By Monika Kvassheim, National University of Singapore
So, I have somehow been in Singapore for more than two weeks already? It has been incredibly busy and I’ve had almost no time to myself, definitely no time to blog, but now here are my first impressions of Singapore.
I have had an absolutely amazing first two weeks. Honestly, I didn’t have a great impression of Singapore when I applied. My logic was more of a “oh it is so close to such cool places I can travel to”. To me it appeared cultureless compared to other Asian countries and sort of too clean and pretty to be interesting. Actually coming here my view has changed a lot. I still think it’s very clean and pretty, and the main tourist attractions are government-made to be just that. What surprised me however, is how the Singaporeans fit so much culture in between this. Food is the main place for culture and the best food is found in hawker centres. These are massive halls with loads of stalls selling all kinds of food from different Asian cultures. On a side note, Singaporeans “chope” (reserve) seats here by putting as little as a pack of tissues on them! Don’t you dare sit there.
Except for the food, there is so much culture expressed in other ways throughout the city. There are art exhibits, musical performances, festivals and fairs happening at so many places I have no way of keeping up. It is also really cool to see how the different ethnic groups, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, live together here. All of the cultures are expressed well, while it seems like they work very harmonically together. I have heard examples of times it isn’t working as well though, so my view of it might change during my time here. So far I have yet to have a bad experience with a Singaporean. All the times I have asked for help, everyone has been super keen to assist and really friendly.
It has been that really cool time where you can speak to any stranger, ask people you just spoke to for five minutes on the bus to do something and simply join a group going to explore something somewhere. I doubt there are many exchangers here who find it hard to make friends, as everyone is approachable and open to new people. I feel incredibly lucky to be in such an interesting and fascinating place meeting loads of cool and nice people.
For orientation, the welcome events have been very different from freshers’ week in Manchester. For one, I remember being surprised when I got the Manchester program and read that Pangaea lasts till 5 am. Here I was surprised when the only welcome party was from 6 pm till 8 pm. I’ve really liked the events though. It ‘s been refreshing to meet people at Chinatown Foodbingo, at Tamil and Singlish language classes and browsing through temples and hawker centres, instead of at some club at 2 am. One program I particularly like is one I was really lucky to get on after applying, a host programme. It’s part of culture exchange, so my host will introduce three exchangers to Singapore culture and we will share some of our own culture. For instance, we were invited to a National day celebration at their local community centre, which was a unique experience. I’m excited to spend more time with them.
In general, things have gone very smoothly for me and I’ve had no major problems. Fingers crossed it will continue. The weather is a challenge, but once I accepted my skin was going to be weirdly sticky and sweaty no matter what I did it’s been ok. It is quite nice to never need extra clothes, unless you’re going to air conditioned lecture theatres.
Leaving sucks, it usually does so I was prepared for that. I had such amazing times in Manchester this year and a great summer back home. But, if I am really lucky, it will suck to leave Singapore too!