End of one adventure

When I began this adventure in January, this was not at all how I envisioned it ending. Coronavirus and government recall meant that I had to leave sunny Singapore very quickly. Whilst the government recall, the pain of getting a new plane ticket and, leaving all my new friends behind was not how I envisioned it ending, I can’t say it hasn’t been memorable.

My time abroad has not only allowed me the opportunity to travel and have amazing new adventures, but stretch and challenge myself. I will never forget the amazing views of sunrises in Surabaya, rainforests in Laos, and lanterns in Taiwan. However, for me it was the people who made my experience so amazing. I never thought I would make such important friendships so quickly, and yet we’ve already planned our New Years celebration together! People often joke that you “find yourself in Southeast Asia”, and I definitely found the best group of friends. People who I would quite literally jump off a cliff after, and people who immediately agreed to finish my checklist with me on my very sudden last days in Singapore. I feel extremely lucky to have shared amazing memories with these people, and I know this is the first of many adventures for us!

I also feel that Singapore has made a lasting impact on me. I am more spontaneous and willing to take risks, to plan a trip on Thursday night and leave Friday morning. It has broadened my horizons by allowing me to take risks and grow. I know I can travel alone and live on the other side of the world and it not end in mass disaster. Living abroad has made me more independent and self-sufficient. From organising my own VISA, to navigating boarder crossings at night, it’s safe to say that I definitely learnt a variety of life skills!

Whilst my time in Southeast Asia was cut short, I wouldn’t trade my experience, or the friendships I made! (And don’t worry I’ll be back there next summer for a new adventure!)

A gentle reminder

By Callum Campbell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)

With all the travelling and the constant tropical climate it has been really easy to forget the real reason why I am in Singapore – to study. The upcoming exams, however, have acted as a gentle reminder of this aspect.

Managed to find time to watch David Beckham turn on the Christmas lights
Managed to find time to watch David Beckham turn on the Christmas lights

With only a couple of days now until I finish and travel back to England, it would be easy to lose track of revision, but it is important that I maintain my determination and motivation over this last stretch. What does not make this easier is the fact the majority of other exchange students have finished and left to travel around the region to relaxing beaches and beautiful countries while I am stuck revising.

Just a few more days...
Just a few more days…

With four exams I am doing the same workload as I would have been doing in Manchester, however, each of my modules range from different subject backgrounds to academic years. This means that the studying has been very diverse and at times more complex.

The largest and most notable difference with exams in Singapore compared to those in England is that the marking is done on a bell curve, meaning that a small proportion of the class can achieve the top grade and the largest amount will achieve middle marks, while a small number will obtain the lowest. This system comes with its positives and negatives as although some members of the class will fail, the bell curve makes it hard to do so. However, this also means that it is actually harder to achieve the highest grade and therefore has the potential to make fellow classmates slightly more competitive with one another, but thankfully this is not something I have experienced.

 

An illustration as to how the bell curve system works
An illustration as to how the bell curve system works

As an exchange student though, my grades from NUS will be taken and converted into Manchester results based on a number of factors, meaning when I am told my results in the first instance, I am likely to have little idea of what they mean in terms of English grades.

Just as unpredictable as my results for the first semester is the current dramatic and drastic change of weather, ranging between beaming sunlight and monsoon storms within a matter of hours. One of the strangest things to comprehend out here is the fact that the weather is still above 20oC, yet it’s December… Christmas is less than a month away and I’m still wearing shorts and flip-flops?

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Speaking of Christmas, I recently found out the news that I will be notified by NUS regarding my grades a couple of days before Christmas, meaning there is the potential to either make or break the festive period. Thankfully, I am feeling confident of what I have achieved during my time in Singapore and feel assured it will be a time to celebrate on all fronts.

 

A second home

Living on the doorstep of South East Asia

By Callum Campbell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)

It’s been four months since I arrived in Singapore, and life here has become the norm. However, a quick glance at the calendar and I realised that, not only is Christmas next month, but I will be heading home in less than five weeks. Time has literally flown by and it still feels like yesterday when I was even considering applying for this opportunity, a decision I will never regret.

A second home?

Since my last blog there has been SO much going on. I’ve met countless amazing people from all over the world, travelled the beautiful region of Southeast Asia, seen some amazing events and sights in Singapore and (the real reason I’m here) knuckled down with university work. With so much going on, I thought I would attempt to highlight just a few stand-out moments of my adventure so far.

Although registration for the student visa and the enrolment of classes was a tedious process, I was soon able to settle into a routine and adapt to my new lifestyle in Singapore. The city is a very safe and clean place, which means travelling around late a night on the metro doesn’t involve constantly worrying about who’s around. The NUS campus itself is also really good ,with a number of high quality facilities and study areas, including a 24-hour Starbucks.

Being located in the centre of Southeast Asia, I have been able to travel to some of the most beautiful countries in the world ‘on the cheap’. My very first trip was to the island of Bintan in Indonesia, which is only a ferry ride away from Singapore. A group of us, made up of English, Irish, American and French students, stayed in wooden huts on stilts above the sea, which typified the relaxing experience of a place that is relatively untouched by tourism. The accommodation became even more bizarre when we realised that the owner had a fully grown shark as a pet…

Our accommodation, Bintan Style
Our accommodation in Bintan

A few weeks later, back in Singapore, the world renowned Formula 1 arrived and literally took over the city, with the racetrack built on the streets used by everyday traffic. I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the race, and being within metres of the track and seeing some of the world’s best racing drivers provided an exciting adrenaline rush.

