By far the biggest perk about studying abroad in Singapore is the ease of traveling around Southeast Asia. I was able to travel to 5 different countries outside of Singapore and the most I paid for a flight was $300 to Australia. Most flights were 2-3 hours long and only around $150. Airlines such as TigerAir and Jetstar make flying on a budget a breeze.
My favorite country I visited was Thailand and I loved it so much that I went twice on my four month exchange. From the white sand beaches, to feeding elephants, to 40 baht pad thai, Thailand was nothing short of Paradise.
My favorite experience out of both my trips to Thailand was visiting an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai called Elephant Nature Park. I heard horror stories about how elephants are domesticated and knew I didn’t want to go the typical route and go elephant riding. Instead, I got to spend the entire day among them, feeding them, bathing them, and observing them. It was an unforgettable experience and I recommend it to anyone traveling to Thailand.
Other amazing experiences included visiting the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, sailing Halong Bay (New 7 Wonder of Nature), diving in the Great Barrier Reef, and visiting tea plantations in Malaysia.
I was fortunate enough to travel to all these amazing places and not have to break the bank. Although traveling was relatively inexpensive, the people I met along the way, the culture, the views, and the memories were all priceless. I definitely recommend traveling as much as possible while on exchange because an opportunity like this doesn’t come often.
After 2 months of being in Singapore, I have come to realize what a truly multicultural country it is. Everything from the people to the food to the holidays embody that. This year I was fortunate enough to experience two New Year’s celebrations.
I started off my New Year in Singapore at Marina Bay and it was absolutely spectacular. The view of the city and Marina Bay Sands were picture perfect.
I thought I would have to settle for an average New Year’s Eve because I knew that Chinese New Year’s was also big in Singapore but the celebrations were anything but average. I got to ring in the New Year with some local Singaporeans and my roommates who are fellow exchange students at SMU. As you can see, the city at night is full of lights.
I can’t think of any other country where the Gregorian New Year (January 1st) celebrations are just as big as the celebrations for Chinese New Year (February 19th)! Chinese New Year in Singapore was just as fun and colorful with a cultural twist.
Even after I leave Singapore, I think my new tradition will be to celebrate two New Year’s, every year.
Asia usually gets overlooked as a study abroad destination as most American students pick European or Australian destinations. However, as I come near the end of my study abroad experience here in Singapore, I’ve come to the conclusion that Singapore might be one of the best places to study abroad. Here are 6 reasons why –
1.The weather is an amazing 85-90 degrees all year round
What can beat perfect beach weather? Coming from OSU, this weather in Singapore in November is a dream come true. It’s hard to feel gloomy or stressed when the sun shines almost everyday. Also, Singapore is built around the heat so this isn’t like summer in NYC. There’s air condition everywhere, even in the MRT stations (luxuriously comfortable compared to the NY subway stations).
2. Singapore is an English speaking country
Most people probably aren’t aware that Singapore has four national languages and one of them is English, along with Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. It’s incredibly easy and comfortable to get around since there is no language barrier. I have to admit, I had no idea Singapore was an English speaking country before I Googled it. Actually, most of my friends weren’t even know where Singapore was on the map when I told them I was coming here! (It’s wedged beneath Malaysia, in case you weren’t aware either!) Since Singapore is such a small country, I think it often gets overlooked. Singapore is roughly the size of NYC, maybe a bit smaller. There are 5 million people living here compared to 8 million in NYC.
3. The business education at SMU is top-notch
If you’re a business major, then there’s no better place to be than in Singapore. Singapore ranks No.1 worldwide for being most business-friendly. Singapore knows how to do business and that trickles down to SMU (Singapore Management University) where I study. The business school is extremely engaging and really tries to prepare its students for success in the business world by making participation and presentations a must in it’s curriculum. The smaller classroom settings at SMU compared to the lecture halls at OSU has been a nice change of pace as well.
