Singapore

Fun in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Written by Jeremy Santos, Foster undergraduate

After two days in Phuket, it was time to go “Phi Phi!” We almost didn’t make it – we woke up late for our taxi ride to the ferry terminal! In the end, we still got there early, and we soon found out that ferries don’t leave on time here. At least we got to enjoy the view, wind in our faces, and the sunshine during the ferry ride. Even though Ko Phi Phi is supposed to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand, daytime at the beach is amazing and unreal. For the rest of the day, my friends and I relaxed on the beach and enjoyed the ultra-clear water. I had to take two midterms in about one week, so I unfortunately had to (try to) read my finance textbook. But hey – at least I got a nice view, along with a nice tan!

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When the sun goes down, Ko Phi Phi becomes a whole new beast. A big, fiery beast. Many Thai beaches, especially those on Phi Phi, are known for their nightly fire shows. During such shows, performers twirl batons, pois, and other objects set on fire. Performers even work together to pull off a variety of stunts, like human pyramids and walking on tightropes. It’s a crazy sight and it’s even crazier knowing that this happens every. single. night.

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What also happens every night is the opportunity for spectators to become participants. We didn’t get to toss around fire batons, but we did get to participate in fire jumprope, fire limbo, and jump through a hoop of fire. Yes, this is real, and yes, countless people actually do it. I even saw a child jump through the hoop of fire! I tried the fire limbo and hoop because they involved stationary objects. I didn’t try the jumprope, as I was afraid of seriously burning myself. It all actually seemed fairly safe – in any case, the ocean is a short run away! At one point, a woman tried to jump out of the spinning jumprope and the rope ended up hitting her head and then pretty much wrapped around her stomach. My friends and I feared that she would catch on fire, but she seemed surprisingly unscathed after finally escaping! (The same couldn’t be said about her pride.)

On our last day, we hiked to Pee Pee Viewpoint to watch the sunrise. No more than a 30-minute hike up stairs and a hill, the view was much better than the area’s name may suggest. We had to get on a ferry back to Phuket in less than two hours, so this was a great way to end our trip to Ko Phi Phi.

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Motorbiking in Taiwan

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Written by Jeremy Santos, Foster undergraduate

On March 27th, a friend and I took a red-eye flight to Taipei, Taiwan. Arriving before 6 am, I quickly realized that we hadn’t done our research regarding the need for a visa. Being the (sometimes) worrywart that I am, I worried that we would end up on the next flight back to Singapore. It turns out that as American citizens, a visa isn’t needed! I liked Taiwan already!

We took a bus to Taipei (the airport is actually an hour away), ending up at the train station. After two hours on the train (playing “2048”), we were picked up from the Toroko station. We checked into Toroko Lodge, which I highly recommend! Relaxing for some time, we then went to rent scooters (gas-powered, not Razor scooters). This is when the adventure really started to take off…

Having never ridden a scooter before, I seriously thought my butt would scoot right off the scooter and onto the road. I almost ran over the guy who let us rent scooters in the first place… Equating riding a scooter with riding a bike, I zoomed onto the road hoping that it would become easier to balance. Well, what do you know… it worked! My friend and I quickly got the hang of our scooters and were well on our way to Toroko National Park.

There is NOTHING like driving through the park’s windy roads, with the wind in my face and a vast gorge as the backdrop. We sped through countless tunnels carved out of the mountainside, stopping every now and then to take some photos. At one point, we found an abandoned tunnel that reminded me of the one found in the film, “Spirited Away.” I sure was blown away, or should I say “spirited away,” by the experience! If there is one thing you take away from reading this blog post, it’s this: if you ever go to Taiwan, you HAVE to ride scooters in Toroko!

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What I’ve Learned After 1 Week in Singapore

Friday, February 21st, 2014

written by Jeremy Santos, Foster school undergraduate student

#1) I can drink, but I can’t watch “The Hangover.” Crazy, right?! Some friends and I planned to go to the movie theater today to see “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Back in the US, this movie is rated R, so anyone at least 17 years old can buy a ticket. But here, viewers have to be at least 21! Movie restrictions vary (some to 16, some to 18), so it was interesting to see that TWofWS is currently the only movie with this restriction. I’m speculating that the record number of swear words, along with a few controversial scenes, had something to do with it.