This was after many attempts
This was after many attempts

Reading week soon came around, and this meant it was time for another trip. A collection of us travelled to Bali and the Gili Islands in Indonesia. Bali, a popular tourist destination, was beautiful especially with its dominating volcanos; however, the sight of hotels and the impact of globalisation was obvious as I travelled around the island. In comparison, the Gili Islands was a place that was literally paradise. Out of the three islands I visited Gili Trawangan, which has a population of around 500 people, and horse and carts are used as transport because no cars are allowed. The golden beaches and crystal clear water also presented us with a perfect opportunity snorkel and dive.

A volcano in Bali
A volcano in Bali

Para, Para, Paradi
Para-, Para-, Paradise!

After a refreshing week away, it was soon time to get back into study mode and attempt to forget about the lush beaches. Thankfully, the warm climate of Singapore made this transition much easier. While remaining on top of my studies at NUS, I was also able to explore more of the city that I now call home, with visits to the Botanical gardens, Little India and Marina Bay Sands, to name a few. A group of us also visited the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo, where we were able to see a number of unique animals in a completely different setting.

Little India
Little India

There are actually two elephants there
There are actually two elephants there.

However, once a few deadlines were met, it was time for my next adventure. This time I travelled through Malaysia with a Danish and an American student. We first flew to Penang, an old British colonial town, where we rode Asia’s steepest train, captured some of the most breathtaking views and got lost in the jungle. In the latter part of the trip we travelled by bus through the Malaysian countryside before arriving in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. It was nice to experience a city that was raw and vibrant compared to the well planned, orderly Singapore.

The steepest train in Asia, Penang
Penang

The iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur
The iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

And it was not long after arriving back from Malaysia that I was already off on my final trip (for now) to Bangkok, Thailand. Having previously visited the city last year, it was nice to go back and experience it with a different group of friends and explore the city in greater depth. The welcoming Thai people and the amazingly rich culture really makes Bangkok such a fantastic place.

The Grand Palace in Bangkok
The Grand Palace in Bangkok

It may be hard to believe, but amongst all the travelling I have in fact been studying too. Having started lectures in August while friends were still enjoying the lengthy summer holiday, I have taken the opportunity to test my academic ability in a completely different country and culture. Just a few highlights of studying at NUS so far have included working in groups with Singaporean and international students while also learning about Singapore and Asia in greater depth. As the last few deadlines come to an end and with the exams fast approaching, the feeling that the semester abroad is coming to an end is beginning to kick in.

Of course it is going to be so nice to get back to the UK and see friends and family, but there are so many aspects of this adventure that I don’t want to end. It’s also going to be interesting arriving back in England in the peak of winter having adapted to the tropical climate of Singapore.

Time really does fly when you're having fun
Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

I look forward to updating you again soon, which will be my final blog entry while in Singapore.

The journey begins; Arrival in Singapore

Callum Campbell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Finally, after all these months of preparation, packing and anticipation I am in Singapore starting my semester abroad! Although at first it was an emotional departure and a draining beginning, I now feel very settled in a country completely different to my own. The time is literally flying by and I can see these next four months disappearing before I catch my breath.

My new home for 5 months
My new home for 5 months

It seems a distant memory when I was leaving my family at Heathrow Airport. I was feeling so nervous and lonely in a way which I had never experienced before knowing that, unlike any other trip I had made before, nobody was waiting for me at the other end. Although previous exchange students who had been to the National University of Singapore (NUS) gave me advice and information about the city and university before I left, I still genuinely had no idea what to expect.

After a good fourteen-hour flight, including a transfer in Doha, I had made it to Singapore and I felt drained beyond belief. This, however, was the least of my worries at first as I still needed to travel to the other side of the city, with no guarantee that I would be able to check into my accommodation this early. I decided to get the MRT, Singapore’s equivalent to London’s tube, which was ten times cheaper than a taxi, but much less practical and was not a fun experience during the evening rush hour. Once I arrived at Kent Ridge, the nearest MRT station to the university campus, I hauled my large suitcase up and down hills before arriving at Prince George’s Park Residences, my accommodation at NUS. I quickly checked in, went up to my room and crashed on the bed. I felt like a defeated man.

That first evening may have been hard but since then I have never looked back. With a large number of international students from around the world in the same situation there has been plenty of opportunity to meet a wide range of different people who have completely different cultures, values and ways of life.

A rehearsal for Singapore National Day
A rehearsal for Singapore National Day, which takes place on the 9th of August

Although registration for courses at the university and immigration into the country has been tedious at times, overall the NUS staff and students have made settling in easier, with a number of events and tours to exciting locations across Singapore taking place daily during Orientation Week.

One university trip was to Sentosa Beach, a man made beach in Singapore
One university trip was to Sentosa Beach, a man made beach in Singapore

The university campus itself, located to the west of the city centre, is made up of old buildings and lecture theatres as well as state of the art modern facilities. Although the campus is relatively close together, there is a shuttle bus service that operates around the campus, preventing the need to walk in the sometimes-extreme heat experienced. In terms of accommodation, having previously been told I would not have university accommodation, I am delighted to be on campus after an appeal. However, I was not fortunate enough to be staying at a part of the campus called UTown, located to the north of the university. This site is effectively a student resort, including food courts, shops, a gym, a “town green” and even an infinity pool! Although I may not be staying there I still have access to the facilities, so often spend a lot of my time in this part of the campus.

The infinity pool on campus...
The infinity pool on campus…

Overall, it has been an amazing first week and a half that has already flown by. With less than half a week before lectures begin, it really does make me think just how quickly is the whole semester going to be? But if it is anything like what I am currently experiencing then I know I will continue to have the time of my life!