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Exchange to NUS, Singapore

Name: Koen van Bemmelen
Study: Liberal Arts & Sciences
University: Amsterdam University College
Destination: Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 5 months
Description: Semester study abroad at the National University of Singapore

Why did you go?
Initially the broad range of courses the National University of Singapore offers were my main reason to go to Singapore, as they would form a great complement to my Liberal Arts & Sciences curriculum. However, my realization afterwards that Singapore harbors one of the largest airports in the region definitely enhanced the appeal of the city!

What did you expect?
I expected a big, largely ‘Westernized’ city that is well-developed and clean – based on all the stories I had heard about Singapore’s ‘no-chewing gum’ laws. With regards to the university, I expected a large university that is very internationally-oriented and offers a high quality of courses (based on the annual university rankings).

What stood out?
The enormous cultural diversity, both in the city and at the university. Singapore’s population has a very international background, which is reflected in the four (!) official languages of the country: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil. This cultural heritage has manifested itself in every part of the city, most notably in the huge diversity in restaurants that you can find throughout Singapore. The university also houses many international students from all over the world: India, China, North America, Europe… Definitely a plus!

What turned out better than expected?
The level of the courses – in a good way. The stories of Singapore’s ruthless ‘bell curve’ grading system (the class average grade is normalized to a passing grade) had deterred me a bit, but it turned out that this system didn’t have so much an effect on my overall study performance. Indeed, most international students actually benefited from the bell curve, as this system makes it rather easy to simply obtain a passing grade.

What disappointed?
It can be rather difficult to meet ‘locals’ because of the difference in lifestyle. International students tend to have a more relaxed schedule that clashes with that of Singaporeans – but I don’t think that’s any different from any other study-abroad destination. Also, at some point I definitely started missing the simple things from home – like proper bread, cheap milk and good cheese!