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Asia: Student experiences

Read about King's student's experiences of studying abroad in Asia, and find out what life is like studying as a King's student at a partner university.  Please note, although the content is very comprehensive, covering issues from housing to recommended activities, the Global Mobility team are able to help you identify any further outstanding information you may require.

Please also refer to our new student blog for the most up to date experiences for all locations.

Hong Kong University

Rebecca Marwege, 2014-2015

Almost 9 months ago I came to Hong Kong form my study abroad year. When I arrived, I could have never imagined that this year would be so filled of experiences!

As I arrived in August, the first thing I experienced was apocalyptic rain. Because Hong Kong is situated in the sub-tropic climate zone and is as an island exposed to the sea, in summer there are typhoons and rains that are so massive that people stay in their houses the whole day. This also happened to me in the first month as lectures were cancelled one day and the whole world seemed to hide in their houses.  

Apart from the rain, the first most impressive experiences for me were all the lights around the city, the different language, the characters, the humidity, the heat, the noise, the roasted ducks in the windows of the restaurants and all the busy people. So many things, that at first I felt really overwhelmed, even though after some time these things became more normal.  

University experience

Going to university was another interesting experience, as alone the campus was much bigger than what I was used to in London. It can take you easily 10 minutes to get from one end to the other for example. And as the way from my flat to university was uphill, I always had a little morning exercise. In terms of academic experience, I would not want to miss this year at HKU, as the teaching and assessment techniques are very modern (I had for example several classes without final examination but with assignments over the year) and really encourage students to participate in class. Especially two political philosophy classes I had were very interesting. The protests happening at the same time in Hong Kong made these classes even more thriving. As the protests were a movement for democracy and against more control of the CCP in Beijing, we discussed a lot about the value of individual freedom and liberty and what philosophers like J.S. Mill already thought about that. The protests themselves were something that made my exchange year unique.

Making friends

I tried to make local friends which took longer than I had expected. As I do breakdance, I found almost all my friends through dancing, except from some other close friends at university who were also exchange students or locals. I have to admit that it took me a while to get to know the people and to really become friends, as even though most of the people speak English, Cantonese stays the first language and the language everyone feels more comfortable speaking. However, most people are still very nice, especially if they see that you are also making an effort, and after some time I found a really nice group of friends who would show me around Hong Kong and introduce me to the Hong Kong culture with Chinese New Year dinners, Chinese BBQs, Chinese-style birthdays and so forth. This showed me that it may take time to make friends in a different cultural setting but that if you are open-minded and willing to make an effort, you will make really good friends as there are always people that are interested in your story especially if you come from another country.

Outside of university

After some time, I also started to get more involved in the dance scene in Hong Kong and started my own group at the University of Hong Kong where we would train several times a week, or I would go to the Polytechnic University to practice with my friends there. An interesting experience was also the Mass Dance at HKU which I participated in with only one more non-local girl. The Mass Dance is an annual dance performance at several places in Hong Kong with dance teams from the different universities. As all of the rehearsals were held in Cantonese, I learnt a few sentences in Cantonese and got an insight in the working morals of the local students, as rehearsals were held from seven to 12 at night and one had to formally inform the team leader if one could not make it. Even though it was much more of a commitment than I expected, I enjoyed taking part from a cultural perspective. After the dance I started to do my own dance projects and performed five times at social and fundraising events.  I enjoyed these shows as I got in touch with many different people from Hong Kong.

Travel

Another thing that I enjoyed about Hong Kong is its close proximity to so many countries in Asia which makes traveling very easy and affordable. That gave me the chance to visit countries like Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and a few others during my year abroad. These journeys have taught me more about different cultures in Asia and also about different religions, as for example in Malaysia there are three different main religions, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. Other than that, the different landscapes, people, architecture and history made all these trips very distinct and special.

Looking back

Looking back on the last year, I have learnt so much coming to Hong Kong that I am really glad I made this decision one year ago. The most important thing I learnt was that even though not everything is easy and there will be moments in which you miss home, the experiences you make and the people you meet with different backgrounds and stories to tell, make the experience totally worth while. It also showed me that if you really want to get to know a culture and become close friends with the local community, it is advisable to learn the language, that is one reason why I started learning Mandarin and picked up some Cantonese which is the local dialect. It might not be enough to discuss matters, it shows the people that you are making an effort and you are interested in the culture, so they will be generally nicer to you. Therefore, I would say the most important thing when going abroad is to be open-minded and not to judge too quickly about another culture, as it takes time to adapt to a different cultural setting but that if you are open-minded and willing to make an effort, you will make really good friends as there are always people that are interested in your story especially if you come from another country.

