Humanities in Singapore: Why do it?

I’ll admit it, when I tell people here in Singapore that I’m here to study- yes, English Literature, yeah, I know- I get pretty much the same reaction. Why here? Why a country in the middle of South East Asia? For English Literature? Similarly, people in the UK are often surprised at my choice to come to Singapore. Even my professors and classmates are curious. Like, why not America? Canada? Or Australia? I get it, at first choosing Singapore for my degree subject seems pretty random, but there are a couple of reasons I ended up going for it.

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Victoria Theatre

First of all, I wanted to experience something culturally different. Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to expand your world view, and while I’m sure America would have offered up plenty of interesting points for comparison, it’s still part of the western world I was curious to step away from. Getting this perspective has been an interesting addition to the way I view literature. In classes, we regularly study books from Singaporean writers, which is a great deviation from the British/American books I’ve read for most of my life… Even if I do end up getting a little lost when conversation gravitates towards Singaporean politics and culture. Similarly, I know that for History and Politics here, the course choices often focus a lot more on the Eastern world. Something to think about if you’re interested in adding new perspectives to your degree.

At the same time, Singapore is a very westernised country compared to its neighbours. I’ve found this has been useful in that the transition to living here was pretty smooth. The main spoken language is English (or, more accurately, “Singlish”), and the possibilities to travel to nearby countries are so 1) cheap and 2) easy, that it isn’t difficult at all to experience a wide variety of cultures in your time here while still having a ‘home base’ that feels relatively familiar.

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Since it’s still a very young country (51, to be exact), Singapore’s art scene still appears to be growing. I won’t lie, this can be a hindrance. Books are difficult to get a hold of (order from BookDepositry if you do come here!), museums cost money to enter and theatre can be expensive. However, it also means that this is a really interesting time to be in Singapore. Lots of initiatives are coming forward to help develop the arts scene. There’s a Singapore Writer’s Festival coming up soon, and an early bird ticket was just $20SGD (£10) to offer access into loads of talks about literary culture here and abroad. There are also free festivals, like the Singapore Lights Festival, which found a huge area of Singaporean buildings subjected to light projectors and art displays. Cultural festivals, like the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival, and the upcoming Hindu Deepawali festival, are also free and offer amazing insights into different cultures, histories, and ways of life.

Then there are the practical reasons. Singapore is a little infamous for how expensive it is; to own a house, drive a car, and to drink. But as a student the cost of living actually ends up being pretty cheap, especially when compared with Australia or the US. It’s also incredibly safe. I remember asking a woman at the airport if she could watch my bag for a moment after I had just arrived for the first time. She agreed, but later reassured me I didn’t need to worry about that at all, since usually it’s pretty safe. Another reason? NTU and NUS are both highly ranked universities for English Literature. NUS comes 12th place in the world for this subject, and NTU still comes in the top 100 globally (according to QS Rankings). If you’re a humanities student, you might be surprised to find how highly your subject ranks here as well.

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So there you go, that’s why I chose Singapore (and why you should too!) Don’t be put off if it seems like a strange choice for your subject, because in reality there’s lots of potential for you to explore. Now I just need to figure out a way to forward this to everyone who asks…

As always, I’m Kate, and you can contact me at 2124794s@student.gla.ac.uk if you have any questions!

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