Molly Jane Phillips
- Course: Psychology BSc
- Location of year abroad: Singapore
For my third year of university, I chose to study abroad at the National University of Singapore (NUS). I wanted to go somewhere with different social values and norms to the UK, somewhere where the culture was not very similar to home. Singapore and Japan were my top two choices and in the end I chose Singapore because I thought that while it would be different it wouldn’t be so different that I might feel uncomfortable living there for one whole year. The year was unbelievably rewarding in so many ways, and it taught me things that I otherwise might not have discovered. I had to cope with distance from home, friends and family and I had to adjust to a totally new environment in a completely different continent, without knowing anyone else going to the same place.
I think that the travel element of my year was just as important as the actual studying in Singapore element. Travelling with other people teaches you patience and tolerance while travelling alone teaches you independence, and from both experiences I gained huge confidence and coping abilities from having to overcome difficult situations
Academically, although only being required to pass the year, it was still challenging and I was forced to work quite hard at various points throughout the two semesters. The grading system works on a bell-curve at NUS, meaning that regardless of my percentage, I would not necessarily get a ‘good’ grade because I was up against the local students whom many of which were achieving 90% averages. Being the only exchange student in most of my lectures and all of my groups meant that immediately I was at a slight disadvantage; in Singapore the local students are the most conscientious students I’ve ever met, most likely because of the immense pressure and competition that they face pre and post graduation. This means that many of them are not at all interested in working with the exchange students because they hold the pre-conception that because we only need to pass, we won’t work hard. This was a real issue because our modules included a lot of group work, something that we don’t do much of at Leeds. Having to prove myself to my groupmates forced me to improve upon my confidence and assertiveness, something that I especially wanted to work on throughout this year.
Another challenge sometimes was actually comprehending what people were saying; the different English accent (‘Singlish’ as they call it), was something that took a lot of adjusting to; the national language of Singapore is English but the accent and dialect can at times be really difficult to comprehend. The only way I can describe it, is English spoken with intonation similar to that of the Chinese language. It is fast and they use fillers such as ‘lah’ between words which can make it difficult to follow. Some lecturers spoke with very strong Singaporean accents and at times it was hard to keep up with the content. Likewise, in some group work situations I had to ask people to repeat things or to talk a bit slower. It was fascinating and I eventually got used to it but it was definitely a challenge at first!
As I mentioned previously, the heavy group work element was really beneficial for my confidence which was also because many of them involved presentations as well. We did more practical based things throughout the year which was definitely a great part of my educational experience there. In one mental health module we were focusing on the experience of the care givers of people with mental health which entailed a trip to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) where I later volunteered for a month. This trip was incredibly interesting as we were given a tour of IMH and shown into the wards, before carrying out a group interview with the caregiver of a Schizophrenic. This kind of learning made the process so engaging and gave a much deeper insight into actual experiences of people surrounded by mental health.
Throughout my year abroad, I met so many people from all over the world and I did a lot of travel, (much of which was solo travel). All of this showed me the differences between different cultures; I’ve met people from many different countries before but I’ve never had to immerse myself within a different culture and actually live with such a mix of people before. It was fascinating how different people from even very geographically proximal countries could be. Travelling to different cultures and being surrounded by different norms and values and religious beliefs was also an enriching experience and all of this forced me to assess situations carefully and tailor my behaviours depending on who I was with. I think that the travel element of my year was just as important as the actual studying in Singapore element. Travelling with other people teaches you patience and tolerance while travelling alone teaches you independence, and from both experiences I gained huge confidence and coping abilities from having to overcome difficult situations.
Overall, I would not change anything about my year abroad. I am so pleased that I chose Singapore for all of the reasons I’ve discussed here. It was different; the people, the work ethic, the cuisine, the architecture. However it was also an incredibly comfortable place to live where I didn’t feel out of place. I travelled for three months at the end of my academic year and I was thrown into all sorts of uncomfortable or unsettling situations as well as so many amazing and enriching ones. The highs and the lows were all very much worth it because I have learnt something or developed upon a certain skill from every moment. To anyone considering a year abroad I would highly recommend it.