Study Abroad Programs in Singapore

by Dawn Stanton, Dec 27, 2004 | Destinations: Singapore

The tiny country of Singapore packs approximately 4.3 million people into an area approximately four times the size of Washington, DC. It's a snazzy modern city that offers a stable market economy, high standard of living, and English as one of several official country languages.

"Because Singapore is one of Asia's financial and economic centers, gaining important contacts is one of the advantages of studying there," says April Robillos, a study abroad advisor at Purdue University. "One of our students was able to secure an internship while he was studying at NTU and ended up staying in the country for a year and a half because the internship led to a paid position. Management, engineering, and technology majors would benefit from a semester in Singapore."

Though Singapore is a very modern city, study abroad administrators say students still have many misconceptions about it. Many don't realize that English is the language of instruction in at least two of the country's top universities and is an official language, so students do not need to know a second language to function in the country. Additionally, Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world, students do not need a visa to enter the country, and the cost of living is still reasonable. One student quoted her rent as only U.S. $80 a month.

"The technology is quite the same as it is here [in the States]. Everyone has access to the internet and Nanyang Technological University makes sure all of their students have internet access," says Jackie Griffing, who studied at Nanyang Technological University in early 2003.

However, there are some legitimate disadvantages as well. Because Singapore is a small country, students who want to travel will need to leave after only a few weeks if they want to explore beyond Singapore's borders. The universities employ a method of teaching to which some students may not be accustomed, and as one student explained in frustration, sometimes "whole school projects were based on Singaporean knowledge or subjects that had long-standing importance to a citizen of Singapore, regarding their code of ethics." Also, though most modern buildings are air conditioned, students should be prepared for hot, humid weather.

Though on the surface, Singapore seems to be a highly modern, and hence, Westernized, country, the underlying culture remains distinctly Asian. Angela Barber, a SDSU graduate who went abroad through Singapore's Exchange Program in 2001, tells this story:

"There was a native Singaporean Chinese girl in my class who I found to be really funny and uniquely tall and beautiful. She told me that she was into theater, but that she would never leave her path in communications to study it. I told her she should. She mentioned Australia and that she wanted to study there. I said she should. In a brief synopsis of what she had told me I relayed to her that I thought she was unique, different from other Singaporeans I had met. I told her she should follow her dreams and take a different path.

"She called me over the next day and said she was really upset with me and hurt. I asked why, she explained to me that I had called her unique and she didn't want to be different from her classmates. She thought I was insinuating she wasn't good enough to be following her current path. I was shocked, I apologized and realized that there is such a cultural difference between us; I explained to her that in America uniqueness was a fine attribute, that I was paying her a compliment. She refused my answer, and I never spoke to her again. I was truly embarrassed."

Students who were interviewed report living in dorms or apartments with roommates. "My roommate, like many Singaporeans was a 'studying machine'; she would study every second that she was home," says Barber. "Not all the people in the dorms were native to Singapore, some were like me and on exchange; others were from Vietnam or Malaysia."

"I had no idea who my roommate was until right before classes," says Griffing. "My roommate was from Scotland and I still keep in touch with her."

Study abroad administrators say the strictness of governmental regulations remains a bit of a misconception among study abroad students, as many recall the caning of an 18-year-old expatriate American for vandalizing cars in 1994. Students who have studied there report that although it didn't feel as strict as some say, they undoubtedly return home with an awareness of the government's involvement in citizens' lives. As Barber mentioned, some school projects may focus on specific Singaporean knowledge, such as the duties of a Singaporean citizen. Griffing adds that "someone who is contemplating studying abroad in Singapore should know what role the government plays in Singapore."

Nonetheless, Griffing says that studying abroad in Singapore "was one of the best times of my life and I wouldn't change it for the world."

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The National University of Singapore (NUS) was ranked third in Asia by The Times Higher World University Rankings for the world's top 200 universities.

1. Nanyang Technological University

Location: Singapore

Contact Information: Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798; Tel: +65-6791-1744; Fax: +65-6791-1604; email: (for student exchange program)


2. National University of Singapore

Location: Singapore

Contact Information: 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260; Tel: +65-6775-6666

URL: For student exchange program information:

3. Singapore Management University

Location: Singapore

Contact Information: Tanglin P.O. Box 257, Singapore 912409; Tel: + 65-6822-0100; Fax: + 65-6822-0101

URL: For international exchange program: index.asp

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