The Idea of “Kaisu”

Officially, it’s Week 4 of my semester here at Singapore Management University. Only 9 more weeks to go before it finals time! Not that I want the semester to come to end, it’s been amazing living and studying out here.

My new campus!

I’ve been experiencing so many new things here and adjusting to everything at the same time. I find that Singapore is not much of a culture shock for me as I’ve been to Asia before. What I find interesting is however is the myriad of cultures here. Singapore has four national languages- English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Every day I find myself hearing all four languages. Singapore is still a mystery to me because it’s hard to pinpoint what precisely the Singaporean culture is. It’s a wonderful mix of the West and the East.

Before I got here, I didn’t realize that I would be adjusting to SMU (Singapore Management University) culture in additional the local culture. The culture at my university is a whole new ballpark. I’ve noticed that the academic competition is fiercer here. In fact, it’s straight up cutthroat. There’s a Singlish word here (Singlish is a unique blend of English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and local dialects that is spoken in casual conversation) called Kiasu that means, “fear of losing”. Kiasu is a part of Singaporean culture as people grow up ingrained with the notion that hard work will get you ahead. It also means that Singaporeans are generally very competitive by nature in all aspects of their lives.

The idea of Kiasu became even clearer after my class discussion today. I’m taking a class called “Current Issues in Business, Society, and Government” and today we talked about Singapore’s education system. We watched a movie called, “I Not Stupid” by Jack Neo which is about three boys who are at a disadvantage because they’ve been streamlined into EM3. In the past, Singapore used to streamline students into three academic streams (EM1, EM2, EM3), the best students were placed in EM1 and the students who learned at a lower pace were placed into EM3. Although EM3 was supposed to create a learning environment suitable for students who needed a slower pace, it actually had negative effects for the students because it created a stigma that these students were “stupid”. There was also no possibility that EM3 students would move up the ranks. All of this relied on an examination that students took around age 10. As you can imagine, growing up here is very different than growing up in the US.

One of the best things about studying abroad is the exposure to different societies, cultures, and ideas that I would have not realized if I wasn’t here such as the idea of Kaisu. I’m constantly learning something new each day and I look forward to sharing all of these experiences through this blog!