We just ate food instead.

We just ate food instead.

#2) I need a map. The spring semester began this week, and it has felt like freshman year all over again. There are people rushing in every direction; then there’s me, wandering around trying to find the stairwell. I’ve known that I have no idea where my classes are, but I just figured that I’ll eventually find the right classroom! Luckily, I’ve found fellow lost exchange students and helpful locals, so this week has still been fun. I’ll definitely find my own way around campus next week. I have an app on my always-on-airplane-mode smartphone (i.e. essentially a wifi device) that gives directions around the NUS campus, so I should probably start using it!

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#3) Class dynamics at NUS aren’t much different from UW. As I prepared for my 5-month study abroad experience, I heard that class dynamics in Asia as a whole are much different from in the US. I can’t speak for other countries, but courses at NUS could easily be mistaken for courses back home. In class, especially in smaller sections and tutorials (aka quiz sections), students are encouraged to ask questions and engage in class discussions. Grade breakdowns usually consist of multiple exams, projects, and class participation. And classrooms themselves are set up colosseum-style, with curved desks forming a half-circle facing the front of the room. With all of this in mind, it sounds like I’m back at Paccar Hall at UW. It also doesn’t help that courses here focus on American financial markets and Wal-Mart, just like at home.

On the other hand, the diverse student population creates a truly unique learning environment. I’ve met people from all over the world, along with students born and raised in the small but dense melting pot called Singapore. In my short time here, I’ve learned the Singlish word “kiasu,” which refers to the fear of missing out. This fear is a major aspect of Singaporean culture, and it can be seen everyday. People queue up to try popular foods (myself included), and in an academic context, students generally don’t want to miss out on class readings. Many courses require readings obtained from the library, which may have only a few copies. Because of the fear of missing out on testable readings, I saw students rush to the library to start studying on the very first day of the semester. While others begin poring through textbooks, I’m still trying to figure out where the bookstore is! Despite the competitive environment here at NUS, I’m not too worried about my classes. Most students are taking classes only in their major, but I’m also taking two non-business modules that don’t seem too difficult. I’m here to have fun, make friends, eat good food, and avoid any dips in my GPA!

Singapore: Looking Back

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

By: Chris Morgan, Foster Undergraduate

Looking back on my time in Singapore, while my favorite thing may have been the traveling, I’m really happy I got to experience such a unique city and country. Singapore is growing and changing; skyscrapers were built and finished just while I was there. It’s modern feel, stylish restaurants and clubs, and fast-paced nature is very appealing, especially for global business.

The country itself is borderline utopian and highly regulated. No gum, no food or drink on public transportation, and no disturbing the peace. While it can sound intimidating from the outside, it isn’t on the inside. These regulations and strict policies have resulted in an extremely clean and safe country all around. My favorite thing to describe this is a quote I found on another student’s travel blog: “A 21 year old girl could find every dark alley in Singapore at 4 in the morning, and she would only be approached by a registered cab driver asking if she needed a ride home.” Not to say crime is nonexistent, but my friend left her iPad in the public library during finals week for 4 hours, came back, and it was exactly where she left it.

It can run high stress, and the culture can be seen as a little uptight at times, which is really the only large downside. However, being a foreigner in Singapore is great. The exchange program at NUS is fantastic and you’ll be able to make plenty of friends from around the world and alleviate the stress with a little world traveling and clubbing on the tops of skyscrapers. (1-Altitude is my favorite) The most important part of any study abroad trip is the experience, and you would be hard-pressed to find another country where you can experience this much of the world in one city.

School in Singapore

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

By: Chris Morgan, Foster Undergraduate

While traveling is a big part of experiencing Singapore and Southeast Asia, you do have to go to school too. I actually learned a lot, and I’m not just talking about course material. Being that Singapore is an English-speaking nation in Asia (one of the few, if not the only), you have a very interesting look into the culture of Asia. Singapore brings in people from all over Asia and the world to study and do business, and so you see a lot of world beliefs, ideals, and societal facets mix. It was a unique experience to learn and test in a different culture’s ideals. I learned a lot about Eastern culture and how they look at education and the world and it has changed how I view a lot of the world and my own work.
The bottom line is, for a Westerner, this is going to be a little hard. It’s not that the material is over-the-top difficult; it’s just a different way of learning and a different way of thinking. (I wrote a paper on it, you can see it at my travel blog: cmsingapore.blogspot.com)

In order to take advantage of the traveling and in order to really experience the country and the region, I recommend you take 3 classes and do pass/fail if you can. If you’re a marketing student, Game Theory is an interesting class that really captures the formulaic thinking that I found common in the culture. Also if you have room, take a class specific to Asia, like Asian Markets.