4. The ease of traveling around Southeast Asia
Traveling out of Singapore to other countries in Southeast Asia is extremely easy. Cheap flights out of Singapore are made possible by budget carriers like Jetstar and Tigerair. Since I’ve started school here in August, I’ve traveled to 6 different countries already (Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, and even Australia!) I’m really surprised with the amount of traveling I’ve been able to do here (and very grateful too!) because traveling was a priority for my exchange experience. My round-trip tickets for weekend getaways have never cost me more than 260$ USD and that one was to Australia! It blows my mind that a round trip ticket from Singapore to Australia (8 hour flight!) could be cheaper than a ticket from NY to LA. Not only are the flights inexpensive, traveling around Southeast Asia is extremely cheap as well. For a typical local meal, I can expect to pay 2-3$ along with accommodation priced around 5-10$. What more can you ask for when you’re on a student budget?
5. Singapore is an extremely safe city
Most people have an image of Southeast Asia as dangerous. And it’s true, some parts of it is dangerous but the majority of the places I’ve traveled to are not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be. However, when the rest of Southeast Asia’s safety standards are compared next to Singapore, it comes nowhere close. Singapore is one of the safest urban cities in the world. I am not joking, you can walk around at 4 AM and not have to fear getting mugged or assaulted. Drug laws are strict here and poverty hardly exists on the streets. And this is all because Singapore has very, very strict punishment for crimes such as heavy fines, long imprisonment, and even caning.
6. Opportunities to meet exchange students from all over the world
Although Singapore is not a popular study abroad destination for Americans, it’s actually a very popular destination for students from Europe. As a result, American exchange students are rare here (maybe less than 6%). The rest are from Europe and other parts of the world. I’ve met many incredible people on my exchange who have taught me so much more about the world. I’m currently living with five girls— three from Finland, one from Germany, and one from Brazil. It’s sort of our own little melting pot—everyday we get the opportunity to exchange stories about our country and culture to each other, and as a result we learn so much from each other.
Although these are all great reasons to study in Singapore, the truth is, anywhere you choose to study abroad will be amazing and life changing. The most important thing is to not be scared and just go for it!
This dish was what my Lonely Planet Guidebook claimed a “must-try” while in Singapore. Indeed, they were right. Chicken Rice is actually considered one of the national dishes of Singaporean culture. It’s a dish that originated from Hainan, China and was brought over to Singapore by early immigrants. It’s prepared with fragrant rice (rice that has been pre-fried in chicken fat and cooked in chicken broth), bite-size steamed white chicken, and served with soy sauce and ground chili paste on the side. It’s a simple dish but every time I eat it, I wonder why I don’t eat more of it!
2. Nasi Lemak
The first time I tried this dish, I was at a hawker center (open-space food courts in Singapore with many different food stalls). I saw that this particular stall had a long queue (Singaporeans love to queue because it must mean that the food is very good) so I decided to join in. The food this stall was serving was Nasi Lemak, which is also considered a national dish of Singapore. Nasi Lemak has its origins in Malaysia. It’s prepared with fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and comes with a fried egg, fried chicken wing, and served with small fried anchovies, and sambal (a spicy sauce). It’s usually very cheap, I pay around 3.50$ SGD for one meal (equivalent to 2.82$ US dollars!).
3. Char Siew Bao
Char Siew Bao’s are Cantonese barbequed pork- filled buns. They are simply delicious and surprisingly filling. It’s usually found in dim sum restaurants but in Singapore there are a lot of on-the-go dim sum stalls at food courts, which makes it convenient to eat this as a snack during any time of the day. There is a food court on my campus that has one of the stalls and I always find myself grabbing a bun in between classes!
The other day, I took part in what I will call The Longest Group Meeting of My Life. It was 9 hours to be precise. It was for my Management of People at Work class (equivalent to BUSMHR 3200).
We had to prepare a 20-minute presentation on a research question that explores an Organizational Behavior topic. We had to come up with a model (how having a family affects an employee’s tendency to work from home and or/ tendency to work overtime and whether the age of kids influence these correlations) and research existing literature to propose hypothetical results. Phew, that was a mouthful!
And here’s what I concluded about SMU students during this 9-hour meeting (we started at noon and stayed until 9 PM in a group study room…)
SMU students pay a lot of attention to detail
It was impossible to move on from one step of the project to the next if the first step was not perfected. I found that the students have a hard time jumping around to different parts of the project. For me, I tend to focus on the end result. For my group mates, they were more interested in specific details. 75% of the time, they would always end the meeting by saying “Let’s ask Prof” (it’s very normal to call professors here by Prof). They were always unsure whether our progress was going in the right direction. Perhaps this could be related to my previous post about creativity in Singapore and how people might feel uncomfortable with the idea of thinking outside of the box.
