Before I arrived in Singapore, I was worried that I may have made the wrong decision on where to spend my semester abroad. I had chosen Nanyang Technological University mainly because of its reputation as a good university for Engineering. I had never been to Singapore before, and all I had really heard about it was that it was hot, humid and that you can’t chew gum! I was worried that I wouldn’t find the type of people that I usually enjoy to be around, and wouldn’t find the type of activities that I usually like to do. I had a pre-conceived idea that everyone would be ‘marching in single file’, due to their strict laws and close-minded society.
When I arrived in Singapore, I was immediately struck by the integration of the natural environment with the cityscape and man-made environment. Although ‘artificial’, it was nice to see a huge variety of flora throughout the city. I arrived at the university to find my on-campus accommodation as a tiny, dark and dingy single room with no air-con(which is kinda a big deal in Singapore), dirty walls, hard floors and a generally miserable feel about it. As it turned out, I had lucked-out on my accommodation and gotten a place in the notorious HALL 4. My immediate reaction was that I needed to complain, look for other accommodation, or somehow escape this little jail cell of mine; yet after a short time (less than a few days), I decided that it was simply my mindset that I needed to change. I decided that instead of letting the state of the room govern my exchange program, it was up to me to overcome this. The solution was either to improve the state of the room, use the horrible room as an excuse to spend more time outside the room (either studying, meeting people, seeing Singapore, or doing whatever I wanted), or accepting the state of the room. This change in mindset, and general positivity was applied to everything that I did, and this was the defining factor of the beginning of my trip. There are always things you can focus that are not good, but there are always things you can focus on that are great!
I soon met many exchange students at university. First it was through the orientation and exchange events that I needed to attend, but once I met a few people there, it was like a domino effect where I began meeting so many people that I couldn’t even keep up with it. I easily met more people in the first 2 weeks than I had met at UTS in the past few years! All of the exchange students had a common understanding that we knew no one in this new foreign country, and we needed to make friends, so we soon became one big family. We created events where we all hung out and socialised (and got really drunk), and although at first it did feel weird that we were all trying to forcefully make friends, I soon made a group of friends that I really felt comfortable with. My group of friends were a completely multicultural group with me (an Australian), an American, Canadian, Swedish, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Singaporean, Spanish, French. It was really nice that we all shared common interests and all got along well. It was actually interesting the mix of people that seemed to be on exchange. I had assumed it would be Asian-dominated, but the biggest nationality on exchange were Canadian, followed by Swedish.
I spent much of my time hanging out with my new friends, exploring Singapore, going out drinking, and doing all the things that I do with my friends in Sydney. I went on weekend trips to Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, (and hopefully more to come) and spent the mid-semester break in Cambodia and Thailand. Some of the friends I met are people who I know I will keep in contact with and stay friends with for life. I will visit them, or they will visit me, or we will meet somewhere travelling together, but it was very validating proving to myself that I can go to a completely new place where I knew no one, and meet new people who I really connect with, and who enjoy my company as well.
All in all, a great experience, and one that I would never regret. Now I want to plan my next exchange!!