Sam Campbell, 2012-2013

Accommodation

Residential colleges

One option for studying in Hong Kong is the residential colleges, HKU has many different halls that are located either a walk or a short bus from the campus. HKU also provides its own bus service to campus if it is necessary which is a cheaper alternative to the already very cheap local buses.

Halls are either single sex or mixed, but in all cases each floor is either exclusively male or female. Often rooms in halls are shared but the option to have a single room is available but cannot always be guaranteed. If you approach the hall warden and let them know of your preference and they will do the best they can to accommodate you.

Hall culture in Hong Kong is very different to that of the UK. Students take the social aspect of halls very seriously as for many students in Hong Kong it is one of the best ways of getting to know people. Often halls will have a schedule of events which are designed to get everyone on the floor involved, this can range from a quiet night in watching a film all the way to coordinating a dance routine. And in keeping with Hong Kong culture these socials can often run into the very early hours of the morning. Another unique aspect to life in halls of residence is the high table dinners, these are meals that happen three times a semester that incorporate everyone in your halls and is often accompanied with a talk by a speaker (although on occasions the talk is in Cantonese). These are another great way to get to know people in your halls and are a good opportunity for ‘free’ food (the meal price is included as part of your overall accommodation fee).

While property prices in Hong Kong are very high (above those in London) residential colleges are highly subsidised by HKU, and therefore a budget of around £600-1000 per semester would be adequate if you choose to live in halls.

Further information on the residential colleges can be found here.                                    

Student flats

Often exchange students find themselves allocated to the student flats which are often located at halls of residence but are slightly different. They offer a slightly more independent way of living, while close to the halls they are not involved directly with the hall culture, and do not require access through the reception or the warden’s office. This option is a bit closer to the halls experience in the UK and therefore may be preferable to some students.

Private housing

There is also the option to rent your own flat, this a good option if you want to live in a specific area of Hong Kong and have a more independent experience. If this is something you are thinking about the best advice is to organise it as early as possible. The process is very similar to that in London, with many properties available on the market and websites where you can find potential flatmates to share with.

It is important to note that private housing will be much more expensive than staying within university accommodation as it is not subsidised. Rental prices for property in Hong Kong are very comparable with London, for a two bedroom flat in Central you should expect to pay between £1300-1600 pcm.

Here is a good guide to renting privately in Hong Kong

Top Ten Things

1. International city
Due to the pretty unusual history of Hong Kong it has become one the most international cities in the world. It was a British colony until 1997 and still has English as an official language alongside Cantonese. This makes it a perfect place to get to know China and Asia even without any prior experience. While you can explore the street markets and the try the local food, the option to shop at Top Shop or Pizza Express still remains.

2. McDonald’s

While not the healthiest option, the McDonald’s in Hong Kong deserves a special mention. Firstly because the majority of restaurants in Hong Kong are open 24 hours and are accompanied by a 24-hour delivery service. But secondly, McDonald’s in Hong Kong is extremely cheap, ranked by The Economist as the 5th cheapest place in the world in the Big Mac Index. The 24- hour delivery service is also not limited to McDonald’s, with many places able to deliver 24-hours meaning that the lure of fast food is going to be even harder to avoid. 

3. Beaches

Being an island, Hong Kong has a number of fantastic beaches located on both Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon side, but it is also surrounded by over 200 smaller islands, some of which are accessible by boat for a small fee. One of the most popular beaches is known as Repulse Bay and is accessible by bus from just outside the university campus, so there is no excuse not to take advantage of the weather.

4. Octopus card

Similar to London’s Oyster card, the Hong Kong Octopus card is a vital part of living in the city. It entitles you to discounts on the various forms of transport, and is integrated into many shops and cafes. It is possible to buy your weekly shop on your Octopus card at the convenience stores or in the supermarket, and is even the card you use for university printing.

5. Weather

The weather in Hong Kong is very different to the United Kingdom. Unsurprisingly the average temperature is consistently higher than that of London, but it is also very humid which encourages impressive thunderstorms. One essential experience in Hong Kong is watching a thunderstorm from one of many high vantage points in the city as they are truly spectacular.

6. Campus university

Being a student at HKU offers a chance to experience a university campus environment. It is a nice contrast to student life in London, with the library and lectures all located in the same place. There are also a variety of places to eat, including two Starbucks that offer a 33 per cent student discount, as well as a HSBC and mini-supermarket making life much easier.    

