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Bright lights, warm nights & unexpected delights – a semester in Singapore

NTU is situated on the west coast of Singapore, referred to as the NTU bubble. To get to town expect it to take about an hour, first a bus to the MRT station then an MRT. The campus is larger than most suburbs in Sydney boasting about 20 halls of residence, excellent sport facilities and endless places to study. The halls can be a fair distance from the academic precinct, which is concentrated on the west end of NTU, there are free campus shuttles transporting students to and from the halls to classes – god forbid you would walk. I organised a bicycle for myself to get around campus, this provides freedom and is quicker than waiting for the shuttles, albeit cycling in 30 plus degrees is hot work.

The Nanyang Business School is highly regarded in Singapore and abroad, the building is called “The Hive” and is an award-winning sustainable building with green space it’s a very pleasant place to learn. All my classes are 4-hour seminars, not so much formal lectures but a collaborative learning style, whilst class participation is encouraged some of the Singaporean students are quite shy to get involved. Culturally Singapore is a high power distance society, meaning authority and status is to be respected. This is not a bad thing but in the context of a collaborative learning environment this can hinder classroom debate and students can be less likely to share alternative viewpoints. The workload in Singapore is quite heavy with regular homework and assignments to be completed on top of the usual study. I’m taking 4 classes totalling 15 credit points when only 12 were required for me to receive a full-time study load equivalent back at UTS. The reason was one class, cultural intelligence seemed interesting to me and thought what a better time to learn cross cultural frameworks than when experiencing it. This has helped me tremendously, applying what I’ve learnt to everyday interactions and situations – also have made some amazing local friends in this class.

I have been enjoying life at Nanyang Technological University, very different to life back at UTS. The on-campus housing is by random allotment, before leaving my privileged life in Sydney I found out I would be in a single room without air conditioning. It was nice that I would have my own space, but I was mildly concerned about the temperatures I would be subjected to. Upon arriving in my room, I found a small room and a mattress with a vinyl cover on it, this is to stop sweat soaking into the mattress and being shared with the next person to stay in the dorm. Sorry to be graphic but hope you appreciate the heads up; the devil is in the detail, welcome to Asia. I would suggest either taking a mattress protector or getting one from IKEA after arriving. The room has a ceiling fan that is always cranked to full speed when I’m in the room which provides relief.

Even though Singapore is an economic hub and financial centre of the region it is still in Asia, so some things are very different, I have found some things challenging. An example was when of my professor shared his view that there is no problem with child labour in the textiles industry etc. His reasoning was that at least employment is being provided to these children and their families. A rather pragmatic approach to the issue but also quite devoid of empathy and compassion for a child’s right to have a childhood and education. I had a discussion with him as I thought it was important to provide my point of view, I don’t think his views are representative of Singaporean’s overall. I have been treated with compassion and kindness from majority of the local people.

Singapore is a hotbed of cultural fusion, Chinese being the largest influence with 70% of citizens being of Chinese descent. Malaysian and Indian influences are also prevalent in local cuisine. The beloved hawker centres serve up very affordable meals from about $3SGD, this is delicious and to be taken advantage of. Song Fa Bak Kut Teh, a Michelin stared restaurant serving up pork ribs in a broth is a taste to be experienced, at $12SGD you would be crazy not to. The vegetarian options in Singapore are fantastic, as dishes here are centred around delicate and strong flavours. In Australia a lot of meals are centred around meat, the old meat, carb and three veg. This is not the case in Singapore where tofu and other alternative mean you can easily get all your nutrients from vegetarian food.

Regarding the region, South East Asia never ceases to amaze me. Having done some travel in the region previously I was excited to get back up here. Singapore is an excellent launchpad for travel in the region where you will struggle to find a flight that costs more than $60. Before my semester began, I flew to Singapore, dumped my bags and set off for Malaysian Borneo the next morning. Solo Jungle trekking, national parks, river cruises and chasing sunsets – this is what I needed. Traveling around for three weeks in the wilderness was such an experience, reminding me how precious our natural world is how important it is for us to preserve it. Whilst climbing Mount Santubong in Kuching by myself I encountered a King Cobra. Remaining calm and backing away until it left the fallen tree I had to walk over to get back to the park office will be a tale to tell. Writing this during recess week I decided to head up to Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia – what a place. Colonial shophouses, hipster cafes, street art and some of the best food Asia has to offer.

Overall so far, my exchange semester has been completely different to my expectations and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I set out for a life changing experience, personal growth and to learn about the complex world we live in. At UTS I have been truly lucky to been afforded the opportunity and I implore anyone considering Singapore to jump at the chance, I have increased my network made many friends and acquaintances that will I have no doubt leave a mark on me for the rest of my life. Kudos to Julie Bishop’s vision of the New Colombo Plan, what an incredible legacy for her to have left from her career in Australian parliament. Also big thanks to the UTS study abroad team, they work very hard to provide such an amazing experience.

Great to chat but I’ve got some exploring to do 🙂

Alasdair Kay
Bachelor of Business
Nanyang Technological University

Australian Government New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient.

For more information about the UTS Global Exchange program please visit:

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