- Posted March 13, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama
I've Been Exchanged
Everyone who lives must die, but not all who die have truly lived.
I'm not sure who said the above quote but it is something I have tried to live by my entire life, and it especially applies while I am on an exchange in Singapore. There is so much to see, to experience, and to learn... it's impossible to not be open to new things, to not have an open mind and an open heart if you really want to live and experience the culture. And that is what is so neat about being here. I've become friends with people from over twenty different countries, I've taught Cambodian children how to write letters, play games, and speak a little bit of French, I've jammed on guitars with a group of students from South Korea, Canada, and the Philippines, I've helped Singaporean's cook traditional meals for the lunar new year, and the list goes on and on. As a supplement to education, an exchange teaches you how to adapt. Chances are the schooling system will be entirely different than it is in the US and will force students to study, work, and think in creatively dynamic ways. But adaption will occur in more than just education. An exchange will evolve you as a person.
Due to its small size, Singapore has been dubbed the “Little Red Dot” and lives in the shadow of the larger countries surrounding it. If you can find it on a map, you will be amazed to discover that Singapore is a rising power in the global economy and home to an eclectic culture. The food is delicious, the people are friendly and ever helpful, and Changhi International Airport serves as a launching pad to the rest of Southeast Asia. With seventy dollar round trip tickets, the world is asking to be explored and I am happy to exploit it.
But first, an introduction:
My name is Ethan Higgins and I am a second year Aerospace Engineering student with a concentration in Astronautics. Last Fall I worked very hard for the opportunity to complete an exchange this semester and the experience is indubitably 110% worth the effort. By pursuing scholarship programs and financial aid, in particular the Freeman-Asia award, I was able to lower the cost enough to make one semester at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore less expensive, by a few hundred dollars, than one semester at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. This includes housing, food, travel, school supplies, and various other expenses I have encountered. In other words if you are worried about the financial burden of venturing abroad, don’t be. The money is out there, it just takes a little bit of digging to find it. The experiences will pay you back tenfold.
Singapore is a cultural melting pot and I have been thrown into the thick of it. I’ve become friends with students and adults from over twenty different countries in the short time I have been here and it is fascinating to hear everyone’s back stories: where they came from, why travel to Singapore, what is home like, etc… I find human interaction particular fun and befriending strangers is something I always try to do. This, however, was not always the case. Before I came abroad I was a shy engineering student, slow to make friends and quick to do things on my own. Singapore has changed that. After attending a Buddhism conference I have found a lot of time for introspection. I have learned incredible things about myself and have become an outgoing individual, always looking forward to the next cultural immersion with a positive attitude. This is the beauty of an exchange. In the poem Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson says, "I am a part of all that I have met." This implies that the experiences we face in life will shape who we are, and who we will become. An exchange has provided me with the opportunity to face years’ worth of new experiences in just five months, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
Is delicious. At the hawker centres (outdoor food courts) one can find a potpourri of delicious dishes from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, China, and of course some local Singaporean favorites. For four Singapore dollars (three USD) one can eat like a king with a heaping plate of freshly cooked rice, two types of deliciously spicy and flavorful meat, and a big pile of steamed veggies. Not the meal for you? Try the delicious Singaporean chili crab, or the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables from neighboring countries, or the delicious seafood that is fresh from the Malacca straights. Coffee drinker? Java in Indonesia is home to some of the world’s most delicious brews. What is not to love about that?
Singapore has become a technologically savvy nation and this becomes apparent within the educational system. All of the lectures are recorded and put online for later reference, the lecture halls are equipped with document viewers, microphones, and three projectors with huge screens, the libraries are dotted with learning portals, alcoves of technology to aid students in their studies, and even the bathrooms have the latest in green technology. As for the courses, the final exams here are worth 80% of the course grade. This is quite a bit heftier than back in the US which means more study and less play, but in the end it is manageable. The material is very similar but is finally in SI units rather than imperial. I cannot wait for the day that the US switches over to SI units!
There is no experience like stepping out of the airport with a single backpack into a country you know very little about and taking that first step into adventure. It is incredibly invigorating. And in a country like Singapore, it is easy to experience this. I have visited Cambodia so far and plan to explore Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Myanmar before the semester is out. It is affordable to travel once you make it over to the host country and I would highly recommend doing so. The experiences are phenomenal.
Would I complete an exchange a second time?
Where would I choose to go the second time?
I have no preference. The world is huge. It is incredibly diverse and every country has a wealth of culture to offer the adventurous, the patient, and the optimistic. Open your eyes when you travel. Take some time to slow down, to talk to strangers, to have tea with new friends. You will be amazed at the stories you hear, the friends you make, and adventures you experience. I have worked hard for these experiences and it is perhaps the best choice I have made in my life. After all, this is my life and I am living.