7. Music library

Located on the Centennial campus the music library is one of the hidden gems of the HKU campus. The library itself is very small and has very few books, but it is situated at the very top of the Run Run Shaw Tower and has fantastic views all the way across to Kowloon and out into the sea.

8. Travelling in Asia

The location of Hong Kong means that you are just a short flight away from many great places to visit in Asia. As a result, it is often possible to find cheap flights to places like Thailand, Vietnam and even Japan. A trip to China is highly recommended, although you require a visa, it is great fun and offers an interesting contrast with life in Hong Kong.

9. Nightlife

The international nature of Hong Kong means that there are a great variety of places to keep you entertained in the evening. Familiar ‘pubs’ are located in central in an area called Soho and has a familiar feel to that of London’s Soho. The famous Lan Kwai Fong has many bars and clubs and is the place to be on Friday or Saturday nights. The Wan Chai area is also popular, particularly with students, and ladies night offers free drinks to ladies all night.

10. Stanley-Ho Sports Centre

Located down the hill from the Queen Elizabeth hospital the Stanley-Ho Sports Centre offers a range of great sporting facilities for students at HKU, including a gym and an outdoor swimming pool. Equipment is available to hire for a small fee and the use of the facilities is free for all students at HKU, there is also an online booking system to help you plan your sporting fun.

Studying

Modules

As part of your degree at King’s College London you are required to take 60 KCL credits per semester, 1 credit at HKU are equal to 2 KCL credits. For example a 6 HKU credit module is equivalent to a 12 KCL credit module. This means to meet your requirements to King’s you must take 30 HKU credits per semester, this is usually taken in the form of five 6 HKU credit modules per semester if you are only studying for half the year, but can be more flexible if your exchange is for the whole of the year.

HKU has a slightly different attitude towards module selection, during the first week all lectures are introductory and students are encouraged to attend as many lectures as they are interested in before making a final decision on your module selections. At HKU you module selection is done online via your student account and confirmation of your enrolment will be sent to you via email.

It is important to remember that while you may have already chosen modules as part of your application to HKU these may not necessarily be set in stone as a result of timetable clashes, changing content of the module or availability of the module. Therefore it is important that during the first week you attend as many classes to get a feel for each module, as ideally you should aim to be formally enrolled within the first week, so as not to miss the more important classes during to second week onwards.

It is not a requirement that you are enrolled on a course to attend a class so don’t let that put you off. During your time away it is generally accepted that you take at least 50% of your credits from your subject at King’s, and therefore your time away offers you the opportunity to take modules from different faculties.           

Assessment

Assessment at HKU is slightly different to that at King’s, modules are usually assessed through a variety of aspects including: exams, essays, participation, attendance, presentations and group work. While exams and essays still make up the majority of the marks for the modules, participation and attendance offer a good chance to get some easy marks.

If for a legitimate reason you cannot attend a class that is attendance or participation assessed, make sure that you inform your professor or TA, they are usually understanding on the matter particularly when it comes to exchange students.

Weekend Activities

Relaxation

Repulse Bay - A 30 minute bus ride from the HKU campus, Repulse Bay is a great place to chill and relax on the weekend. It has fantastic views and is located close to many places to eat including a Pizza Hut and a 7/11 so there is plenty of opportunity to keep yourself stocked up throughout the day. Getting there by bus from Central (numbers 6, 6A, 260, 6X), from Causeway Bay and North Point (numbers 63, 65), or even from Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon side (number 973)

Dragon's Back Hike -A great hike for people of all abilities, located on the south east of Hong Kong Island, it is a great opportunity for a little bit of exercise in exchange for some of the best rural views in Hong Kong.  After finishing the Dragon's Back you are just a short journey from relaxing on Shek O breach or grabbing a bite to eat in Stanley.  

Nightlife

Lan Kwai Fong - If you haven't discovered it already, Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) is a great place to go out and meet new people and experience the most famous area for night life in Hong Kong. There are loads of different bars and clubs to visit.  Check out www.hkclubbing.com for all the up to date information on upcoming events.  

Wan Chai Racecourse - Although not a weekend activity, visiting the Happy Valley Racecourse at Wan Chai on a Wednesday is a must.  From 7pm-11pm races run regularly at one of Hong Kong's most iconic settings.  After the final race the local bars and clubs in Wan Chai offer cheap drinks to give you the change to spend your winnings.  

Leisure Activites

Ocean Park - The Ocean Park is a theme park on a mountain side, on arrival you have the choice of taking a cable car or a underground train up to the mountain peak which overlooks repulse bay. Beyond the theme park rides there are also plenty of other attractions including an aquarium, a panda sanctuary and penguin colony.  

