Exchange report - Student at KI
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Home university: National University of Singapore
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: INK
Semester: Autumn semester 2017/2018


Why go on an exchange?
Like most people I love to travel, but I rarely get to travel during the school years as university keeps me busy. Summer break is the only time I get time to travel if I am not working, and so once I was informed of the possibility to carry out my degree project abroad there was no question about it - I wanted to do it! And I do not regret my decision. Going to Asia, half across the world, can seem frightening as you are far away from home, not to mention different cultures and unfamilliar surroundings, but in the end it is all worth it. The striking beauty of nature we do not have back home in Sweden will take your breath away, and you'll find yourself excited every day to explore every corner of Southeast Asia.

National University of Singapore (NUS)
NUS is a well-known university in Singapore and worldwide, despite not having been founded more than 100 years ago.
I mainly chose this university because  I wanted to go abroad to a country that was very different from Sweden, where I would learn more about other cultures and people and experience something I could not do back home (read: visit a country with a scorching sun and produce Vitamin D that would last me a lifetime). 
This university organizes many events for students to get to know each other, which I really enjoyed as I was not taking courses but only working in the lab, and thus these events enabled me to make friends with other students. The housing on-campus also helped greatly, and it was such a pleasant experience living with students. 

Paper work and fees
When applying to NUS be prepared for LOTS of paperwork and fees! No one had informed me of this so it was a bit of a shock when you had many papers to fill in, and applying for VISA, and other important things. Singapore loves fees so be prepared to pay application fees, acceptance fees etc (it will amount up to around 1000 SEK in total). There are quite a few papers you will have to print out and bring with you to Singapore, but please do not be discouraged to apply because of the paper work! NUS is very good and informing you of which papers to fill in and print and what to do when (they have excellent guidelines that are easy to follow). NUS receive around 1200 exchange students for the spring fall each year, and so it does not come as a surprise that they are good at giving information about the university and what to do prior to arrival. The guides they sent were helpful and if you had questions they would reply to all of them within a day or two. 

Prior to my departure, I took Hepatitis A and B vaccination, but this is not a requirement. There are also several different vaccines you can take if you would like, and you can discuss which vaccines suit you with nurses and together decide which ones to take. I received all of my vaccinations at Cityakuten (link: 

The process of applying and finding accommodation etc can seem long and stressful. Here is a picture of the Tree Top Walk in Singapore.

Arrival and registration

Arrival date and student events
I arrived in Singapore 9 days prior to course start. This was mainly due to the fact that I had an exam in Molecular Medicine 6 days after my arrival, and I wanted time to properly get used to the time difference and temperature (the heat and humidity are a shock for the body). This gave me some days to settle down and also study for the upcoming exam. NUS was arranging events for students where they would take them out to the city and show them around. Unfortunately I could not participate as I had to study, but there were more events to come. On the 10th of January there was a lecture given to all the exchange students and we were required to fill in papers to receive our Student passes (your longterm "VISA"). Official start of  my degree project was 15th of January (just as in Sweden), and this was also the start date for many courses. Since I had an exam on the 12th of January I could not participate in the events that were around 7-12th of January. And even on the day of my exam I had to finalize some papers concerning the Student pass which was stressful as I also wanted to make it to my exam in time. 

SIM card, MRT card and more
On the very same day that I arrived in Singapore, I bought a SIM card at the airport. It is convenient to have one as it will facilitate calls and texts within the country but also in other countries in Asia. You can choose between Starhub and M1 (these are the two main operators), and I personally preferred M1. The metro (MRT) and bus transportation in Singapore are excellent (much better than SL ha ha), ironically you will find that the MRT only runs until midnight. After that it is all about Ubers (or now Grab as they bought Uber), but the prices are student friendly most of the time. 

