Hi, I’m Wen! Having spent most of my life in New Zealand, I’d always been curious about what life was like in Asia for people around my age, and so I decided to apply for a one semester student exchange to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. The following four months were as exciting and eye opening as I had hoped it would be.
After arriving in Singapore, moving into my hall, the first thing that took me by surprise was the sheer number of other exchange students at NTU – about a thousand of them. You literally could not avoid running into an exchange student anywhere on campus. During that semester, I was able to make friends from Singapore, Australia, Sweden, Germany, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Canada, and the list goes on.
The most difficult part of living in Singapore was the language barrier. Because most people in Singapore were both ethnically Chinese and fluent in Mandarin, other people also assumed I was the same. Jokes on them, my Mandarin was actually worse than a primary schooler’s. One day, I eventually found out that “cents” and “fur/hair” were the pronounced the same way in Mandarin... so, you could probably understand my initial confusion when I thought the Mandarin-speaking cashiers were asking for “$2 and two strands of hair” when they actually meant “$2 and twenty cents”... But, as I was faced with more and more situations requiring Mandarin, my fluency and confidence in using the language thankfully grew.
Then came the task of enrolling in courses through what was notoriously known as “STARS Wars”. Named after NTU’s course enrolment system STARS, this “war” involved a lot of waiting and hoping that you’d get into allocated the courses you wanted before other people did. Unfortunately, I didn’t get into 2 of the 3 biological sciences courses I had applied for, meaning that I had to take an extra semester at Massey this year to complete my degree.
One of the papers (BS2008) was quite different to most other science courses I had taken at Massey. Each lecture was 2 hours long, and there were only 4 lab sessions during the whole semester. The course then concluded with the most difficult multi-choice exam I had ever taken in my life. But, thankfully, I managed to get a decent grade and came back to New Zealand well prepared for my third year papers.
Thai, however, ended up being my favourite course. Not only was my lecturer Aacaan Suksri extremely engaging and witty (she would even crack jokes in Mandarin), I also made a group of close friends in this course. These friends introduced me to mookata – a hybrid Chinese steamboat/Korean BBQ that has been gaining popularity in Singapore.
During my time in lectures, I also noticed something interesting: all the students at NTU called their lecturers “Prof”, and never by their first name. On the other hand, at Massey, it's pretty much the norm to address our lecturers by their first name.
On-campus food was also super cheap, with the average meal costing only about $4 New Zealand dollars!
I also got to celebrate the Lunar New Year with family and friends, and explore Chinatown.
During the mid-semester break, I spent 5 hours at the National Museum of Singapore with a friend from Australia; and on another day, we went for a morning tramp up the MacRitchie Treetop Walk with other exchange students, where we saw the cutest little monkey, and had fun playing around with the gigantic foliage.
At night, I could stroll through the softly illuminated SuperTree Grove and take in the dazzling Singapore skyline.
Attending the annual Prudential Marina Bay Carnival was also a must.
I also attended the National Service enlistment ceremony at Pulau Tekong for one of my friends, and got a tour of the camp training grounds and lodgings, as well as learned about their daily training schedules.
And then, before I knew it, one semester and my time in Singapore had come to an end. There were many bittersweet goodbyes between both local and exchange students alike, and promises to meet again in the future in each other's respective home countries.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this journey possible!