Today is October 6th. I’ve been in Singapore since the 26th of July. This is the first time I’ve been able to sit and fully reflect over the past months. Yet as I write this now, I feel a great sense of nostalgia wash over. July, August and September have been very interesting months to live in Singapore: I’ve had so many eye-opening, fun, stressful, colourful, and relaxing moments! Retrospectively, the transition from July to August was a period where I just gained the most insight and perspective as this was the period where I experienced so many firsts; from travelling alone, meeting new people, and assimilating into Singapore.
As soon as the plane took off from Glasgow International Airport into the grey sky, my stomach sank. In that moment it finally dawned on me that I was moving abroad. However, I was surprised when the storm of emotional concoctions I had been expecting didn’t appear. Six months ago I had pictured myself with middle aisle seating (the worst seating of all), emotionally overwhelmed and hysterical, with a stranger consolidating me awkwardly. Yet after all the anticipation, I was strangely emotionally underwhelmed by the whole experience.
When I arrived in Singapore, late in the night on that summer night, I was instantly hit by a wave of heat. It was 30 degrees at 10.30pm; and I was melting under all the layers of clothing (jeans, jumper and a jacket) I’d put on in Glasgow. I jumped in the first cab, and to my amazement and joy it was air conditioned! The taxi driver that drove me to NUS UTown residence was a very cheery Singaporean man. He spoke to me about his children and grandchildren, eagerly pointing out significant elements of the Singaporean skyline as we drove past. When I told him that I wasn’t a tourist, but instead a exchange student studying at NUS, he congratulated me sincerely. To my surprise, I was suddenly overcome by a feeling of pride and relief. This man, a stranger, brought out in me the sense of fulfilment. It was as if his words were the validation I’d been waiting to hear. Affirming my dream of studying abroad as, finally, my reality.
The next day, I formally checked into the apartment I now share with four other European exchange students. The apartment was a lot nicer than I’d thought. It was modern with a kitchen space, shower, and toilet. Yet, although it doesn’t come with an oven, or air con or wifi, it does come with a large fridge, microwave, and ceiling fans in each room. The lack of cooking facilities and wifi didn’t really bother me though. In terms of getting food, there are two large food courts at UTown that the majority of the residents and, on average, a meal costs anywhere from S$3-$9 which is pretty cheap. With regards to the Wifi, most students just buy routers (S$ 30) . Yet I was lucky as one of my roommates brought one with her.
Settling in was very easy. The UTown Resident Assistants, and the events they held also helped greatly. Each floor at UTown has one, and they’re basically always on call if required. The first event they held was a ‘For Free’ event where new exchange students could pick up items (such as pillows, clocks, kettles, books) left behind by the pervious lot of students for free! I managed to get a lamp, pillows, a mattress protector, and a couple books! I LOVE FREE STUFF!
Furthermore, the residential campus is very spacious with sleek contemporary architecture. There are lot of leisure/shopping facilities; such as a gym, pool, hairdresser (that does hair from S$5!), chemist, a bookstore, a variety of restaurants/cafes, and two conviance store – one of which is open 24 hours. Additionally, there is always something going on! For instance, in the middle of August there was the annually (FREE!) rock concert, SuperNova, held in the open field at the centre of campus! A lot of local student bands as well as international bands performed.
One thing I noticed though is that Utown has so many rules and restrictions. For instance it’s prohibited to have/buy alcohol or cigarettes on campus.
But at least Singapore is safe. Singapore is very safe. So safe in fact it’s not uncommon for locals to reserve seats in public spaces (i.e libraries, in cafes, and even hawker-centers) by leaving valuables behind, such as phones, wallets and laptops! But then again, there are so many CCTV cameras that at any given time you’d be under the surveillance of three to five cameras. However, despite this, students will forever be students. I’ve seen people drink beer openly, and even purchase and sneak in portable air cons and stoves for their apartments.
I started university officially on the 11th of August. Enrolling was pretty straight forward, and I managed to start with ease. Yet the first day was so strange for me as the lectures were so small and intimate! My lecturer even knows me by name! The smallest lecture I attend has 40 people in it, and the tutorial has 20! Going to NUS is super surreal for me, especially since I’ve never lived on campus, it’s far from the university experience I’m used to!
Overall August was a month of pure discovery and explorations. If I weren’t at NUS avoiding small talk with lecturers, or at Utown stuffing my face with Kimchi fried rice, I was on the go ( with a few friends) – exploring Singapore. In the first few weeks alone we visited Chinatown, Little India, Gardens by the Bay, as well as the Botanical Gardens multiple times! In addition to this we attend a lot of events; such as SuperNova, SG50 Celebrations and the Singaporean Night festival.