 

The Singapore Experience

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

By: Chris Morgan, Foster Undergraduate

Singapore is sometimes referred to as the West’s gateway to Southeast Asia, and that has definitely held true with my experience of the small country. While being a fast growing utopian-style metropolis, Singapore is also a hub and launch pad for exploring the entire region, Myanmar to Indonesia. Traveling is fairly straight forward, and if you want to see a lot of this region I definitely recommend the program to study abroad at the National University of Singapore. They take in a decent number of exchange students from around the world, and it’s very easy to grab a group and travel to Thailand for the weekend (or the week, it’s a great place). I recommend that you make a group with some other exchange students that you meet at the first mixers or beach parties, they will all want to travel too and having a travel group is very important for going into a foreign country. Plus, having a group of people from all over the world is an amazing opportunity and leads to some great conversations and friendships through your travels.

That being said about groups, Singapore is safe to traverse and explore on your own, and solo travel adventures aren’t unheard of. I went to Bali on my own (fairly safe place to go by yourself in the region) and it was amazing. I can’t say enough about traveling with this exchange opportunity. From climbing a volcano in Indonesia to kayaking through island caves in Southern Thailand, I got to see and experience so much more than I had anticipated. The possibilities to have a trip of a lifetime are endless here, so take a few!

Forever Lasting Memories

Monday, December 12th, 2011

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.

A Tropical Getaway

Friday, September 30th, 2011

By: Eve Churaisin, Foster Undergraduate

Sawasdee kaa! In the Thai language, “Sawasdee” is “hello” and “kaa” is what females say at the end of a sentence to denote politeness.

I just returned from my trip to Thailand a few days ago, and all I can say is that I already miss it. It was a nice tropical getaway, and it was nice to get my mind off of school and bond with the other exchange students. We took the ferry from Krabi to Goh Phi Phi where we stayed for two nights, then we took the ferry from Krabi to Railay where we stayed in a resort for one night, and then we took a boat from Railay back to Krabi where we stayed in a hostel for one night.

Goh Phi Phi was very touristy. Besides the locals who resided on that island, it was filled with a college students on exchange. As quoted by one of my friends, the guys looked like they were dressed as if they were from SoCal wearing their plaid shorts. The girls were walking around in short shorts. On the island, restaurants and beach wear shops were all over the place. The nice thing about Thailand, in general, is that you can bargain on an item you would like to purchase. I was able to negotiate with the salesperson on a sarong that I wanted.

Beach parties took place every night on this island and was basically “party central.” There was an awesome fire show where the performers would perform their tricks with fire on the beach or they would walk on a rope and perform their tricks while trying to maintain their balance. Besides the fire show, this was the place where many people danced the night away to good music.

While we were in Goh Phi Phi, we got to take the speedboat to Maya Bay where the movie, “The Beach,” was filmed. Ever since the movie was filmed, it has been a major tourist attraction when visiting Thailand. This was where I got to go snorkeling for the first time! It was great swimming with the fish, enjoying the nice view of the pretty blue water, and walking on the soft white sand along the water.

On the other hand, Railay was more of what we would imagine a tropical getaway to be. It was more peaceful, and it was full of resorts that overlooked the beautiful view of the beaches. We were able to sit in a fancy resort restaurant, enjoy the gorgeous view of the beach, and feel the breeze coming towards us. Also, we were able to get a Thai massage right by the beach. Railay, overall, was very relaxing.

It would be nice if I can go back in time! Unfortunately, now it’s time to face reality. I already had a quiz today for my Southeast Asian studies course, and I hope I did well on it. Now, it’s time to study up for my midterm that takes place this Saturday morning. Wish me luck!