Polychronic time system is a more relaxed approach to time and scheduling. Cultures who are under a polychromic time system are not stressed out by time because they don’t count minutes. Some Asian, Latin American, and African cultures use the this time system.
On the other hand, Western cultures use the monochromic measure of time meaning time is segmented into precise, small units. Western culture such as America take time very seriously because “time is money”.
During this meeting, I realized that SMU students lean towards the polychromic time system. As the hours passed by, I realized that it was not about getting the job done, it was about getting the job done perfectly no matter how long it took. No one seemed to be anguished that the meeting was taking the whole day. When I was in that group study room, time became irrelevant. The only thing that was relevant was our presentation.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed myself during the meeting
99% of the time, I really dislike group meetings. They can be unproductive, confusing, and just plain stressful. However, there are times when group meetings are productive and engaging. This was one of those meetings. I found that SMU students are very engaged in their group projects, with every member giving it their best effort (which can’t be said for some of my pervious group projects at Fisher…). This makes group projects a lot more bearable. It was even enjoyable because it’s one of the few chances I really have to interact with the local students.
So in the end, it wasn’t as nearly as horrible as it sounds. I learned a lot through observation and I even made some new friends!
Last week during my Current Issues in Business, Culture, and Society class, a very interesting speaker came in to give a talk. Randolf Arriola, a Singaporean musician spoke to our class about the importance of creativity.Randolf is known for his experimentation with loops music. He plays with a guitar and attached is a machine that can record the music the guitar plays and then play it back through the sound system. Randolf layers sounds on top of each other so that it comes together to create the illusion of a one-man band. It was an extraordinary thing to see him play. You can watch one of his recordings here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJvTT-x8ZAI
After his performance of a few songs, he explained why he thought creativity is lacking in Singapore. Randolf argued that creativity is lacking in Singapore’s society and economy because the culture was first built on effectiveness. Singapore is still a young country (only 50 years old!) and for it to become of the best cities in the world to live in (in terms of safety, health insurance, economy), the culture was geared towards effectiveness rather than creativity. Singapore is a city of rules. Or should I say, a city of fines. People like to stick to the familiar instead of risk-taking (Singaporeans are pretty high on the risk-aversion scale). The arts are considered inferior compared to science and math and people are encouraged to stick to a structure in the workplace (things that a local student told me about). Randolf also argued that in order for Singapore to compete in the 21st century, it would have to become a more creative and innovative society.
This is a big difference compared to the US, as Americans are supposed to be embedded with the spirit of entrepreneurship. Creativity and innovation is the backbone of American businesses and this talk made me more aware of it. To me, this always just seemed …obvious. As if creativity and innovation were fundamental parts of any country’s culture and society (which I now realize is not true).
It made me realize that working abroad could have a lot more implications than I originally thought, (I’m relating this to working abroad because it’s something I’ve thought about and is one of the reasons I wanted to go on exchange). Not only would you have to get used to the culture, you would also have to learn to adapt to a completely new work culture. My friend told me that Singaporean businesses like things to be done in a certain way and there’s very little freedom in how you complete your work because they are so focused on doing it the most efficient way possible. Compared to the US, I think people in the workplace are usually given more freedom, given that they get the results their boss wants.
This doesn’t discourage me from wanting to work abroad however, in fact it makes me even more curious.
This past weekend I traveled to Cambodia and I had an amazing time. I traveled with a group of three other SMU students. We flew in Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) on Friday and we left Monday afternoon (taking advantage of my 3-day school schedule!).
On the first day we arrived in Phnom Penh, our flight was delayed so we didn’t arrive in the city until 6pm. As soon as we got there we took a private taxi to go up north to Siem Reap where the great temples of Angkor Wat are. The trip took about 6 hours including a stop for dinner. It was a long ride so by the time we go to Siem Reap, we checked into our guesthouse and just went to sleep.
The next morning we woke up and set out to explore Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a magnificent Hindu/Buddhist temple complex. It’s dedicated as a UNESCCO World Heritage Site to further protect and conserve the ruins. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century under the Khmer Kingdom. There are many different temples but Angkor Wat is the entrance to the entire park. It was the biggest and grandest temple.