Lantau Island - It is possible to take the ferry from Central to many of the nearby islands to the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the ferries are very cheap and are another fun way to get around during your time in Hong Kong. Attractions on Lantau include the giant Tian Tan Buddah, Disneyland Hong Kong, a cable car, stilt fishing villages and the beach.

Temple Street Market - Located on the Kowloon side Temple street is the largest of the night markets in Hong Kong, it is a great place to buy anything from cheap electrical to imitation branded items. Like all markets in Hong Kong it has a great atmosphere and there are many great places to grab a food or drink, don’t forget to bargain, at least a third off the asking price should be your target to avoid getting ripped off.

Air Asia and Cathay Pacific Fanfares - Travelling to a different part of Asia is always a great option in Hong Kong, situated close to so many great destinations flights are much cheaper than they would be from the UK. Air Asia is Asia’s biggest low cost airline and flies regularly to and from Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific also offer a limited number of cheap flights for 3-5 day trips to countries further afield that appear weekly online.

Reflections

Studying abroad was certainly an experience I will never forget. I feel that the experience was something that benefitted my studies, my outlook and my ambitions for the future.

Although I had always thought about studying abroad at some point during my degree, I still remember the doubts that I held during my first weeks in Hong Kong: is it too foreign? Is it too far? What will I eat? But now I know that this was just a natural stage in what was a very different environment. The fact that despite my doubts, I ended up having so much fun is one of the biggest positives I was able to take from the experience.

Meeting new people is always both exciting and exhausting, but when combined with a foreign environment it can be quite challenging. But it only took me a couple of days to realize that my situation was not unique and there were plenty of other students looking to meet people. The result was that I was lucky to make many friends from all over the world, and I regularly keep in contact with them. Meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures was a really eye opening experience and has whetted my appetite to continue to travel.

Being a student at HKU taught me the value of alternative perspectives. Despite Hong Kong’s large international community, I remained a minority and this was something that was totally different to being in London. This became especially notable during seminar discussions, where I found not only the structure of the teaching, but also the conclusions of my classmates very different. This taught me valuable lessons applicable to my course as well as in life. I remember the stark difference between the local and international reporting of the arrival of Edward Snowden in Hong Kong. Internationally Snowden was portrayed as a fugitive in hiding, whereas locally he was an asylum seeker in a hotel in Tsim Sha Tsiu.

The biggest lesson I learned during my time away was that I realised I would be comfortable living in a foreign environment. Being away for a year or a semester is not like visiting somewhere on holiday. You get to learn the city like a local and get into a routine just as you do in London. I believe this was something I could only have got through experience, and despite reassurances from people that I would have a great time, it wasn’t until I took the plunge that I realized they were right.

Like many of my friends who studied abroad I have only one regret: that it didn’t go on for longer! 

National University of Singapore 

Stine Madsen, 2012-2013

Top Ten things

Stepping outside Changi Airport, the hot and humid air hits you like a brick wall.  I signed up for accommodation without air-conditioned certain that my body would eventually adapt to the new climate... I am wiser now, believing that even the Singaporeans are struggling to deal with the heat.  Now, back in grey and gloomy London I dream of those hot and sunny days in this densely populated city-state.  I have recommended 10 things that are must dos while on exchange in Singapore.  

1.  Ladies night

Wednesday is ladies night in Singapore.  This means free entry and free drinks in most clubs around the city.  Ku De Ta, the roof top bar at Marina Bay Sands, has an incredible panoramic view of the city allowing you to truly take in the impressive city centre.  To get in, gents are required to wear long trousers and ladies high heels.  

2.  Roof top yoga in UTown

A number of yoga classes are on offer for NUS students.  If you have the slightest interest in this activity, I strongly recommend the roof top version offered in UTown.  These classes are held in the early evening on the roof of the Stephen Riady Centre.  The campus and city are always busy and so it is really quite spectacular and unreal to be "zenning" high above the campus and city.  

3.  Food heaven

Singapore is known for its amazing cuisine and many top ten lists have probably been made to guide newcomers through this food paradise.   Nevertheless I've chosen two places that I particularly enjoyed.  Singapore's Red Light District, Geylang, offers a less polished atmosphere compared to the rest of the city and really good seafood (the chilli crab was incredible)!  The hawker centre in Pasir Ris Park is another great place to spend the evening.  It's a bit of a journey from the NUS campus, but you can spend hours trying out the traditional cuisine.  Must tries are char kway teow, simple chicken rice with soy and chili, chai tow kway and spicy singray.  

