Welcome to Singapore
Hi my name is Paul Dampierre and during my fourth year at the University of Southampton, while studying Eletrical and Electronic Engineering, I spent a semester abroad at the National University of Singapore (NUS). In this entry, I will talk about the different steps of a semester abroad in Singapore and my experiences at NUS. Hopefully this will help you make the most of your experience abroad.
Preparing your semester abroad
Before going abroad, make sure you follow these few tips. They could be the difference between a good and a great time overseas.
Do your reseach! There’s nothing worse than going abroad and realising once it’s too late that this wasn’t the right choice for you. Look online and use all the tools available to make sure you’re ready. It’s not like you need to plan for every detail, but being thorough before leaving can make a difference. Pro tip, pack smart. I made the unfortunate mistake of carrying all my winter clothes halfway around the world to have them stashed away in my closet. You won’t be cold in Singapore!
Old exchangers are a great resource and they’ll be happy to help with anything. While trying to find the best accomodation or similar difficult choices, the advice and information you can get from someone who has already been through it all is priceless.
Choose your classes wisely. Although your time abroad will be a lot of fun, remember you’ll also have to go to class. At NUS there are tools available to preview your timetable as you choose your modules. This is great to optimise your time. If you’re planning on travelling, pack your classes into several days and give yourself the rest of the week off to go on an adventure.
Be aware that if you are going to Singapore, the second semester starts before the end of the first semester back home. This means that if you come to Singapore for a semester after spending the first semester at Southampton, you’ll have to sit your exams at the Malaysia campus. Be mindful of this when choosing your first semester modules. If you don’t want to go to the University of Southampton’s Malaysia campus (which isn’t the best tourist destination), choose modules that don’t have written exams as part of your assessment.
First steps abroad
Just as you get off the plane, don’t forget to take a look around the airport. Walk around the Jewel at Changi, a beautiful fountain surrounded by an inside garden. Totally worth it!
Meet new people and make friends. There will be plenty of opportunities to break the ice with other exchangers. The first couple of weeks will seem overwhelming, but hang tight, it’ll be worth it! My advice: go to as many events as you can, they’re great to see new faces and find travel buddies.
Create yourself a home. Give your room a makeover! Even though you don’t want to spend a lot of time in your room, it feels good to have a nice place to call your home.
Explore everything around you. You’ve just arrived in a new place that’s nothing like Southampton. Grab a few buddies and go on an adventure! Go eat street food at a hawker center, drink a Singapore sling on a rooftop bar or explore the islands around Singapore on a boat. Any outing will make you realise how awesome it is to be far from home. The added bonus is, these adventures are a great way to make new friends.
Give yourself a break! The first few weeks of your time abroad will be intense. Being active all the time can take its tool on you. Take some time for yourself and have a good night’s sleep.
While you’re abroad
Make the most of the local culture. Being abroad is a great way to discover a new culture. This includes talking new languages, discovering new accents, sightseeing and, most importantly, stuffing yourself with great food! In Singapore, food is super cheap and very yummy. Grabbing a bite to eat with your friends becomes an adventure. Walk around the city and try all the different hawker centers for the best street food in the world! Taste everything at least once, it might be the last opportunity you get to do so.
Travel around South-East Asia. Most exchangers you meet chose to go to Singapore because it’s the perfect location to travel everywhere in the region. The countries you can go to for less than 100 pounds round trip are Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Phillippines and many more. As everyone is keen to travel, select your squad and you’ll be off exploring islands, jungles, caves or beaches.
Befriend local students to get the inside scoop. There is only so much an exchanger can get to know in the limited amount of time they spend abroad. Get some classmates, hall mates or people you know through sports to show you around, you won’t regret it.
My time abroad
When I set foot in Singapore, I only knew one coursemate who was travelling with me. As I was setting off, I had made dozens of very good friends and met hundreds of people. It was so refreshing to go abroad, it’s such a drastic change from the routine I had in Southampton. It was a highlight of my degree and a great end to my 4 years at uni.
While I was abroad, I took 4 classes. Each class had three to four hours of lectures every week and tutorials. Over the course of the semester, some classes had lab sessions as well. Every class had coursework that had to be done over the course of the semester. I organised my classes to have Friday and Monday off in order to travel over the weekend.
The highlight of my experience abroad were my travels. In order to balance my work and my travels, I would travel every other weekend. I would have traveled more but my budget didn’t allow it. I was able to visit Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Phillippines. I would definetely recommend travelling to more countries, however the Covid-19 pandemic had other plans.
All the places I visited were exceptional in their own way. I was blown away by the delicious food in Thailand: the green curries never dissapointed. I admired the natural beauty of the Phillippines which features picture perfect landscapes everywhere you go. The rooftops in Kuala Lumpur were a hit.
Another highlight during these trips were my travel buddies. I was able to travel with a wide variety of people and got to know them a lot better. Having these different experiences was eye opening. Personally, I think having four to six people travel together is ideal but feel free to experiment.
The best experience during these trips were the journeys on motorbikes. During my trip to the Phillippines our crew hired motorbikes to tour the island. Racing accross the island for hours was definitely something I’ll cherish for a while.
Abroad during the pandemic
During my semester abroad, Covid-19 evolved from a distant news story to an ever growing pandemic.
While I was in Singapore, I always felt very safe. NUS was very communicative and safety measures were implemented all around Singapore. We had to measure our temperature twice a day with our own thermometers that the school provided for us. Temperature scanning points were set around campus. International travels had to be declared online. People coming back from abroad had to spend two weeks quarantined at home.
Needless to say, these measures were very comforting at a time when little information was available anywhere.
Unfortunately my time abroad was cut short and I had to sit my exams back at home. With the time difference most of my exams were held in the middle of the night. Easy to say quantom physics is quite hard at two in the morning.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to have spent this time abroad. Overall, it was a very enriching experience. I strongly recommend students not only to spend a semester abroad but to go to Singapore as it is an ideal destination. The university’s classes are at a high level and the travelling opportunities are limitless. I had so much fun there and I hope that you will to.
Fun fact, Singapore is very safe. In order to reserve seats in food courts people usually leave tissues, locals call it choping. However, my friends trusted Singaporeans so much that they would leave their phones unsupervised at the table while getting their food.
For more fun facts like these or information don’t hesitate to get in contact with me and ask me anything.