Study Abroad Semester: Singapore Style
Dialogue with- Becky Livesley.
By Lizi Woolgar, University of Bristol.
Last year, my nearest and dearest – Becky Livesley – packed up her bags and headed off to Singapore for four months. Whilst studying Geography BSc at the University of Southampton, she put her neck on the line and applied for the foreign exchange programme. After convincing her lecturers she would be a SH-Uni representative they could be proud of, she was granted the few months out.
A home-from-home for my borderline-OCD buddy, Becky was more than delighted to discover that Singapore really IS as clean as the rumours tell ya. Both astounded and comforted by the distinct westernization of such a far-Eastern country, she indulged in the culture as much as possible.
Below, Becky shares her secrets on how to get as much out of your trip to Singapore, whether it’s for 4 weeks or 4 months.
1. What unexpected difficulties did you face whilst away from home?
I seriously didn’t expect to be as homesick as I was for the first few days! But, once I started going to organised events for exchange students, meeting people in the same position as me made everything a lot easier.
2. What was the most surprising cultural difference or similarity?
Interestingly, the work ethic was a lot stronger in Singapore, with motivational posters around the campus and the Singaporean students even acknowledging this themselves. In a tutorial for my Tourism module, the lecturer asked the Singaporean students what they did in their spare time and they all said study! [Editor: Ouch! They sound like oodles of fun.]
On the flip side, the general workings and infrastructure of the country bared a remarkable resemblance to the UK. With nightlife, signs and the tube system (MRT in Singapore) all incredibly Westernised, you could have almost mistaken it for England (that is, apart from the impressive cleanliness).
3. What advice would you give to yourself a year ago, in preparation for this year?
Be more confident in approaching other exchange students as they are all in the same situation as you and would welcome a friendly introduction too. Take every opportunity offered to you as it could be once in a lifetime.
4. How did you reflect on your study abroad experience once you returned home?
I feel I became more confident in myself and confirmed that I really do want to travel the world, something which I have always wanted to do. It also made me appreciate my family and friends more as I realised how much I missed them when I was away.
5. 3 top tips of things to do if you visit Singapore?
As an adrenaline junkie, I would definitely recommend visiting Universal Studios. The queues were totally manageable and due to my Dad being 6”2 – generally taller than most people in Singapore – we always got put at the front of the rides where there was extra leg room!
The zoo and night safari were also great. You can get up close and personal with the animals as loads of the enclosures are glass-less (with moats surrounding the animals for your safety!).There are also sections where monkeys are free to roam so you really feel as though you are in the wild.
Chinatown is a good place to experience more traditional Singaporean culture. Although evidently swarmed by tourists, a lot of locals still visit for the great quality food. Try and find a traditional hawker centre to sample the local cuisine, for an incredibly generous £2 a meal.
6. Any other comments?
Singapore was a great place to study abroad as I was lucky enough to experience new cultural customs and cuisines. But due to its’ former status as an English colony, hence notably westernized way of life, Singapore doesn’t feel overwhelmingly alien.
Additionally, it really is true what they say about Singapore: it is SO clean! It’s hard to miss when chewing gum litter the British streets, yet is considered a criminal offence in Singapore.
This is definitely an area of South East Asia I advocate visiting, but if hoping to backpack on the cheap, beware. Singaporean accommodation and general living costs are considerably higher than the surrounding countries, so you may want to make your visit a short one!
As I glance the three ‘study abroad’ interviews I’ve now got under my belt, I want to mention a couple of common themes that might be worth bearing in mind if you are about to head off to study abroad. Firstly, all 3 have known they will be in a foreign country, with no friends, no home comforts and will be (what feels like) a million miles from home. Yet everyone is still surprised when they get homesick! Homesickness is completely natural and should be anticipated, so you can deal with it and move on when you find yourself a little too overwhelmed. After all, they do say that the best things in life happen outside of your comfort zone.
Moreover, all of my interviewees admitted that they would have given themselves the advice to ‘just go for it’ if they were to embark upon their journey again. Almost comically, they all gave just the piece of advice that might have prevented that unwelcome homesickness in the first place. But it’s always easy to sit on the outside isn’t it? To just sit back and remark at how obvious it seems to just throw yourself into everything and ‘get over’ homesickness. Unfortunately folks, life just isn’t always that easy.