4.  Singapore Zoo

Singapore Zoo is considered among the best in the world.  Take out an entire day and evening (night safari is worth checking out), bring lunch and a camera.  My personal favourite was the lion feeding sessions at night.  

5.  Orchard Road

Leave your credit card at home, bring a bottle of water and let yourself go in this consumer paradise.  Orchard Road is an impressive and scary place, where one shopping mall replaces the other.  You will find the famous global brands and more local shopping malls selling Chinese herbs and cheap electronics.  

6.  Sentosa

You will either love or hate this artificial island.  It is a place of contradictions, which really becomes apparent when you lie on the man made white sandy beaches and eye the numerous gigantic tankers waiting to get a spot in the harbour.  Besides going swimming and sunbathing, Sentosa offers adrenaline rushes in Universal Studios Singapore, soothing spas in the Sentosa Resort and scientific explorations in the Oceanarium.  

7.  Bukit Timah

It is hard to imagine, but once Singapore was covered by tropical rain forest.  The island has undergone immense landscape change, but Bukit Timah is one of the few places where you can go back in time and enjoy an area that is close to the natural landscape.  Go int he morning for a better chance to spot wild monkeys.  

8.  Picnic in the Botanic Gardens

Singapore's Botanic Gardens are quite incredible and certainly worth a visit.  Go for an old fashioned picnic outing - bring blankets, sunscreen, water, drinks and food.  Don't forget to clean up - Singaporeans like their Botanic Gardens clean!

9.  Biking at Pulau Ubin Island

Need to take a break from the city centre?  Jump on the ferry to Ubin Island and explore one of the last rural areas in Singapore.  I would recommend renting a bicycle.  A day's rental is usually less than $15 and the bike paths will allow you to cover most of the island in a day.  Pulau Ubin Island is only a 10 minute boat ride from the jetty at Changi Village and the cost is just a few dollars each way.  

10.  Evening run on the NUS track

As mentioned, Singapore is a warm and humid place!  Exercising or running outside (well, actually doing anything outside!) might come across as either very ambitious or utterly stupid.  However, at night time the temperature falls and the NUS running track comes alive.  You don't have to be training for a marathon, just go for a walk around the track and experience the chilled out atmosphere.  

Accommodation

On-campus housing is the main type of accommodation for students on exchange at the National University of Singapore. There are three on-campus housing options; halls of residence, student residences, and residential colleges. I will outline the main characteristics of the three, and go into a bit more detail about the specific residential college, Tembusu, which I stayed in during my exchange. Please keep in mind that King’s cannot guarantee that your first choice of accommodation will be meet, as accommodation arrangements between King’s and NUS might change from year to year.

Halls of residence

Halls of residence NUS currently has six halls of residence; Eusoff Hall, Kent Ridge Hall, King Edward  VII Hall, Raffles Hall, Sheares Hall, and Temasek Hall. Halls of residence are known to have rich histories and traditions and residents are expected to participate actively in the hall community. The halls are catered and students are required to subscribe to the catering service. 

Student residences

There are three different student residence, these include: Prince George’s Park Residence, Kuok Foundation House, and Ridge View Residence. Although placed in a communal setting, student residences offer a more independent living. Residents are encouraged to participate in campus-wide clubs, groups, or societies, but not required to do so. The residences are moreover self-catered. 

Residential colleges

There are currently four residential colleges at NUS, Cinnamon College (USP), Tembusu College, College of Alice and Peter Tan, and Residential College 4. These four are all situated in what is known as UTown or University Town. UTown is a very new and different campus area, which aims to create an environment where learning and living combine. Students are encouraged to participate in college activities, sport clubs and events. The Colleges are moreover catered and students are required to subscribe to the meal plan.

Tembusu, UTown

During my exchange I stayed in the residential college, Tembusu, in Utown. Utown is as mentioned very new (some areas are actually still under construction). It is quite an unreal area, combining big city life (high rise buildings, Starbucks and Subway) and the more village type campus experience (common green, small scale college events and a strong community spirit). You stay in your own room; each floor has an air-conditioned common room and you will have easy access to kitchen facilities and laundry rooms. Tembusu is known for its Master’s and Fellow’s Tea, which are small optional seminars with distinguished (or just interesting) people. Tembusu has 21 floors (the view is great from the top), which are split into smaller so-called houses. I was part of the Shan house, where students and staff organised BBQ nights and other events. The required meal plan is enjoyed in the Dining Hall where you have the choice between a number of different cuisines. If your meal credits run out or you crave something different, UTown also houses a minimarket and two food courts. My favourite thing about UTown was the gym and roof-top pool, which are available to all NUS students (even though you don’t live in UTown you can still use the facilities). Access to all amenities are included in your accommodation fees. 