We spent two days exploring the temples and there was still more to see! I could of easily spent another day exploring as the temples were so peaceful. Also, since it’s currently low season (rainy season) for traveling in Southeast Asia, there were fewer tourists around which made it even better. Luckily for us, the weather was in our favor; the most it rained was an hour during one day.
The best part about Angkor Wat was that nothing felt contrived. Although some parts of the temples were obviously restored, nothing about the temples felt perfect which made it even more beautiful. For example, there many statues that had their heads cut off because there was a period when riots happened and people stole Buddha heads to sell off to foreign countries. This didn’t make the temples any less beautiful, it fact it made it even more authentic.
Although the temples were beautiful, I was more surprised by the poverty I saw in the surrounding area of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, and villages not too far away from the city. Outside the temples, there were many food and souvenir vendors and every time we got off our tuk-tuk (motorcycle bike with rickshaw attached) to visit a temple, hordes of children would surround us and ask us to buy bracelets and postcards for a 1$. These children were very young too. All of them were barefoot and their clothes looked like they haven’t been washed in months. They were extremely clever as they tried to persuade you to buy their items by saying things like “Buy 1 post card get 9 free!”. Another young girl asked my friend to buy some bracelets for his girlfriend and when he responded that he didn’t have a girlfriend, she said, “You know why? Because you no buy these bracelets!”.
It was sad seeing this because it makes you wonder whether these kids go to school or if they don’t have time because they have to help support their families by selling souvenirs to tourists. After coming back from Cambodia, I researched more about it and found out that despite the tourism that Angkor Wat brings in, 36.6% of the population lives below the poverty line (less than 45 cents per day). Many Cambodian children go to primary school (80%) but less go to lower secondary school (25%) and even less go to upper secondary school (9%).
I witnessed even more poverty when I traveled back to Phnom Penh on Sunday afternoon. We drove pass beautiful green rice paddies and along these rice paddies were houses where the farmers and their families lived. The houses are better described as simple shacks as the whole thing consisted of only one room. Even though we were only driving by, I could tell that there was no kitchen or electricity in the shacks. Bedding was just a blanket on the ground or a hammock outside. Kids ran around barefoot and naked but they all appeared to be very happy and carefree.
I didn’t realize that Cambodia is still so underdeveloped (which sounds very ignorant of me), but I’m glad at least now I’m aware. I wish I could of done more to help but we had such a short amount of time there.
I’ve realized that the most important part about traveling is not seeing new things or famous sights, it’s about learning and letting these experiences shape you.
Since it’s week 5 already, I feel pretty settled in. The adjustment to SMU was interesting at first but now I think I’ve gotten used to it. There are a lot of small differences between SMU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business and OSU’s Fisher College of Business.
Overall it’s similar but there are small differences. For one thing, group work is a big deal here. I’m glad that business classes at Fisher required a lot of group work as well because I definitely feel more prepared than my some of my European exchange students (most them were rarely required to do group work for their universities). The group work here is pretty different though, since classes meet for 3 hours at a time instead of breaking it down to smaller chunks of time like 55 minutes, three times a week. Therefore, there is a lot of time for student presentations. Usually the structure will go something like this: the professor lectures the first half of class and then a student group will present the second half of class with material that adds on to the lecture. The students here are very good with PowerPoint and presentation skills as a result.
Another difference between SMU and OSU is the amount of participation that is encouraged here. All of my classes have mandatory participation while I can only think of a handful of classes I’ve taken at OSU that have required that. Every student also has an extravagant name card that they use so that professors will note down their participation. The exchange students really stand out in this case because we all have handwritten name cards on loose-leaf paper. I really do like this part about SMU and I’m hoping some of my classes I take in the future at OSU will be similar.
Since my classes are all 3 hours, I actually only have class from Tuesdays until Thursdays, giving me a weekend of Friday to Monday. This is especially nice for traveling which most exchange students take advantage of. The local students take advantage of this time by having more time to do extra curricular activities (meetings aren’t limited to the week, some are during the weekend) and/or work on group presentations and projects. I’ll post about some of the traveling I will do in a future blog post!
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.
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!