Picking up where I last finished: starting classes at NUS halfway through August. Looking back this was probably the calmest part of the whole exchange. From the end of September onwards the weeks were a continuous blur of exams, traveling, visitors from home, more exams and more traveling. But let’s talk about the study experience for a bit.
In a big city it often feels like everybody knows what they are doing and as a newcomer it’s easy to feel a bit lost. I think it took about two months before I felt like I wasn’t ten steps behind and stopped feeling like I possessed the brain capacity of a jellyfish. Fortunately, there were 700 other exchangers there to be confused with me while we all found our way through applications for modules, Student Pass visas, setting up our email accounts, etc. I’ve mostly learned from this that 1. It is always good to know where the nearest printer is and 2. Everything will probably be okay if you check the right boxes and spell your name correctly.
And after all this had passed and we had successfully become temporary Singaporean citizens, classes started. I’ve been asked a few times whether studying was very different in Singapore. I think the main reason that it might be perceived as more difficult is the different approach to learning. From what I’ve seen, Singaporeans generally work very hard and depending on the course, the amount of material you have to memorise is quite vast. Also, if you thought 9am was early, my Genetics classes started at 8am twice a week, and plenty of people I knew had classes until 10pm.
The difficulty of the material really depended on the subject. I feel as if I spent half of my exchange working on an assignment for the Bioinformatics module I took because there was so much information that it felt like learning a new language, but the Nutrition & Disease Prevention module was so interesting that it was almost effortless to study it. Also, being surrounded by so many hardworking people intimidated me into studying harder.
Here in Scotland there is a big emphasis on extracurricular activities, and you can pursue many different interests. In Singapore most people are usually busy doing sports (for which training sessions are 5-6 times a week) or studying. The campus is built for these purposes as well – aside from it being enormous, the facilities are often very new and everywhere there are beautiful study spots, and because it’s so warm you can always study outside. Usually however, the heat just made me want to take a nap, so to get actual work done there were always the air conditioned libraries to escape to. All sports facilities were free for students, and with one fancy infinity pool overlooking UTown (which is where I lived) and two Olympic sized pools a 10-minute walk from my house, there was always a place to cool down.
Hope this gave a bit of an impression of what university life looked like. Of course, outside of class there was a whole city to explore as well, about which I’ll write next time!