Studying

Modules at NUS run over one term and follow the same set structure of a six weeks instructional period, one week recess, another seven weeks instructional period, reading week and finally a two week examination period. Most modules are set up in a similar manner to King’s with lectures and tutorials. Size classes will vary depending on subject matter and popularity.

The NUS campus is quite large. Depending on where you live and what you study you might be able to walk, otherwise the free internal shuttle bus service will take you around campus to the different faculties. There are many slightly hidden walking paths between the different faculties which are worth figuring out, these are covered to shelter you from the sun or rain and will allow you to avoid the busses, which are usually quite crammed between classes. As a student you have access to all NUS libraries and study rooms.

Assessment

Assessment at NUS is often more holistic than at King’s, in the sense that your assessment is usually a combination of written work, presentations, exams, class participation and attendance. Some modules will moreover have a mid-term often before or after the recess week. This holistic grading means that you will usually be assessed though out the term, but it also means that each kind of assessment will be worth less of your total grade. Group work is part of many module assessments, you might be asked to do group presentations or write group reports. Your work will be marked by your professor or the teaching assistants (TA’s).

Academic Help

You are encouraged to discuss assignments or other work with your professors or TA’s during their weekly office hours. Most professors will also be willing to set up a meeting if you just drop them an email. 

Find the academic calendar online.

Weekend activities

Night cycling

Elsewhere I have recommended cycling around Pulau Ubin Island, which is a great way to spend the weekend.  If you are a fan of the two wheeler, then night cycling is another cool way to experience the city.  The reasons to go night cycling are many.  First, the sun is away making temperatures bearable and second, the roads are less busy.  The city slows down at night and it is just very surreal and cool to cruise through the streets.  The different colleges in NUS arrange night cycling throughout the semester and if you are a smaller group wanting to go then you can usually hire bikes from most colleges.  

Nightlife

If you are hitting town during the weekend, I recommend starting the night on the pedestrian bridge between Clark Quay and Riverside Point.  The bridge is full of backpackers and students and usually everyone just chills out and gets to know new people with a few beers from the nearby supermarket or 7/11.  All of the Clarke Quay area is full of restaurants, clubs and bars so you will be right in the centre of the Singaporean nightlife once you have had enough of the bridge.  The amazing thing about the Singaporean climate is that it does not get cold and you can stay out all night.  

Weekend trip to Malaysia or Indonesia

Singapore is quite a small place, and even though there are many great things to do, you might find that visiting one of the nearby countries is a perfect way to spend the weekend.  You can catch a ferry to Bintan in Indonesia from the harbour front.  Bintan Island is about 45 minutes away by ferry and a perfect place if you need a break from the city.  Rent a hut on the beach and enjoy the calm.  A bit further away, but even more amazing in my opinion, is Tioman Island in Malaysia.  This is a little paradise on Earth, really beautiful, very chilled out and perfect for diving and snorkelling.  Take a bus to Mersing on the east coast of mainland Malaysia and from there take the ferry to Tioman.  The historical city Melaka and capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, are equally close to Singapore and potential destinations for a weekend trip.  Order bus tickets online and take advantage of all the great travelling possibilities!   

Reflections from home

A year down the line, my semester abroad is starting to feel a bit like a crazy and wonderful dream. Had it not been for the numerous albums documenting my time away I would probably begin to question the fact that, for just about six months, Singapore was my home.

My time in the city-state was fantastic; I loved living in the campus bubble, the intense studies, getting to know lots of wonderful people as well as exploring the Island and parts of South East Asia.

I am already an international student at King’s and therefore I imagine that my study abroad experience might have been slightly different from those students who were going to live abroad for the first time. I had to change the times I could Skype with family and friends, but other than that it was relatively easy to leave London and I did not experience much homesickness when being away. I did, however, encounter a slight ‘culture shock’, this being my first time in Asia. Now, I know that most people laugh a bit about the whole idea of culture shock, but the Singaporean lifestyle, customs and politics continued to surprise me and illuminated new ways of thinking and doing throughout my stay. One of the most wonderful things about living in a place that is underpinned by values very different from the ones you are used to, is, that you are constantly forced to question the values that you usually take for granted. My time on exchange in Singapore also provided me with what felt like a very secure and protected introduction to South East Asia, and I quickly understood that six months were nowhere near enough time to properly experience this amazing part of the world. I would love to return to Asia and I would not hesitate for a second if I got the chance to work there for a longer period of time.