Why NUS is so great for exchange students
Before coming to Singapore and NUS, I had no idea that it was such a popular university for exchange students. I do believe it is a popular destination due to its geographical location - a hub in the middle of Southeast Asia close to all the countries you dream of visiting. Altogether 1300 exchange students (!!) were accepted to NUS, and it is inevitable to NOT make friends with people from all over the world! It was amazing to talk to people from such different cultures and learn about their countries and the programs they studied. Students arranged events together and it was not odd to find yourself exploring Singapore with 20 other exchangers. The first weeks of the semester were filled with events and you would find yourself meeting new people every day. Singapore is a small country, of which the entire country is the capital, and therefore you will be able to explore it all during your exchange which is a satisfactory feeling. 
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.


Obligatory costs
Generally speaking, Singapore is a much cheaper country to live in for people coming from Sweden. I was in awe of how I could get the most delicious meal for 20 SEK while my Indian friends were telling me that it the food in Singapore was much more expensive than food in India. Having this in mind, it means that you will not have to spend a great amount of money to enjoy yourself. 
One of the obligatory costs, and the most important one, is the Student pass (VISA, I payed 576 SEK for applying and then an acceptance fee (cannot remember the exact price but it was much less than the application fee). As earlier mentioned in "Departure" you are not required to take any vaccination but can do so if you wish, and I have linked the vaccination center where I received my vaccination in the Departure section. Another obligatory cost is obviously housing and you are required to pay for your student housing (if it is on-campus) prior to arrival. It is quite cheap compared to housing off-campus, and I payed around 13 000 SEK for 5 months ( 

Cost of living
Everything in Singapore is relatively cheap compared to Sweden, and so I would spend around 3000 SEK/month maybe (the amount varied depending on if I traveled somewhere etc) and I would get anything I wanted. Thus, I do believe you can spend even less if you wish to do so. 

Suggestions for keeping costs down
Do not buy alcohol! Alcohol is extremely expensive in Singapore! But fare not if you are a woman ;) Every Wednesday is "Ladies' night" which means that every woman gets free drinks and free entrance to clubs (sorry lads). That way you do not have to spend money on alcohol! 
Fruits and vegetables tend to be expensive as Singapore mostly imports those, keep that in mind while doing grocery shopping. There is WiFi almost anywhere so do not buy the 3 GB data packages that cost around 20-28 Singaporean dollars/month (= 140-200 SEK) but go for the 1-2.4 GB. In hawker centers you can find very cheap food (Western food tend to be more expensive and does not even taste as good as the Singaporean meals).  
View of Singapore from Ce La Vi, Marina Bay Sands hotel.


Housing on campus
According to both parties (NUS and KI) researchers were not prioritized housing on campus and thus had to find accommodation on their own. This was true as I did not get offered any housing on campus in the first round when I applied. Me and my friend thus searched for housing off campus, via recommended agencies found on NUS's website. I was somber about not being able to experience living on campus as there is no real "life on campus" in Sweden. However, we did find housing in the end and one week before my departure to Singapore I was randomly checking my junk mail where I found an email from NUS saying I had received housing on campus in the second round. I sat dumbfounded for a while, since this was ONE week before my departure and since I had already payed for my housing off campus. I decided to accept the offer, but with this followed some complications as I had already payed for my accommodation. In the end it did get solved but I was not refunded back everything I had payed, and I was upset about NUS informing me of housing on campus only one week before my arrival. The housing process was very stressful for me as most accommodations off campus are expensive compared to housing on campus and they are not close to campus, so my advice is to try and receive an offer for housing on campus. My other advice is to wait till quite late in December (second round) to see if you do receive any offer instead of paying for accommodation and then finding out you have been offered a room on campus. As I previously mentioned, I did not like that they sent out this information so late as one is already stressed about moving to another country for 5 months and want things like housing to be taken care of prior to arrival. 

