students and seem very eager to help us learn the material.
I live on campus here on NUS, and I am very happy with my choice. Not only is it much cheaper than living off campus but it also makes it easier to meet other students, especially from other countries. What seems to be quite common, if you live in ashared apartment in the city with others, is that you only spend time with them and do not get involved in the student life as much as you may have liked to. Anyway, on campus you basically have two choices. Either live in the newer, nicer Utown Residence or the older, damper Prince Georges Park Residence (PGPR). It really is not much of a choice though since you just get allocated a room if you apply for on-campus housing. I had the misfortune of getting a room at PGPR, which I will admit, was quite bothersome the first few weeks. The main issue is that the rooms do not have air conditioning, which is horrendous when the average temperature, day and night, is 30 degrees. Other than that though, there are no real issues with living at PGPR. There are even some benefits to it over Utown. It is for example closer to the subway, though Utown has a pool. Here we have a restaurant open until 1AM. Utown does have a pool though. It is closer to get to my lectures from here, but damnit Utown has a pool… All in all, as an exchange student, I am just spending 4 months here and it is more than decent for that amount of time. However, I do pity those poor souls that live here for 4 years.
Unlike Swedish Universities, sport and recreation is a very vibrant part of the student life here on campus. They have a range of teams in various sports that you can join if you would like to. I tried out for both the Varsity football team and the Faculty team. I made the faculty team and played a 2-week tournament against the other faculties here at NUS. Unfortunately we could not complete the tournament due to the haze that captivated Singapore in early September and has remained since. Other than the student life on campus Singapore offers multiple sights to visit. Whether you like shopping, wildlife, or theme parks, Singapore has most of it. Once you get tired of Singapore however it is very easy to travel abroad with flights departing daily to the rest of South East Asia. I have managed to visit Malaysia and Indonesia so far and plan to reach Thailand and Hong Kong as well before the semester ends. Since we end in early December there are lots of possibilities to travel after the semester as well.
So, Haze, as the locals call it, is basically pollution from Indonesia that due to unfortunate wind patterns settles over Singapore every September. It takes form as a thick layer of grey clouds over the entire country and blocks out the sun and the blue skies. If it was not for my recent trip to Bali I would not have seen the sun for almost a month now. As it is pollution, it is not the healthiest environment to be in either. More and more locals are seen with dust masks as the haze overstaysits welcome. I have considered getting one as well, as I am getting quite frequent headaches nowadays. Most years it is usually just present for a couple of weeks but this year it has occupied the Singaporean skies for a month now, with no sign of capitulation. The hope of many locals is that the monsoon season will force it away in early November. I am not sure what I prefer, constant rain or a grey lid over the city. Admittedly, good weather is not one of the reasons to visit Singapore. Though, it never gets cold, unless you are inside of course.
I hope I have enlightened you all on what an exchange here in Singapore can offer you and perhaps even inspired some of you to apply to NUS for your upcoming semesters!