Things are again about to change now that my time at King’s is coming to an end, and my study abroad experience has certainly had an influence on my future plans, especially with regards my post-graduate studies. My interest in issues of identity in the urban landscape was really sparked in Singapore, where the topic received immense attention in both the public and academic sphere. I have decided to pursue this interest in my further studies and I have applied to different two-year masters that offer study abroad opportunities for at least one semester. My time in Singapore has furthermore reaffirmed my desire to live in and explore as much as the world as possible, a wish that suits my interests as a geography student perfectly. There is no better way to engage with a place than to live there and to completely immerse yourself in the culture of that area.

As cliché as it might sound, the study abroad experiences that I have had in Singapore, but also as an international student at King’s, have certainly been key to my personal and academic development and I would recommend this to anyone who is up for a challenging and really exciting adventure.

 

Sarah Marechal, 2013-2014

I reached Singapore last January for a four-month exchange programme and actually stayed there for nine very enriching months! Many thanks to both King’s and NUS for offering me this great experience!

Travelling abroad is a chance and so is studying! I think that going on a university exchange genuinely empowered me to explore different ways of learning and develop new interests. I was really lucky to meet people willing to tell me more about what they have achieved, their culture, their lives and about their passions.

Just when starting university, there are a lot of new opportunities to which you will be exposed. If I can think of two pieces of advice they would be the following. Firstly, make sure that you take what you want out of that new experience and be curious! I personally enjoyed myself as much in a classroom as when travelling low cost, in a very remote area and getting to know different cultures of the region I was travelling in. Secondly, engage with the student life and connect with international as well as local students. We learn a lot from the people we meet whether they be students, teachers or professionals, so do not limit yourself to what you will tend to go for first: try new activities and meet people from all backgrounds!

My best memories are shared with the persons I had the chance to talk to and that I would have never met, had my curiosity not lead me a little further! After a few months spent at NUS, I realised that the experience would be event more benefiting to me if I could stay longer to study. That move gave me another opportunity to meet other very interesting people. The students I have met were passionate about what they were studying and involved in various activities. I made friends with students that have very different lives and knew things that I did not. I ended up singing songs in Hindi very late at night, after having spent a few nights researching on the current state of the Pakistani political economy and talking about policies implemented in India. Once I stayed with a young women living in a village in the Northern part of Thailand. She had her first kid when I was only eleven and still playing games in the playground next to my house. I got to know how determined she was and what she and her relatives where enjoying about their land. I also had the chance to work with very good team members with whom I shared common interests and values, which rendered our common work experience extremely valuable. Lastly, I feel very grateful to the professionals I have met in my workplace who gave me advices for life! All these encounters were really inspiring!

From an academic perspective, studying in a different university helped me approach my discipline differently, which also allowed me to develop new skills! I took classes that interested me, that challenged me and helped me define my future research and professional projects. I am also very grateful to the teachers I have met and that really pushed me to research and learn more.

As for the “adapting the newness” part, I personally did not encounter any challenges. I actually never felt homesick! I am almost sure that none of my peers ever thought “I am 10,000 km away from anything I know…” I don’t think that you will ever feel that you are too far away, as you will be enjoying yourself a lot. However, if you do feel homesick, I think that a good thing to do is especially not to focus on the things that may be difficult to adapt to, but rather enjoy any positive experience that you can have!

A very special thank you to the Study Abroad team, King’s DPE, NUS FASStrack, USP-CMU, CAPT and Guitarpella!

Meera Ved, 2011-12

10 ways studying abroad enhanced my degree

I’m pretty sure all new Geography undergraduates will have sat through a 'What is Geography?' lecture at some point in their academic lives. After my semester abroad at the National University of Singapore I don't think I would be able to sit through such a talk without screaming out 'Studying abroad'. Taking part in a student exchange encompasses the discipline throughout.

The language of study in Singapore is English so there were no language barriers plus my grades counted as credits towards my degree so I did not elongate the time taken to complete my degree. Here are ten ways various experiences and opportunities gained through studying abroad enhanced my Geography degree. Even though Geography is awesome I do note not everyone studies it at university...some reflections highlight the advantages of studying abroad for any degree and are not Geography or language specific at all 

1.Varying perspectives on global issues

Academic institutions naturally adopt priorities and theoretical approaches which mirror the interests of their geographic region.  Most of my modules had elements of higher detail towards South East Asia. This was great at it enabled me to understand how a different society approaches global issues.

