Before I went to Singapore, all I wanted was someone who had been there before to answer some questions. I did not have this person, but I want to try and answer some of my biggest questions for potential students studying abroad in Singapore.
1. How hard are the classes?
Coming from Ohio State, I would say the classes are the same level of difficult. However, they are difficult in different ways. Singapore Management University (SMU) puts a large focus on class participation and group projects in every course, while Fisher’s core classes focus on exams and homework. Being an exchange student, it is also difficult because all you want to do is explore the city you are in and travel on the weekends. Since classes transfer back as grades rather than Pass/Fail as most other U.S. schools, you have to try for good grades. This means studying harder than your other exchange friends.
2. Where should I live?
Unfortunately, since SMU is an urban campus they do not have dorms. You are on your own to find housing. Most students end up living in condo’s run by individual landlords. Some people choose to live in hostels, however I would not recommend this. When I first arrived in Singapore, I stayed in a hostel that was very dirty and ended up being unable to receive my deposit back. Many students wait until they arrive in Singapore to find housing. They book a hostel for the first few nights, and take the first few days to contact a housing agent and tour potential condos.
Note: it is required that you have an agent to rent a condo. I was not the person in my group to contact the agent, but I believe they just Googled, “Housing agent for expat in Singapore” and emailing the first few.
I ended up finding two other Americans, three Finnish people, and one French girl to share a condo with. Being with other nationalities was a very rewarding experience because it gave us the opportunity to learn from each other. We stayed in City Square, which was right next to the MRT train station making it very convenient to get to school. There are many other housing options closer and further from school, depending on the price range you pay. We each ended up paying S$950 = US$680 per month.
3. What did you do about your phone?
Fortunately, most mobile phones that we buy now are unlocked. This means that as long as the phone is working well, it will be able to accept any wireless carrier. I brought my iPhone from the U.S., and was able to use one of the wireless carriers in Singapore to get a new sim card with data and messaging. It is very straightforward to get a new sim card. Like Verizon and AT&T, wireless carriers in Singapore have physical store locations. If you walk into one of these locations (I prefer Singtel), you will be able to purchase a sim card with however much data you want. I was able to get 2GB data for S$20/month. Singtel also offers international packages, so when you travel abroad to places like Thailand and Indonesia, you don’t need to buy a new sim card in those places.
4. How do the subways work?
The subway in Singapore is called the MRT. Rather than buying a package at the beginning of the semester, I recommend purchasing an EZ-Link card at any of the kiosks at the entrance to the MRT. You can refill this card throughout your semester at any self-serve kiosk at every MRT station. Rides are typically in the S$1.50-S$2 range per trip, but are cheaper during rush hour. This same EZ-Link card is used for buses and printing at SMU.
5. What do I pack?
Singapore is a hot, humid, tropical city-state. Students in Singapore look much nicer than students in the U.S. They hardly wear athletic gear and are more in favor of trendier styles. Still most people wear shorts and nice shirts to class. I would pack a light jacket because the air conditioning can be very chilly indoors. Additionally, research the places you want to visit. Northern Vietnam and Hong Kong can get chilly during the evenings, so jackets might be necessary. I would recommend bringing at least one business casual outfit. This can be used for group presentations, meeting with professionals, etc. I chose to purchase cheap, plain t-shirts and leave them in Singapore to save luggage space for souvenirs.
If you have any questions about studying in Singapore, please do not hesitate to reach out. I am more than happy to talk to anyone who is interested but unsure about what to expect.