Reflecting on the Singapore Study Abroad Experience

It’s now been been 5 months since I returned from Singapore, and as a sit here reminiscing , I feel for the past year I’ve been in an eternal slumber.  It all seems exactly like a dream. However, in spite of this,  I can still recount my first impression of the city with clarity as the first  30 minuets of my exchange are still so vivid in my memories.

On arrival, I remember stepping off the flight into the warm midnight air with a positivity unlike any other. Driving from the airport to campus, I found myself gazing out the window at the passing city whilst the taxi driver’s thick Singaporean accent filled the car with stories of  his life, and of Singapore’s history. I can recall perfectly the low gentle humm that accompanied the cool air flowing from the air conditioner – and as the taxi sped towards the AYE ( Ayer Rajah Expressway) I remember seeing, for the first time,  Marina Bay Sands  tall and lit up in the night time…


However, after this moment,  my days and months abroad seemed to lean into one another – fusing into a dream like experience. Trying to objectivity reflect over the past year is a rather difficult when memories and past expectations merge into the experience of Singapore, producing a romanticized version of events. But of course, life in Singapore was not all sunshine and pratas.

With any major city, I’ve always found there to be something that taints the experience and Singapore is no exception. Since returning I’ve realized that there are few things I have not missed at all about the city state; these being :

1 : The extravagance

Before I left for Singapore, I understood it to be a city for the wealthy but little prepared me for the exuberance which the island breaths. When I asked Gulia Tornar, an outgoing exchange student for the 2016/2017 term, about her first impression of Singapore she stated the following.

My fist impression was and is that everything is exaggerated. I mean everything;  the buildings are huge, the streets are huge, there are people everywhere, food everywhere;  the subway is so big but not at all complicated, everything is not just clean but extremely clean, alcohol is not just expensive but super expensive – even stupid stuff like for ladies night you don’t just get one free drink but close 10 in some clubs! There is no grey, it is either extremely white or extremely black.’ Giulia Tornar, United Kingdom

Giulia’s first impression was by far the most accurate way to describe my own experience of Singapore. Without a doubt, Scotland and Singapore could not be anymore different. Coming from Glasgow, most leave behind the damp and dreary; and replace it with warmth of privilege. Specifically, the city allows the privilege of access. As a resident you’ll have access to exclusive (top of the range) NUS  resources, luxury shopping,  music  and art events,  private (beach,  pool, and rooftop) parties, and not the mention Changi Airport – the best airport in the world!

 Personally, the opulence of it all at first seemed an exhilarating novelty. However, after a couple of months life in Singapore became dull, repetitive and just so expensive! That being said, not everyone shared this  experience.

Hannah Foaden, for instance, spent a semester abroad in Singapore (2015) but has now, after graduating with her undergraduate degree, moved back to work in the city. When asked about her why she choose to return to Singapore she stated the following.

What I love about Singapore is the way of living; you can do whatever you want, it is the best place to spend your money, and if you are bored, you’re somewhere else in no time‘ – Hannah Foaden, Netherlands

2: The air pollution

Since 1997,  Singapore has been affected my the severe smoke haze annually. These episodes occur as a direct result of the Indonesian  industrial-scale ‘slash and burn’ practices used to clear land for agriculture use. The degree of air pollution does vary, but is nevertheless worse during the dry season, and  when there are changes in wind direction.


Face masks are worn during the haze, to protect lungs!

During the months of when the haze is present,  you’ll find Singapore to be blanketed with severe pollution. South East Asia’s air pollution problem is not environmentally damaging, but also impacts the health of citizens and well as the economy (i.e tourism,etc).

This is a wide spread issue which Singapore faces, and by the looks of it,  will still face in future – unless immediate action is taken to cut down on the hazardous emission produced during these practices or simply implementing legislation to further prevent these illegal  agricultural fires.

3: The pressure for success

Singapore’s education system is among the best in the world, but is also renowned for the amount of pressure the system places on the students. Whilst at the National University of Singapore, I didn’t personally feel this pressure as I was studying very practical modules where assignments involved group work, and short essays.


Visual example of how bell curve is implemented.

However I saw the impact of this type of  education system on other exchange students studying more competitive subjects (business, science, law/medicine), where assignments are mainly in the form of examinations. As NUS relies on the bell curve, in these modules students are theyby not judged on their individual abilities , but instead as a collective.

NUS relies heavily on the bell curve.  So it doesn’t matter how well you actually did on the exam.  What matters is how well you did in relation to everyone else….So how do students here cope?  Realistically, they’ve gotten used to it.  It’s what school has always been like for them—sink or swim, adapt or get weeded out—from primary school to secondary school to junior college to university.  Less seriously, they pray to the Bell Curve God.  After every exam.’ –  Ryann Kwan,

However, despite these aspects of the city life in Singapore has it’s charm. Fortunately for Singapore the good aspects out weigh the negative. Since being back in Glasgow there have been lots of aspects about the city which I miss dearly! These being the following:

1: The Multiculturalism

Although Glasgow is the biggest and as such the most diverse Scottish city (with 16% of it’s population being minorities),   it does not compare to Singapore!

The signature trait of Singapore is its multi-cultural makeup. Its people are made of Chinese (74.1%), Malay (13.4%), Indians (9.2%) and other races. This diversity also translates into a unique mix of religions, languages, cultural traditions and cuisines. The successful integration of the different segments of society has created an atmosphere of mutual respect for one another…‘ – Singapore Government Website 

I love how diverse and multifaceted the people of Singapore were!  Being a city built with the aid of migrants, Singapore is one that promotes tolerance, and community! As a result most Singaporean’s are extremely open to foreigners, and very respectful of one another! What’s more it was extremely enlightening to encounter the cultures of some the Singaporean communities (i.e Thai culture from the workers in the Golden Mile Complex).

2: The Food

From oyster omelette, chicken rice, and Laksa; Singapore’s rich food culture is undoubtedly an integral part of the city’s social landscape. Throughout the island, there are many hawker centers’, food courts, and restaurants that serve up a variety of delicious and inexpensive local delicious!

I definitely miss how easily accessible, cheap and healthy  the food was in Singapore, and wish so desperately that Glasgow had a similar food culture.


3: The weather

I absolutely loved the weather in Singapore, and although it was extremely humid and rained most days I enjoyed the consistency of the weather pattern.


Average Annual Temperature and Rainfall in Singapore

All in all my year abroad was amazing, fast paced, fun and extremely enlightening. Still and all, for some reason the memories of the city do not feel real; it’s almost as if without the the blog posts or the photographic evidence, I could have easily conjured up a life of paradise and adventure, whilst all the while stuck in a slumber at the back of a damp First bus to Goven.


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