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How Being a Singapore Exchange Student Changed My Life

by College Life
Updated on July 11, 2023

As incredibly cliché as this may sound, experiencing the Singapore exchange student life will undeniably change your perspective on most things. Whether this is for better or worse is up to you and you only.

This post is an attempt at putting a 20-year-old Gen Zer's experience of living and studying for one semester in the culture hub called Singapore into words. Just a little heads up: it was quite the culture shock.

The Initial Shock

On August 2nd, my adventure of a lifetime started at Brussels International Airport. After having spent an hour of emotional goodbyes with my mother and having had to go through 5 solid dad-jokes from my father, it was time for me to get started on my 15-hour journey.

It is safe to say that by the time I had landed in Changi International airport, I was closer to resembling a body-double of Samara from The Ring than my initial self. However, the excitement of slowly realizing that yes, I had just landed in Singapore and I was officially a Singapore exchange student but I had no clue how to even get out of the airport, quickly brought me back to my senses. Fast forward to me checking into my hostel in the charming district of Little India and I was ready to conquer this city-state.

In true Gen-Z, ever-trying-to-be-relatable-style, the first thing I did was to explore Singaporean nightlife. In between the ooh’s and ah’s of discovering the overwhelming skyline of Singapore, the flamboyant club-goers and the interesting music-taste of the DJ’s, it ended up being an exciting first night.

It was when I returned to my hostel, that it first hit me that this was the beginning of an entirely new chapter, which I was beyond excited to write.

Could you Repeat that Please?

Of course, being the model Singapore exchange student that I am, I made sure to read up on Singaporean culture and lifestyle, in order to somewhat prepare myself for this semester abroad. I found out that there are four major sub-communities in this city-state: Malays, Indians, Chinese and the “others” which are all the nationalities which do not belong to the three aforementioned groups.

Next, I found out that in Singapore eating was a big part of the culture, which translates to having opportunities to eat at literally each and every street-corner. Naturally, being a food-addict, I felt like I had just hit the jackpot.

I also found out that Singapore’s first language was English. The locals even had their own version of it called “Singlish”.

I thought that Singlish could not be that far off from regular English. Well, was I wrong. Not only can some parts of the vocabulary and the grammar vary from what I am used to, the pronunciation made it extra tricky for me at times. Given that Singaporeans are used to speaking at a very fast pace, I found myself having to ask “Could you repeat that, please?” quite (too) often.

Nonetheless, it usually took me a few attempts but eventually, it always worked out.

Why. Is. It. So. Humid.

Why. Is. It. So. Humid.

Don’t get me wrong, Singapore is an amazing place. Coming from a country where rain and mediocre temperatures can be considered part of its Unesco World Heritage, I should be thankful to have been in an environment where temperatures varied between 28 and 31 degrees Celsius all year long. And I was, but my sweat glands were not. In theory, such temperatures all year around sound quite pleasing. They could be, if there was not such a high humidity rate. Given that on average, Singapore has a humidity level of 80 percent, it is safe to say that my body stayed moist from August 2nd onwards.

At the beginning, I found myself showering three times a day, attempting to cool down my body and get rid of the constant layer of sweat. After a few weeks, I learned to accept my fate and found out that everybody else was experiencing the same scenario as I was, except they stopped caring about it. Later, I accepted the fact that occasionally, just eating a warm meal made me sweat uncontrollably. That was a-okay.

I'm not Crying, it’s Just Allergies

At this point, I am half-way through my journey. All jokes aside, it was an unforgettable one so far.

Out of all the clichés in the world, I think the ones about exchange can be categorized as true. In the few months that I was there, I met incredible people that I can already call some of my closest friends, I had the opportunity to travel and see extreme economic disparity fought with unconditional happiness and joy.

To refer back to the introduction of this post, studying a semester abroad changes your life and your perception of it in many ways, some of which you probably will not anticipate before leaving. Although there might be some challenges, the biggest ones being homesickness and the financial cost it represents, in the end, it is worth every single tear and penny.

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