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National University of Singapore Exchange- by Cameron Seidel

Overall, my exchange to the National University of Singapore, Singapore was a personally challenging experience. The highlights included a trip to Myanmar over recess week (mid-semester break, all one week of it), performing in a drama production, and being around for the golden jubilee of the Republic of Singapore (and all of the associated festivities). Yet what I think was a significant factor in making the trip as challenging as it was for me was experiencing a number of substantial changes all at once. These changes included being the first time I’ve lived out of home for an extended period, living in a new cultural context, the very different living arrangement in a Hall of Residence which had its own culture, and having previously met only one other person there.
So when I left Australia, I was somewhat daunted by the prospect of getting to Singapore and not really knowing anyone. However, exchange proved to be an excellent opportunity for growth in getting to know other people. While getting to know fellow hall residents was slow – at least at first (especially as I missed the orientation camp), it was fantastic how easy it was to get to know other exchange students (‘exchangers’). Being in the same situation, everyone was looking to get to know others, and we were helped along by fantastic events hosted by past exchange students – ‘Peer Advisers’ – under the auspices of the university, as well as unofficial ‘official exchangers events’ and a culture of random events arranged via the official Facebook group. In fact, for these reasons I think being on exchange made it easier to get to know people than usual. The whole experience of having to ‘start over’ with new friends in such a big way has contributed to my social confidence. Some of my favourite memories are of some more ‘ordinary’ experiences shared with people from many different part the world in places far from home, such as talking into the night about life, the universe and mathematics at Marina Bay, or playing charades in my hotel room in Bagan, Myanmar.
Somewhat surprisingly, managing time was another particular challenge for me as I had had many more commitments back home. Yet I think this change combined with the plethora of opportunities available made it more difficult for me to know how to balance everything – between studies, involvement in clubs and societies at the University and within my Hall; exploring Singapore, hanging out with hall-mates, other exchangers, and other friends; getting enough rest, spiritual activities, and leaving enough slack to allow for the spontaneous.
Adding to the challenge were questions about what my priorities really were for this trip, which I was re-examining and somewhat unsure of over my whole time there. After I arrived I realised that I had quite different expectations of the experience, and what to aim to get out of it, than many other exchangers I met. This opened up even more possibilities I had not really thought of or taken seriously so far. And out of all of these possibilities there was the question of how much to do things there were more familiar which I knew I enjoyed, such as acting, as opposed to activities which challenged me further and pushed my comfort zone, like dance. So this experience impressed on me the importance of both planning time well to get the most out of life, including having a realistic balance between getting out and (in this case) experiencing Singapore and the region, and other priorities such as work and self-care., along with working out what my priorities actually were.
Living in Temasek Hall presented its own opportunities and challenges. Unlike most exchangers at NUS, the vast majority my hall-mates were either Singaporeans or long term residents. I feel like it was a twofold cultural experience – not only experiencing ‘Singaporean’ but also university hostel life as its own culture – the latter being, I think, more significant. It challenged my values, making me examine and develop them in the context of not only coexisting with people who are different from me, but also in learning from each other and thriving together.
This experience also gave me unique insight into the lives of Singaporean students – the competitive culture that seemed to permeate so much of life, contemporary attitudes, what chilling out looks like, the pop culture, and the slang, which I found fascinating. Again, these were not all necessarily ‘Singaporean’ in essence, but part of contemporary youth culture worldwide that I had not been in such close and constant contact with. The hall experience also afforded me the opportunity to be part of some very exciting activities like an amazing race, performing arts, collecting money for charity and sport. These things were helpful in integrating me in the community, and continues to challenge me to understand how to in practical terms to connect and thrive with others around me.
So to sum up, what have I learned from all this? Well, I think I’m still learning, really. Did I grow from the experience? I did, but there’s still plenty more to learn, dare I say more I would have liked to learn while I was still there. Part of me wants to say that if I had my time abroad, in Singapore, at NUS, in Temasek Hall over again, there are a lot of things I would do differently. Certainly, there are at least some things I could pick out that fit that. Yet perhaps there are important things I wouldn’t have learned if some things had gone more smoothly. But looking back there’s no doubt that my exchange trip was a life changing experience, that I’ve deepened as a person because of it, that my perspective on the world around me has broadened, and that the challenge to better understand and grow in who I am has remained with me.

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