Ilina's Exchange in Singapore April 7th, 2017

When was the last time you have done something for the very first time? For me personally, my whole study abroad semester was about experiencing things for the first time: doing things I thought I would never dare to do, seeing places that I thought were too utopic to be real for this world, trying dishes that redefined my perception of food! All in all, my attitude towards the exchange was: Let life surprise you, adventure is worthwhile! 

And where is this seemingly unreal description, a real day-life? At National University of Singapore (NUS), an amazing choice to spend your exchange semester at! It perfectly combines three important aspects: top-notch university education, vibrant student atmosphere and easily accessible travel opportunities. On top of that, NUS is located in one of the safest and most organized city-states in the world. Singapore itself is a harmonious mixture of tremendously high skyscrapers and huge green areas that create a feeling like the whole city is a botanical garden. 

However, when it comes to housing, I decided to avoid the city and book a room on campus. For one, it saved a lot of money; but also I had the chance to meet so many more people and to live close to where the main events were taking place and near all university activities. The campus itself felt like a city on its own - it had large food courts, cafés, modern libraries, huge parks, many sports areas and even an infinity pool! Modern, clean, organized: a campus from the 22nd century!

Regarding the university, I took the following 5 courses: Econometrics – Theory and Practical Business Applications, Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management, Financial Markets, Risk and Insurance, and New Venture Creation (where in an international team of 7 people, we created our very own start-up!). NUS is ranked as the number one university in Asia, and I could definitely see two reasons why: the staff and the students. Firstly, all my professors were truly inspirational – apart from teaching a few days at the university, the rest of the time they were consultants of many Asian banks, CEOs and co-founders of companies, seasoned venture capitalists; with degrees obtained from prestigious universities, and some with 15 year work experience at companies like JP Morgan. Hence, you can imagine how qualified they are and what kind of practical experience they can bring to the academic teaching. Secondly, the students – the Asian Tigers! I have encountered a fierce and spicy competition! Determined hard-workers and passionate workaholics that studied in the lobby after the library closes just to make the audience speechless the next day during the class presentation. I was challenged and motivated to work with, and like them.

However, since I was an exchange student, my priorities were somewhere else as well. For instance, every Wednesday Singapore turns into a Ladies Night – every girl gets free entrances to all exclusive parties with a pass for unlimited drinks. It was great fun to dance to good music, being on top of a 61-floor building with a view on the financial district, while drinking a cocktail for free which would otherwise cost up to 35 euros (Singapore is really expensive)! Life is good! 

Additionally, as every other exchanger, I exploited the opportunity to travel through South East Asia and further north, as travelling in general was super cheap. During the semester, I visited Kula Lumpur in Malaysia for a weekend, went on a 4-day trip to Bangkok in Thailand and one week to Bali in Indonesia. I was literally surprised to realize how different each county is. I have to say, before going on my exchange, everything for me was “Asian culture” and “Asian food”. But once I visited all these countries separately, I got to know and appreciate how uniquely distinguishable their culture, language, cuisine, and behaviour/manners are. 

At the end of the semester, once done with the university activities, I went on a one month backpacking trip with 4 other friends. We started off in Vietnam, visiting Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sapa, and Nihn Bihn – amazed by its history as well as its breath-taking nature. Afterwards we flew to Hong Kong and Macau, visiting Christian (you all know him) who showed us what it is like to live and party in LKF and TST. The trip continued to Taipei in Taiwan, visiting Katherine (you all know her) only to realize that by then she learned and spoke Chinese! Lastly, we flew to Japan, and stayed for a week in an Airbnb in the centre of Tokyo! From all the places I have visited, I fell in love the most with the Japanese culture and mentality. Richer with countless experiences that magnified all possible human emotions, I went back to Singapore for a few days before flying back to Europe. 

In conclusion, I can safely and proudly say that the experiences at NUS, and Asia in general, have broadened my horizons and changed my perceptions, fully opened my eyes to a whole new world, enriched my personal and career development, and set new boundaries to my ambitions.