Studying Abroad at the National University of Singapore

Emily Shearer
Wednesday 15 March 2023

Varun studies Economics and Sustainable Development and last year he studied at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Varun has kindly shared this blog post about his time abroad.

Student on top of a hill

Despite all the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic, spending a semester abroad in Singapore was one of the best experiences of my undergraduate degree. NUS has an extensive exchange program with universities from all over the globe. After spending a few years in the quaint seaside town of St Andrews, studying at NUS with a student population of over 40,000 students was a breath of fresh air.

National University of Singapore buildingSwimming pool on top of a skyscraper

The university campus is lush and green with the kind of flora you’d expect to find in tropical Asia but also scattered with modern buildings and amazing facilities. The stand-out campus was UTown with its integrated food courts reminiscent of a large mall, and even its own infinity pool (!!!) on the top floor that students could access to cool down from the heat and humidity. While some people may find the consistent 30˚C climate a bit of a culture shock, I was relieved that getting changed for class meant a t-shirt, shorts, and a pair of slippers rather than the layers of clothing needed to brace the Scottish cold.

I was fortunate to get offered university housing where I was placed in a shared suite with 3 local Singaporeans and one other exchange student. This accommodation was less of a “hall” and more like a residential college much like the ones you’d find at Oxford or Cambridge. The local students were extremely warm and welcoming and mostly curious as to why a student would come all the way from Scotland to their university. The sheer work ethic, drive, and ambition of the locals and the ethnic and religious diversity of the people were something to admire. I learnt a lot about Singapore from them, but even more about Singaporeans and I hope they also learnt something from me.

Five students in SingaporeGardens by the Bay attraction in Singapore

Although the academic environment was admittedly more intense and competitive than St Andrews, I enjoyed the classes I took as they allowed me to study sustainable development in a context that was more representative of the global south where Singapore is often regarded as an ideal case study of how Asia could develop. My professors were surprisingly diverse and very keen on having exchange students in their class, and I was privileged to have been offered a research assistantship by one of them that I completed during the summer.

The sheer size and diversity of the exchange student body made it extremely easy to settle down and make friends, and the city of Singapore, with its incredible infrastructure alongside its rich cultural background, makes it a perfect introduction to Asia for any westerner. The location of the city-state is also one of its best assets (a point that was emphasised in one of my Singapore-centric courses) with travel to most Southeast Asian countries just a short flight away. Even during the pandemic, I had the opportunity to still travel to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Australia with exchange students going to Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and India to name a few more as well. Exploring Singapore for the first time with other exchange students as well as travelling to other countries was the highlight of my study abroad. I truly believe the relationships I formed and the friends I made are the kinds to last a lifetime.

Two students on a boatFive students in life jackets

Even with all the tough travel restrictions, strict mask rules, quarantine and testing requirements, social distancing laws, quotas on group sizes, expensive alcohol, and the fact that I was the only student from St Andrews that ended up going, the toughest part of the whole exchange for me was saying goodbye to a city and university that truly felt like my home. On my last day in Singapore, one of the local students in my residence passed me a handwritten letter that basically summed up the whole purpose of going on exchange. As much as I came to Singapore to learn and experience a new country, people, and culture, I was happy to know that my being there was also an opportunity for them to learn about my background and experiences as well- that is what an exchange program is really about.

Although there is some sadness in knowing that if I ever find myself in Singapore again it won’t ever feel the same, I am extremely grateful for the country and people that have so graciously hosted me as well as the friends and relationships I made along the way and I urge anybody considering a study abroad to not think twice before applying.

Two students on a kayakView of buddhist monastery

Four students at the coast

Thank you to Varun for sharing this blog post and pictures from his time abroad!

If you would like to talk to Varun about his experience in more depth, or would like to find out more about studying abroad please email  [email protected].

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