Major: Political Science, Business Minor
Hometown: Kings Mountain, NC
Study Abroad Program: National University of Singapore
Before my trip to Singapore, I joked a lot that I was going to \"find myself\" in Asia. As I reflect on the past six months, I realized that although I didn’t discover a new me, I added significant wrinkles to the old me; I made new friends, had new experiences, and gained new insight that helped me gain a more varied view of the world around me. To give an overall summary of my experience would not do it justice, and therefore I must break it up into three distinct categories: friends, school and travels. Each of those things had a distinct impact on my experience and helped make it one of the most memorable six months of my life.
The friends I made during my experience are by far the best part of my semester abroad. Not only was I able to connect with my fellow exchange students from Chapel Hill, I was also able to make connections with local and international students that I think will last a life time. When I first got to Singapore, I was worried that it would take me some time to get acclimated to the new environment and that friends would not come easy. In all my classes, I tried my best to sit near familiar faces, but when I found myself in a class with no exchange students that I knew, my experience took a turn for the better. It was in my Chinese tutorial that I was able to meet one of my best friends in Singapore, Lester Lim. Through Lester I was able to see and experience things that many Singaporeans had not even seen. Lester, through his connections with a NUS student newspaper, got me into events such as the LKY speech and the Singapore Halloween party at the mint museum; furthermore, he went out of his way to show me the more secluded parts of Singapore, such at the north east coast. Although my international exchange friends made a huge difference in making my experience memorable, it was my Singaporean friends that made it truly unique in the sense that I got to see truly Singaporean things from a Singaporean perspective.
School served as a healthy distraction during my experience. Because I couldn’t get most of the course I wanted, I was nearly forced to venture outside of my comfort zone. The two classes I was nearly forced to take ended up being two of the most interesting class of my academic career, Chinese Philosophical Traditions and Government and Politics of Singapore. My Chinese Philosophy class covered everything from early Chinese Confucianism to modern Buddhism. Through that class, I was able to get a philosophical background of Asia as a whole, which helped me grasp many of the cultural happening around me. For example, outside our apartment, there was always incense and snacks placed in a small bowl, and I never really understood why, until we studied the importance of filial piety in Asian culture—which is paying respects to your elders. Moreover, the Government and Politics of Singapore class also proved fascinating.
Before coming to Singapore, I had a minimal understanding of the political system and history of Singapore. By taking the Government and Politics of Singapore course, I was able to significantly broaden my knowledge of the small city state. I was able to learn about early colonial Singapore, the emergence of the People’s Action Party political hegemony, and even discuss what the future held in store for the small nation. By far, the most enlightening part of the class was being able to hear Singaporean students’ perspectives on the PAP and its’ role in Singapore politics. In this class I learned that despite the many success propelled by the PAP, Singaporeans are not entirely pleased with their political and social environment, and like most people yearned for greater political and social freedoms.
One of the great things about picking Singapore is that travel is extremely cheap due to the abundance of budget airlines and the proximity of many exotic destinations. During my six months there, I was able to go to Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, and India. I don’t think one can truly appreciate where Singapore has come from until you travel to the countries that surround the state. Just crossing the border into Malaysia proves to be a cultural experience, as it offers near parallels in terms of cleanliness and infrastructure. It was during my many travels that I realized that the culture shock I thought I experienced in Singapore was nothing more an awkward moments enjoyed everywhere. The most culturally enlightening trip I had during my time in South East Asia was my 20 days journey through India. During my trip, I had the opportunity to stay with an Indian family, some Indian MBA students, and attend several Indian weddings and other celebrations. Being able to stay with the Indian family and the students helped me truly experience Indian culture firsthand, as I wasn’t relegated to just doing touristy things. By far the most confusing and enjoyable part of my journey through India was the food. Unlike all the other countries I visited, deciphering the menu proved difficult, so many times I had to go with whatever dishes sounded the best, and thankfully that strategy never failed me.
To say that I fell in love with Singapore is an understatement. Although it has its shortcomings, Singapore provided a great environment for my study abroad experience. Travel was both easy and cheap, food was aplenty, and there were hundreds of things to do. I can truly say that there was never a dull day. Whether it was taking a trip on the Singapore flyer, visiting one of the seemingly endless rows of malls, or venturing to try new hawker centers, Singapore provided me with a very lively atmosphere that I will never forget.