Until next time!

Welcome to Singapore, My Friends!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

 

By: Eve Churaisin, Foster Undergraduate

It’s been a little over a month and a half since my arrival in Singapore, and it’s been a great once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just to introduce myself, my name is Eve Churaisin, and I am going into my final year at the UW studying Finance and Information Systems. I chose to go to Singapore on exchange because Singapore is an English-speaking country, and it is the fourth largest financial center in the world. I would like to use this as an opportunity to build a network base in Southeast Asia. I am currently studying at the National University of Singapore where I am taking Financial Markets, Macro and International Economics, and Old and New Music in Southeast Asia. It’s already halfway through the semester so midterms are coming up quickly!

The class structure here is quite similar to the UW. There are about 40 people in my Financial Markets class, and exams and group projects primarily make up the final grade. For my Economics and Southeast Asian course, there is a lecture and discussion section since they are both larger classes. Lectures take place only once a week for two hours and discussion section takes place once a week for an hour. Lessons may take place less often, but that just means that more material is covered each session. The material taught in the classes at NUS is more dense and faster paced. Classes here are definitely very competitive, because students here study their hearts off and aim to be at the very top of the competitive pool.

We all know that Singapore is a “fine” country. There is $1000 fine for smoking on the train and a $500 fine for eating and drinking on the train. Durian is not even allowed on the train. Period. Gum has also been forever banned from the country. Even though the government imposes a lot of fines, there is one thing that they haven’t banned yet and that is drinking publicly on the streets. There is a bridge in this one area of Singapore, Clarke Quay, where many locals and foreigners enjoy drinking and enjoying the view of the Singapore River at night. In case you didn’t know, the legal drinking age here is 18. Singapore is known for its exciting nightlife where people enjoy dancing the night off at the clubs until 4am. Not only that, people enjoy wandering the busy streets at night just to go out for a late night meal, or a second dinner, known as “supper.” The exciting nightlife is one major aspect of the Singaporean culture.

Since it’s halfway through the semester, we get a mid-semester week-long break known as Recess Week. This is the time students should spend studying for midterms that are coming up. On the other hand, this is the week that exchange students explore the surrounding countries. Traveling to other countries in Southeast Asia from Singapore is relatively cheap. I will be heading off to the southern part of Thailand with the other exchange students where we will get to relax and enjoy the view of the beautiful beaches.

Until I return from Thailand, bye for now!

Greetings from Singapore!

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
Merlion at Night

Merlion at Night

Hello! This is Jason Ho writing from the National University of Singapore. I’m a fourth-year student concentrating in finance and information systems. Since this is my first time visiting Singapore and first time participating in a university level exchange program, I am and have been very excited and interested to discover and explore the unique Singapore, where diverse cultures, traditions and lifestyles are blended with unbridled energy and dynamism that never seem to dissipate.

Singapore is a country formed about 40 years ago on a relatively small island located south of the Malaysian state Johor and north of Indonesia’s Riau Islands with close to five million in population, mainly comprised of 75% Chinese, 14% Malays, 9% Indians, and 2% others. The diverse cultures traditions and lifestyles are what make this nation unique, where many Southeast Asia cultures come together in harmony. The crime rate in Singapore has always been low while citizens and visitors are constantly being reminded by the government on public places and transportations about the consequences of breaking the law. Hence, Singapore is considerably safe for tourists who have absolutely no experience of Asia to get acquainted with various Asian cultures in the visit of only one nation. It is like an introductory course to Asia, aka Asia 101.

Temple at Bugis

Temple at Bugis

Besides having assorted cultures and an almost crimeless environment, Singapore is also known for its strong economy. The nation gained its independence from the Malaysian government in the early 1960s when it was an undeveloped place, and in about 40 years later become one of the most important financial hubs of Southeast Asia. Many financial institutions from across the world now have offices and buildings in the central business district of Singapore. International cargos and ships are arriving at and departing from the enormous and world-class ports of Singapore. Last month Singapore announced that its second quarter GPD of 2009 increased 20.7% and is considered relatively better than many surrounding countries. One of the reasons behind the strong economic recovery is because Singapore is filled with talented people along with the support of a competitive (more…)