Prince George's Park (PGP)
PGP is the oldest residence on campus. It is quite run-down compared to the newer facilities at Utown, but it has its own charm. PGP consists of many blocks and each differs greatly from the other in terms of hygiene and cleaniness. There are three different room types: A, B and C. I had room type C which entails sharing bathroom and kitchen with your corridor mates. My bathroom and kitchen were clean compared to many of my friends' blocks. However, if you keep your windows open you will be visited by small creatures, for instance lizards. I had a total amount of 8 lizards (!!) in my room during my 5 months stay (yes, I am considered somewhat of a lizard expert now when it comes to getting them out of your room). Most exchangers applied for "change of accommodation" and got it granted, so they moved from PGP to Utown. I would have also done this if it was not for the simple fact that PGP was a 7 minutes walk away from my lab. PGP also has a waffle place open to 1 am which Utown does not! And it is a 5 minutes walk to the MRT which is convenient at night after 11 when the NUS shuttle buses stop running and all Utowners have to get an Uber home. Here is a link where you can see what PGP looks like:

Shuttle buses
NUS has its own shuttle buses trafficking the entire of campus! This is very convenient (they are free) and you can get around campus smoothly. Really liked these buses but they were for the most part very crowded. 
My room at PGP. Photo taken at the day of me leaving Singapore.

Studies in general

Research experience
I thoroughly enjoyed my research experience at the lab. I was writing my bachelor thesis, and according to our study plan we are to receive a project plan from our supervisors prior to arrival. However, my supervisor did no such thing. Instead she told me that to actually learn anything I had to write my own project plan - and so I did. It was the most fun I have ever had in a lab, because I was working on a project that was entirely my own and I cared so much about it! I know that most people in my class did not receive this opportunity, and thus I am very grateful for having had such a supervisor that wanted to challenge me. I worked hard in the lab, and on some days it was fun and on other days frustrating, but all in all I did have a splendid time.

Supervisor and me
My supervisor was a kind, funny and well-educated woman. I liked her from the moment I met her, and she always felt like a friend to me. She would always encourage me and talk to me about anything I was struggling with. She made me realize a lot about what science is about - to have fun. And I appreciate everything she taught me and how she would always be a message away if you needed her (she would even answer frantic messages at night when I needed help with my project!). In my lab we did many things together outside of the lab, and thus all lab members felt like friends. 

Theory and practical education
There is a substantial difference between theory and practice. I learned this the hard way. At lab I was called "the walking Wikipedia". Why? Because I knew everything there was to know according to theory. Was I as good at the practical aspect? No, I would not say so. Thus I would advise all students to work in labs prior to writing their thesis just to acquire skills required in the lab. It is not as easy to read about a method as performing it, and there are so many small details you need to get a feeling for. In the end, my practical skills improved immensely but there is still a long way to go before I feel like I have mastered some of the methods I was using.

My lab.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI
I did not partake in any courses as I was writing my degree project (30 HP). If one wishes to, one can partake in courses while writing the degree project (7.5 HP + 22.5 HP). However, I did not. 

Language and Culture

In Singapore the main language spoken is English, or rather Singlish which is English with a dash of Singaporean magic to it. This is due to Singapore having been a British colony. It is much convenient as a foreigner that the entire country speaks English, they are kind people that will sometimes strike up a conversation with you at the metro. Some other languages that are also spoken are Chinese, Malay and Hindi - this is due to the mere fact that many people from the respective countries immigrated during the 19th century to work in Singapore.
Singlish is spoken a little bit differently than the European or American English. Words are pronounced and emphasized differently, and it gives a different melody to the language, while words such as "La", "Le" and "Can" are thrown into it. I did not experience much trouble at all with the language, and you will find yourself speaking Singlish after some months in Singapore. There were language courses one could take (e.g Chinese) but I did not as I was always working in the lab for hours.

