By: Eve Churaisin, Foster Undergraduate
Today marks the last day of my exchange program in Singapore! I just took my last final and I’ve honestly never been this happy to be done. Words just aren’t enough to express my happiness at the moment. I’ll admit that this was my toughest quarter, or in this case, semester, ever. I would not say that the classes were incredibly difficult, but the material we were tested on the exam were much more dense and we were not allotted a lot of time to think through each problem. This was the case for the business classes I chose to take, but my final for my Southeast Asian studies class did not to appear to be very difficult. The exam environment is different at NUS than at the UW. At the UW, most exams took place where lectures took place. However, at NUS, we took our exams somewhere other than where lectures took place. Most of our exams took place in a giant multi-purpose room where there was assigned seating and we were required to place our student ID on our desk so the proctors can walk by and verify that it was actually us taking the exam.
Even though it was clearly a tough semester, it was truly a rewarding one. Having the opportunity to go to Singapore on exchange was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I got to put myself in the shoes of these locals and engage myself in an Asian culture that I was never exposed to growing up in the states. I got to observe the work ethics of these locals through the long, dreadful group meetings for my business projects that lasted about 7 hours each time. For one of the meetings, we spent all that time just to edit a group paper that had already been compiled. These locals really strive to be on the top and competition has been defined as a large part of their culture. I thought that taking classes at Foster was competitive enough, but it’s even more intense here!
Apart from getting a taste of the Asian education system, I got to experience the true “Singaporean” culture that makes Singapore a truly unique nation of its own. Even though English is the official language here, Singlish, an English based creole with its vocabulary originating from Chinese, Malay and Hokkien, is still widely used. Even though the use of Singlish is discouraged by the government, I think it’s a very unique part of their culture. Also, even when Singaporeans speak standard British English, they end a lot of their phrases with “lah.” They even use it in text messaging and in e-mails. I even started using it whenever I text my Singaporean friends. Lastly, Singapore is a nation that blends different cultures from Southeast Asia into one. Besides celebrating Chinese holidays, a lot of Malay and Indian holidays are recognized as national holidays in Singapore as well.
Studying in Singapore as an exchange student did not just allow me to get a grasp of the Singaporean culture, but I also got to learn about the cultural differences from the different parts of the world. A majority of the exchange students are from European countries so they introduced me to bits and pieces of their culture. One of my European friends introduced me to the different types of cheese they eat back home and real bread that is hardly found here or back in the states. I’ve also learned that in Germany, telling someone “happy birthday” before that person’s actual birthday means bad luck and that was something I actually never knew before.
Since Singapore is the gateway to Asia, all the traveling that I got to do enhanced my exchange experience. Roughly a month ago, my friends and I went on a weekend trip to Tioman Island that is located off the coast of Malaysia. Getting to Malaysia from Singapore was just one bus ride away and getting to the ferry terminal was another bus ride away. While we were in Tioman, we relaxed at the beach and went snorkeling. The snorkeling was amazing and I got to swim through a school of bright colored fish. The water was so clear that we did not even need to be in the water to see everything!
Reading Week took place two weeks ago and that was the week when locals would spend time studying for their final exams. Instead of “studying,” my friends and I had planned a trip to go to Macau and Hong Kong for five days. Macau was an interesting place, supposedly known as the Vegas of Asia, full of people walking down the streets dressed in their suits ready to enter a casino. At night, the buildings came to life with the bright, neon lights. Instead of spending our time gambling, we decided to explore the city on foot and visit the historical sites. We visited the St. Paul Ruins, the A-Ma Temple and the Monte Fort. Macau still had its Portuguese influence where the street signs and names of buildings were written in Portuguese, but I got the impression that people only spoke Cantonese.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, made me feel like I was really in Asia. I had expected Asia in general, to be full of crowded cities, traffic, street markets, and worn out buildings. This was actually Hong Kong. The city was full of excitement and full of people no matter what time of day. We got to explore Ladies’ Market and the Temple Night Market and while we were there, I got to work on my bargaining skills. On one of the days, we took the cable car to visit the Big Buddha. Another thing that made me feel like I was really in Asia was that a lot of people were not proficient in English and a lot of people would start talking to me in Cantonese whenever I entered a restaurant.
With the amount of traveling I’ve done outside of Singapore, I have been greatly exposed to the different Asian cultures and got to observe the major cultural differences between Singapore and the neighboring Asian countries. Now that I am officially on winter break, my friends and I will be leaving for the Philippines this weekend and going island hopping. The Philippines will be my last stop before returning to the states. Some of my friends already left Singapore and some others are leaving this week. Saying goodbye is probably one of the hardest things I have to do before I leave. I have met so many amazing people here and they have been here to keep me laughing and smiling and without their presence, my time in Singapore would not have been the same. As much as I enjoy being in Southeast Asia and eating the food that cannot be found back home, I’ve had enough of rice and noodles and I am more than ready to come home to eat a good sandwich for cheap and reunite with family and friends for the holidays.