Oct 08, 2014
TEMASEK FOUNDATION NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE LEADERSHIP ENRICHMENT AND REGIONAL NETWORKING PROGRAMME (TF-NUS LEaRN) OVERSEAS STUDENT REPORT
Information from this report may be used for marketing of the programme, which will include but not restricted to the following avenues: IRO website, brochures, flyers and information sessions to students. This report will also be sent to Temasek Foundation.
: Shaffira Diraprana Gayatri
Exchange Period : 1 (one) semester Home University : Universitas Indonesia
Purpose of this report This report is for you to reflect on the semester and share your reflections on your experiences in the different aspects of the programme, how you have been enriched in your personal and leadership development, as well as the extent you have built up networks for future interactions.
Settling In in the Fine City
As traveling has always been one of my main interests, I mainly enjoy adapting to a new environment and hardly found any difficulties at all. Especially since this is my third time being in Singapore; thus, I fancied myself to be adequately familiar with this country. However, the whole process of settling in with the intention to live for a longer period of stay brought many new experiences for me as an exchange student, and surprisingly enough, challenged me as well. These challenges came in forms of registration matters, academic and non-academic systems in NUS, homesickness, networking and making friends, as well as English as a first language! First of all, there was the whole issue of arriving in Singapore along and perfectly clueless about the location of NUS and settling down the housing matters. Fortunately for me, as I was allocated in Cinnamon College, a USP student was assigned to be my buddy and help me to go through the first days. Thus Gwen, short for Gwyneth, and her father willingly picked me up in Changi Airport on the day of my arrival. Not only that they patiently waited for me for more than an hour, they also drove me to Cinnamon, and upon seeing that my room was unfit to stay due to the incomplete construction they helped me to sort things out with the management and in the end, they succeeded to get me a temporary room until my own room is ready. Furthermore, they then escorted me to the nearest supermarket so that I could buy all my daily needs. Gwens father even bought me an ice kachang and brought most of my shopping bags for me! Their kindness and graciousness really touched my heart and made me really appreciate the goodwill of local Singaporeans.
Figure 1: Gwen and I picking up Indah, another friend, from Changi. I took the picture :)
The next issue was about handling the immigration matters at ICA and academic system and registration at NUS. Even though the whole process of bureaucracy has always been problematic, luckily for me, I did not find too many problems in NUS, due to its efficient service and helpful staffs. The latter is what particularly impressed me. Most of the staffs, either in International Relations Office (IRO), Registrars Office, Office of Student Affairs, Cinnamon Residential College, and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (which is the faculty I belong to), were very professional and seemed to be determined to provide us excellent service to ensure us a pleasant experience in NUS. Our problems and concerns were listened to with rapt attention and they would always try to come up with solutions or improvements. In addition, we were never short of activities and events that exposed us to one another and gave us a great opportunity for networking. This is something that I rarely find back home; thus, it really did help me to settle in and enjoy my new semester in NUS.
Figure 2. With Annick, our TF-LEaRN coordinator
Homesickness is a word that hardly exists in my dictionary however, I must admit that I did suffer from slight symptoms of this disease. As I came in August, which signaled the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan for the Muslims, I had to experience fasting during my first month in a totally new country. This is something totally new for me, and it turned out to be a greatly fruitful experience! For the whole month, around 20-25 Muslims that live in Cinnamon and Tembusu Residential College had early breakfast together (or as we call it, sahoor). Thus, it bonded us together, despite the fact that we come from various countries with different nationalities (Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bahrain, etc). Not just that, I attended a lot of mass iftar (break fasting) events held by various communities: the Indonesian community, the Muslim Singaporeans community, and the NUS Muslim society. These made the challenge of fasting in a country where Muslims are not a majority quite bearable. However, the worst is yet to come. The end of Ramadan came and for the first time, I had to celebrate Hari Raya or Eid far away from my family. As Indonesian Muslims adopt the custom to gather with both the nuclear and extended family during this special event, being away from them was really hard for all of us, the Indonesian exchange students. Nevertheless, we are very lucky to have such great friends in Singapore. The local non-Muslims remembered to wish us a happy Hari Raya, while
the local Muslims graciously invited us to their house, gave us tins and tins of kuih and Hari Raya food, and held a small Hari Raya celebration for the Muslims living in Singapore. They all made me feel that I am a part of a new family here, and for that I feel really blessed.
Figure 3. Hari Raya with my Muslim friends in UTown
Figure 4. Hari Raya Bazaar at Geylang with my Malay friend
English has always been a second language for me. As I learnt English in a very young age, I became used to read and write in it, even though I did not speak English actively. Thus, I never thought that language will be a barrier for me in a country where English is spoken by a majority, if not all, of the population. I was proven wrong.5
Even though I am very familiar with the language and currently taking a major in English as well, the usage of English in Singapore raised several challenges for me. First of all, mostly Singaporeans use their local accent, famously known as Singlish, and for one who is not used to it, this variation may seem as a different language altogether. Second, Singaporeans tend to speak in a very fast pace and use a lot of difficult terms. As I am more used to the American way of speaking, which is slower and simpler, the high-speed speeches and the fancy words gave me quite a tough time. This led me to another problem, which is the loss of confidence in my fluency in English. I began to stammer and hesitate whenever I spoke in English because I was highly self-conscious of myself. I regarded that everyone were judging me as slow and stupid because I spoke in a slower speed. I was assured that when people say that my English is good, it is just out of the kindness of their hearts. Gradually, though, everything began to solve its way out. I began to become more and more familiar with the Singlish accent and slangs. I got used to the fast paced speech of the Singaporeans, and I resolved to check my mobile dictionary for every vocabulary I did not understand. Regaining my self-confidence is something I am still working on; yet, I believe that realizing what I am lacking is useful for me, as it will always keep me learning and improving myself.
The Pursuit of Education
In my home university, I am used to take a workload of 22 credits every semester. It did make me constantly occupied, yet I always manage to find the time to get involved in various organizations, committees, and seminars. Thus, taking 5 modules worth of 16 credits (as one module is ungraded), seems to me to be a manageable task. I was proved wrong. Even though Universitas Indonesia (UI) is the best university in Indonesia and demands a lot from its students, I soon found out that NUS demands more and provides a tougher workload for us. Some of the new things I discovered here was the different type of classes. In NUS, we have to attend lectures,6
tutorials, seminars, and in some cases, practicals whereas in UI we just have one type of class which consists of both lectures and tutorials. Thus in NUS, we are exposed to our modules more often as both the lectures and tutorials demand preparations, readings, and assignments. This required me to constantly study and adhere to the strict deadlines, which made me physically exhausted yet shaped me into a more disciplined student. Another culture shock I experienced here is how mostly Singaporean students are very studious and hardworking. They always come to class with their handouts printed from the IVLE and constantly make notes, they are often seen working on their laptops or poring over thick textbooks everywhere, and they study into late at night even until morning. This culture is probably because of the high standard in NUS and the competitiveness that is resulted from the bell curve system that is adopted here. However, it surprised me that in classes they mostly keep quiet unless they are required to deliver their opinions, and hardly anyone would ask questions. This is very new to me as I enjoy a lively and active atmosphere in classrooms and I am used to the privilege of asking questions to the lecturers when I do not understand. Unexpectedly, because I voiced out my questions in class and did not hold back from answering the professors question, some of my classmates praised me and thanked me for that. They admitted that they also had questions in mind but were afraid to sound silly if they asked. This situation made me realize that we both can learn from each other which is the most important thing in the whole learning