2.Global student life

Being an exchange student seemed like one of the easiest and cheapest ways to live in a different country, especially with regard to accommodation. The exchange student lifestyle also meant I was able to meet others from across the globe with similar mind sets towards exploring the world!      

3. Increased global adaptability and understanding

Knowledge of how global stakeholders interact can be applied to any career sector. Studying abroad also shows you (and future employers) that you can adapt to, plus thrive in, unfamiliar settings.

4. Greater cultural understanding

Living in Singapore for a semester enabled me to experience various festivals and celebrations; Spending Chinese New Year in South East Asia was brilliant as I felt I got the true authentic experience. On an academic note, spending time in a different country for a prolonged time can help improve understanding its public views and how these interact with national and international policy. This experience enabled me to become more sensitive to analysing circumstances and issues based on the situation and stakeholders involved.

5. Practicing the logistics of travel

In some ways studying abroad is like a field trip; just without teachers or lecturers telling you what is interesting to look at in an area. It was down to me to explore Singapore and other parts of South East Asia efficiently. This required lots of research, planning and a smidgen of luck but the feeling of achievement at the end was so worth it! Plus I was able to tailor my experience to specifically meet my needs and interests. It led me to practice dealing with new systems and policies; even applying for a visa can be a learning curve when you are abroad!

6. Two universities in one degree

Through studying at NUS I was able to experience things my home university could not offer, such as being a campus university. Additionally, most universities which offer exchanges are in or close to cities, and cities are the place to be for a multitude of exciting events!

7. Region specific modules

Where better to take a module like 'Economics of South East Asia' than in South East Asia? I even studied Singapore specific modules which enabled me to get a detailed academic understanding of the country whilst also exploring it for myself.

8. Different approaches to study

Even though all lectures were in English, I got to experience different teaching and assessment styles. Consequently, I tried out different learning techniques and found new ones which I can now implement to my learning back at my home institution.

9. Getting closer to opportunities for global work experience

Some of my fellow exchange friends managed to secure internships or work experience placements for after exams ended. This was a fantastic opportunity for them to gain global experience which can be very attractive to future employers as it shows the ability to work well in new environments.

10. Regional ‘base’ for travel.

Studying abroad gave me a base for exploring South East Asia. Singapore acted as a springboard to hop over to other exotic countries. A weekend trip to Malaysia from London would sound ridiculous but is a case of a few hours coach journey from Singapore. Simple joys of geographical proximity! It was also great to be able to suss out the region from Singapore, which is a very established global city, before venturing to other countries which are still undergoing development.

Reflections from home

I feel I gained more insight in to myself and global contemporary issues than I could have imagined. The experience not only made me more confident when meeting new people in unfamiliar surroundings but also made me feel very positive and excited about my future as it made me realise global opportunities and experiences are possible to reach (albeit with a pinch of organising and perseverance). Here are some ways various experiences and opportunities gained through studying abroad enhanced my Geography degree and contributed to personal development. 

Varying perspectives on global issues: Most of my modules had elements of higher detail towards South East Asia. This was great at it exposed me to how a different society approaches global issues, enabling greater sensitivity to analysing issues based on stakeholders involved.

Global student life: Being an exchange student seemed like one of the easiest and cheapest ways to live in a different country. One of the highlights of my overall exchange was most definitely meeting a diverse array of intelligent people from all over the world with the same outlook towards travel and exploring new countries.

Increased global adaptability and understanding: Knowledge of how global stakeholders interact can be applied to any career sector. Studying abroad also shows you (and future employers) that you can adapt to, plus thrive in, un-familar settings.

Greater cultural understanding: I had the opportunity to experience various festivals and celebrations. Spending Chinese New Year in South East Asia was brilliant as I felt I got a true authentic experience.

Practicing the logistics of travel: It was down to me to explore South East Asia efficiently; tailored to my needs and interests. This led me to practice dealing with new systems and policies; even applying for a visa can be a learning curve when you are abroad!

Two universities in one degree: I was able to experience things my home university could not offer, such as being a campus university. Additionally, most universities which offer exchanges are in or close to cities, and cities are the place to be for a multitude of exciting events!

Different approaches to study: Even though all lectures were in English, I got to experience different teaching and assessment styles. Consequently, I tried out different learning techniques and found new ones which I can now implement to my learning back at my home institution.

Regional ‘base’ for travel: Singapore acted as a springboard to other exotic countries. It was great to be able to suss out South East Asia from Singapore, which is a very established global city, before venturing to other countries which are still undergoing development.

 


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