Yes, finally I have been approved by my department for my year abroad at the National University of Singapore, all those hours spend revising for the exams in Mappin Computer room finally paid off. Just documentation to fill out for my visa and the university and off I am to Singapore. I had a connecting flight through Frankfurt with a one and half hour stop, which on paper sounded very comfortable. However, my flight to Frankfurt was delayed and this resulted in me sprinting across the airport in 15 minutes and being the last person aboard. To this day I still don’t know how my luggage managed to come along with me but I was happy receiving it in Singapore.
Immigration was a bit nerve wrecking as most of the officers weren’t aware that exchange students from western countries enter on a tourist visa and then convert them to a student pass inside country, but having the approval letter from NUS solved that problem. First thing I did was change some money (it has a much better rate than in Europe) and call the accommodation officer from a pay phone as I arrived after office hours. Then I got a taxi to the campus. As all exchange students find out, alcohol is really expensive in Singapore (Smirnoff 75CL bottle is 30 quid plus in the supermarket), therefore duty free alcohol is your best bet. You are allowed to carry 1L of spirit and 1L of beer and 1L of wine across the border when you stay out of Singapore for more than 48 hours. Don’t try to buy more alcohol as they are happy to sell it to you but you are pretty much guaranteed to be caught by immigration. Once you set up your student pass, you are allowed to enter and exit Singapore through the “locals” immigration line which is a much shorter queue. This makes squeezing in that Friday afternoon flight for a weekend to Phuket or Bali that much easier (these weekend get aways can be done under 200 quid including flights, hostel, food and entertainment), which is naturally a better study destination that one of the 8 libraries NUS has.
At the campus, it was straight forward to find the room and I was greeted with a lot of friendly people who gave me my room key after filling out some forms and helped me with my luggage. Finally, time to unpack and sleep after being awake for 30 odd hours. I arrived quite early so I was the first person to move into the apartment, my flat mates arrived in the next 3 days after, an Australian guy, Danish guy and my course mate from Sheffield, who is one of my best friends as well. We share a common bathroom, toilet and kitchen. By kitchen I mean microwave, fridge and sink as we are not allowed a cooking hub because of Singaporean fire & safety laws. The floors are segregated by sex, and no members of the opposite sex are allowed to be in your room after 11 and if they are before 11 the door must be 45 degrees open, naturally this and the rule of no alcohol on campus are not followed or enforced strictly.
The next day I woke up really early because of the jet lag, I set up a sim card as a phone with google maps and mobile data is your best friend in a foreign country. You have the possibility of setting up a contract or a prepaid phone, most people set up a prepaid phone as you can get the sim cards in the supermarket on campus and they are relatively cheap. I know of students not getting a sim card at all as wifi is available on practically all areas of the campus and you can keep using your UK number for whatsapp. I then went to see Marina Bay Sands in person after all those months starring at google images. It is much more impressive in real life and I couldn’t wait for the year abroad to fully begin. The next view weeks where filled with making new friends from across the globe (exchange students tend to be friends with exchange students there are about 1000 of them per semester, this hopefully will create a powerful business network at some point), trying out lots and lots of new food, travelling to Bali for a long weekend for my 21st Birthday, Singapore National Day, Singapore Formula 1 and the Singapore WTA finals. As well as a few memorable nights out. All and all the year abroad was lining up to be one of the best years of my life, but there are some down sides and set backs which I will write about in my next blog post….