Reflections on my Singapore Exchange

Last week, I flew back to Canada after studying abroad in Singapore for four months.  Calling my exchange experience “fun” would be a massive understatement.  Here is a brief summary of my reflections on these past four months.

Travel

The main reason I came on this exchange was to travel as much as possible, and I succeeded in this goal.  Out of the four months I was abroad, I spent 60% of it in Singapore, and the other 40% (50 days) travelling.  In total, I went on 10 trips in 8 different countries. These trips ranged from 3 to 10 days. In terms of countries, I visited Malaysia (3 trips), Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Australia, and Taiwan.

Now, although I’ve visited all these countries, I’m hesistant to claim that I’ve really travelled through them. Each of my trips were quite short, so in no way did I get to truly experience the countries that I’ve visited. For example, by going surfing on the beaches of Bali while staying at a resort-like hotel does not let me state that I’ve embraced Indonesian culture. However, these trips were a great way for me to be introduced to the country, and it gave me a sense of which places I would like to come back to for further travel (or maybe even live?).

Nonetheless, each of my trips were a huge success in terms of the fun I had. Here are, in no particular order, some of my most memorable experiences:

  • Watching the sunrise on top of a volcano in Bali
  • River tracing in Taiwan
  • Getting my scuba license in Malaysia
  • Eating a bowl of pho in Vietnam
  • White water rafting in Bali
  • Soaking in the beautiful outdoor hot springs in the cold winter in Japan
  • Seeing wild kangaroos and koalas in Australia
  • Staring out into the beautiful ocean in Thailand

And here are some of the things I’ve learned through my travels:

  • How to sleep in a hostel
  • How to travel light (I might write a post on this)
  • There are friendly people all over the world
  • How grateful I am for my fortunate circumstances
  • How much I hate the heat
  • How to sleep on a plane
  • How to bargain (I’m still horrible)
  • How small the world is

… and much more.

Daily Life

I wrote about this before, but it was quite the unique experience being able to have zero worries and responsibilities.  However, not everyone who was on exchange was able to live such a worry-free life; the main factor was that I was able to get away with only taking three, very easy courses.  It worked out that I was able to live this lazy life for only four months; if it had been any longer, it may have been quite difficult for me to adjust back into reality!

Singapore

My transition from life in Canada to Singapore was quite smooth.

I did not experience any culture shock when I moved to Singapore.  This may have been because I was living on campus and living the university life, which I was already used to doing in Canada.  If anything, I had actually experienced a culture shock when I first began to attend the University of Waterloo.  There is a dense populations of Asians at the University of Waterloo, especially within the math faculty.  Because of this, going to a university full of Asians in Singapore did not feel like too much of a change.

It also really helped that English is the official language spoken in Singapore.  I couldn’t imagine living for four months in a country where I did not understand the main language used.  This is one of the reasons why I think Singapore is a great place to go on exchange.

Singaporean Life

One of things that I did not get to do was to really experience Singaporean life. Although Singapore was my “home” for four months, I used it more as a travel base rather than a home. I was usually in Singapore only from Tuesdays to Thursdays, and I used most of those days planning for my upcoming trip, and catching up on missed lectures.

I didn’t even get to see many of the tourist attractions within Singapore. This wasn’t much of a loss, since I did enough touristy things in other countries. However, what I did miss out on was making friends with local students. When I first went to my classes, on instinct, I went up and talked to only the other exchange students. They were easier to talk to as they had more in common with me, and the local students already had their group of friends.  My original plan was to join some campus clubs or sports to meet Singaporeans; but it turned out that my travel schedule did not allow me to go to many regular meetups.

There were other exchange students who did not travel much, if at all. They would tell me that they were jealous of the fact that I travelled so much. However, their main purpose of coming on exchange to Singapore was not to travel. Rather, they wanted to experience living in a different country than their own; and that is exactly what they did. Since they had a lot more time in Singapore than I did, they were able to befriend many locals, hang out with them on the weekends, and truly experience Singaporean culture. In the end, they achieved their goals and I achieved mine. It would be a bit greedy to want to have done both, though some people I know were able to get the best of both worlds.

Looking back, I do not regret having a busy travel schedule rather than spending more time in Singapore. It is just something that I may have been able to do had I had a longer stay in Singapore.

Residence

The main thing that bothered me about Singapore was my residence.  The room itself wasn’t too bad; it was a bit dirty, but it was quite spacious.  The main concern was that it did not have AC; so the temperature in the room was identical to the outdoor temperature, around 33°C plus humidity (everyday).  I’m quite sensitive when it comes to heat, so it was not an option for me to stay in my room unless I had to.  I only went to my room to sleep, and I usually spent the whole day somewhere on campus with AC.

In short, I had the time of my life in the past four months.  I will miss the routine weekend travels, the amazing people I met, the cheap food, and the worry-free life I had.  I am so glad that I made the decision to go on exchange, and I highly encourage everyone else to do the same!