My study abroad advisor back at the University of Michigan requested that I talk about what it’s like to be an exchange-student at the National University of Singapore in order to help future students better understand what NUS is like compared to UMich. Before deciding on NUS as the place I’d like to study abroad, I remember spending countless hours pouring over study abroad blogs from other NUS exchange students. Hopefully, this blog post will serve as a useful source of information not only for UMich students, but also for any students considering NUS for study abroad.
While you may have some trouble getting the exact classes you want, there are many interesting classes to choose from and the professors are generally very intelligent. Professors come from all around the world; mine come from the United States, Finland, and Korea. Every professor has their own unique accent that may take some time to get accustomed to, but this of course is part of the study abroad experience and ultimately you will become a better listener.
The workload is more or less the same as UMich, except you don’t physically turn in as much work as you would at UMich. So, this means that your grade will overwhelmingly be determined by your final exam or just a couple of papers, which you will need to study more for than if they were given less weightage. Since you won’t constantly be assessed on your work, you will need to be extra motivated to stay on top of your work. This, however, is usually how it is outside of the United States, especially in Europe.
NUS is a very competitive school and ranks among the best in Asia. People here take their studies very, very seriously. Grades are distributed on a strict bell curve and, to my knowledge, all departments must adhere to this curve. You will notice that NUS — and Singapore in general — is meritocratic to a fault. Because employers in Singapore prioritize CAP (Singapore’s term for GPA) very highly, people here have a strong incentive to study hard.
Unless you are assigned to work in a group project, people really have no interest studying together.
You can’t really blame the students here for this though, since the system is designed in a way where you do better if your peers do worse. It is, without exaggeration, a total zero-sum game. This is not at all conducive to a positive learning environment, nor is it conducive to learning how to work within teams, communicating ideas, and developing other skills important for the real world. Sadly, NUS students are very stressed about grades here (as they rightly should be). This does not apply so much to the exchange students, though, because many take their classes pass/fail and while the curve makes it difficult to do well in a class, it makes it several times harder to actually fail.
However, grades alone shouldn’t deter you from studying abroad at NUS. Remember, if you’re a UMich student you can always elect to take your classes pass/fail so long as you decide within the first 3 weeks of classes! I personally didn’t because doing so would mean that the credits I earned wouldn’t be able to count toward my major requirements; however, if you just need general credits, then maybe consider taking classes pass/fail.
Despite the academic life being quite rigorous, there still are plenty of opportunities to have a strong social life at NUS as an exchange student. As long as you are living in the part of campus known as U-Town, you will always see students outside playing frisbee, being involved in student organizations, and just hanging out. The NUS iCare team, which is a group of NUS students that helps to organize events for exchange students, helps with making friends early on in the semester. They are also very happy to share insights on Singaporean culture and give tours around Singapore. The greatest asset when it comes to social life at NUS though, at least for the exchange students, is with the opportunities for easy travel to other countries in Southeast Asia during breaks and long weekends. Check out the rest of my blog to see where I’ve travelled so far!
- Make an effort to interact with Singaporeans while in Singapore (seems obvious, no?). Don’t just make friends with other exchange students. Good opportunities to make friends with Singaporeans include: putting in your due work for group projects, joining student organizations (called “interest groups” at NUS), and introducing yourself to the locals where you live.
- Use NUSMods.com to browse classes instead of the official NUS course directory. It draws all its information from the official NUS directory but also has a much cleaner and user-friendly interface.
- Try to do some planning for where you would like to travel and what you would like to in Singapore before arriving. That way, you will have more time to focus on your classes while you’re here.
- Join the “Singapore 101 Programme” offered by NUS. This will allow you to learn about Singaporean culture and meet other exchange students in the program early on.