Cultural differences
Since Singapore is in Asia, one is bound to experience some sort of cultural shock. However, I did not experience one to the same extent that I thought I would. This could have been due to the fact that Singapore is quite westernized and you will find people from all over the world living and working here. What comes to mind when I think of cultural differences is how emotions are viewed. In Sweden we talk a lot about our emotions and if you are feeling blue you can acknowledge and show it. However, in Singapore you do not openly speak about your emotions as openly as we do in Sweden. An example would be that at times in the lab when I was feeling miserable due to some experiment not working, I would openly show how I was feeling and I would often talk about it with my coworkers. I at once noticed how uncomfortable it made them feel and sometimes they did not know what to say. And no one in the lab ever showed their sadness or any other negatively-associated feeling as they do not want to burden anyone with their feelings (I did actually ask my supervisor about this).This is quite different from Sweden, at least for me as I tend to speak about my emotions.
However, I would say that I experienced greater cultural shocks when I traveled outside of Singapore.
The City Hall, Singapore.

Leisure time and social activities

Social activities
NUS arranges many social activities (especially in the start and end of the exchange) thus there is always something to do! Students arrange events together as well, and if you have something you would like to do but do not know with whom - just write in the exchange facebook group (you will be added to it). 
There are many different sports team to join, or you could just go to a court and play with whomever is playing at the moment. There are always people doing sports on campus and everyone is welcome to join. 

I found it easy to get in contact with other students, especially if you live on campus you will make friends in the area that you live in. I really enjoyed Singapore because of all the wonderful people I met, and we did a lot of things together both in Singapore but also in other countries. Student life was much more fun in Singapore than in Sweden I would say, there is so much to do (lots of parties and other events if one likes that). 
The city is easy to get around in, and you will see many different cultures if you visit for instance China Town or Little India (you have these two communities in almost every country you visit in Southeast Asia). It is with wonder you take it all in the first time you see it, and you always learn something new when walking around in the city. Many events are given in the city (not part of campus events) and usually they are free of charge. 

The NUS campus is magnificent! There is a rooftop pool, newly built gym and many facilities for studying and lots of food stalls (Singaporeans LOVE food, so you will find food everywhere). 
Phi Phi Island, Thailand.


How Singapore has affected me
I was at a low point in life when I left for Singapore. On a personal level I was not feeling well due to illness, and one could say that I was nervous about moving half across the world. I did not think I would be able to survive on my own in Singapore. But I did.
In Singapore, I managed to somehow control my disease and from there on life felt like a bliss. I grew so much during these five months on my own: I learned a lot about myself (such a cliché, I know. But true nevertheless). All the wonderful people I met and all the beautiful places I saw made me happy, and it felt like the adventure I had always dreamed of. It was exciting to move to a new country where everything was new to me. I would discover and learn something new every day. 

On this exchange I learned how to take care of myself. Of how "life" has to be lived by having fun and not only by putting your head in text books and studying hard. I learned of how you decide your attitude against whatever is bringing you down (in my case my disease) and that you can always fight for what you want. This exchange was substantial for me on an emotional level - I needed it to find myself, the person that had been lost prior to the exchange. And I made so many new, kind and loving friends that made the journey easier.

How Singapore has affected me as a researcher
As a researcher I learned an even greater deal. It made me understand how research is actually conducted and all the thoughts and processes that are required for a project to work. I worked with people from different corners of the world and it was interesting to compare how research was conducted in their countries compared to Sweden. I also went on many inspiring talks given by researchers from all over the world, which inspired me and opened up new doors for topics I would like to work with myself in the future. My social network was expanded as I spoke with researchers from different countries and learned more about their ideas in the different fields, and many encouraged me to email them if I had any questions about their research or wanted to work with them in the future.
I would also say that I learned a lot about failing. As a researcher failing is inevitable. Many times your hard work will not pay off, and you will be devastated because you will have invested time in your project only to have it not working. It will hurt. It will hurt a lot. But you will learn to accept failing. And that is what I learned - I learned that failing is part of being a researcher. This is something that I will bring with me into my future work, that failing is okay - we all need to fail to succeed. 

Whale shark that I swam with in Cebu, Philippines.