An interview with our correspondent in Singapore Koen Struijk
1. To start with, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, about where you are now, what you do there, which courses you follow, if you like it, etcetera?
I am a third year Econometrics and Operations Research student. At the moment I am on exchange at Nanyang Technological University. It is one of the three universities in Singapore, housing the largest on-campus residence infrastructure in the country. Thousands of students live here and there are actually two university bus lines to drive you around the campus. I was one of the fortunate students to get a room on campus; only 50 % of exchange students is granted one. It saves a lot of money and is close to your lectures, but you do have to live in one room with a local student. This does give an interesting insight into another culture.
Within the university I study at the Nanyang Business School, following four courses mostly related to finance, which is a highly interesting addition to my current study Econometrics and Operations Research, as there is not that much elaboration on finance up till year 3. I like the way some courses are taught, as you have access to helpful tools during lectures. For example, I follow a Financial Modelling course, where every student has two computer screens, and some even a Bloomberg terminal, during the lectures. The biggest disadvantage of the teaching system is that lectures last 4 hours, which can be quite long if you have two of those lectures on one day.
They require you to do a lot of group projects, which take a lot of time. You usually work with a mix of exchange students and local students. This leads to interesting differences in views on how to handle the projects. As the semester lasts 15 weeks, there is a lot of subject material for all the exams.
2. Why did you prefer this to an internship or minor?
To be honest, I did not think long about this decision. For me it was clear that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Most students do not get a second chance to do an exchange as part of their study. With regards to an internship, there will always be another time when you can apply for an internship. I consider exchange as doing a minor abroad, since I also diversified my knowledge by doing courses not offered in my curriculum. In conclusion: I did not see any reason not to go on exchange.
3. Why did you choose Singapore as your destination?
Singapore is the financial centre of Asia, which appealed to me. Moreover it is the ideal hub to explore other countries in Asia and in this way get a taste of the different cultures. Furthermore its education standards are high, which is also reflected in the worldwide ranking of this university. Last but not least, it just is a complete city offering everything you look for in a city.
4. Was it a big culture shock for you when you arrived in Singapore?
I had never been to Asia; so it was definitely a new experience from me. However, because Singapore is such a well-regulated and maintained city, it feels just like a western city. The main difference is that mostly Asian people live there instead of western people. I was shocked by the cleanness and architecture of the city. It has such an impressive business district right near the marina bay. You are flabbergasted when standing there and enjoying the view.
5. Is it hard to be all alone in a strange country or did you easily make friends?
I can imagine it sounds scary to go to the other side of the world alone, but it is important to have good faith that you will make friends soon enough. Other students are all open to meeting new people, as that is also one of the goals people associate with studying abroad. Of course, if their university has more spots at this particular university, they might arrive in groups but this does not withhold them from letting you into their groups. With my new friends I celebrated the 50 years existence of Singapore, which was a unique experience.
Have good faith that you make friends soon enough
The SG50 celebrations
6. How is the University? Do you miss the EUR?
With its huge campus it is a different experience getting to your lectures and having meals, as everybody eats in the food courts. The professors are respected names in their fields; I actually coincidentally cited one of my professors for research I did last year at Erasmus University. The smaller scale of Erasmus is definitely something I miss.
7. What does a regular day of your week look like?
Usually I have breakfast in one of the food courts on campus. I will then follow this up with a sports session using the university’s facilities. After lunch, I will follow a 4 hour lecture in one of my courses. In the evening we usually work on a group project. On some days I have two lectures of 4 hours, which of course changes the division of my time.
8. What do you do during the weekends?
During the weekend me and my friends mostly travel to surrounding countries. We have planned our lectures such that we are free on Fridays and Mondays. Consequently we have four days to visit other countries. We travelled two times to Malaysia, once to Thailand and in the recess week we visited Bali and the Gili Islands for ten days. We also visited the Formula 1 in Singapore, which were three amazing days filled with racing and concerts. When we are not doing fun things, I mostly work on my subjects.
Formula 1 Singapore
9. What do you enjoy most?
The travelling to other neighboring countries is the thing I enjoy the most. Especially since this is possible during your semester, if you put in enough work in the time you are not travelling. Moreover the weather in Singapore is perfect, as you can always walk around in your shorts and T-shirt (even in the rain). Furthermore the diversity of cheap food is great. I especially like Korean food.
You are flabbergasted when standing there and enjoying the view
Gili Islands, Indonesia
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
10. Are you looking forward to go home? Why or why not?
On the one hand it is sad to leave Singapore, because it is such an amazing place for studying and travelling. On the other hand, it will feel good to be back home and be able to eat a McKroket. Also it would be nice to go out without paying 8 euros for a beer. The winter temperature will be something that is hard to get used to.
11. What advice would you give to those, who would also like to go on exchange next year or have difficulty choosing between Exchange, IRP, minor and internship?
In accordance with my aforementioned line of reasoning, my advice is to choose exchange over a minor or an internship. IRP is a different case; I think this is a very cool initiative by FAECTOR. It is a highly valuable travelling and working experience. It is not really comparable to an exchange as you will have to do an internship to finance the trip. My recommendation is to go abroad and it is entirely up to you if you will do this via IRP or an exchange. It is important to keep in mind that an exchange doesn’t have to be expensive using the provided scholarships and a bit of luck. It would be great if the Erasmus School of Economics succeeds in enabling more students to do an exchange at this university, as there was now only one spot for all ESE students.
Christmas in Singapore