Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: National University of Singapore
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: INK
Semester: Spring semester 2017/2018


Why did I decide to go on an exchange in Singapore? That question has so many answers, but the easiest way to describe it is: Why not?

I had already learned of the great advantages of exchanges when going to the Netherlands and now I had the opportunity to go to a place further than I had ever been. I would have the chance to experience a culture new to me and to meet my Singaporean friends again. NUS also has an excellent reputation and research in the fields I was interested in. Thus, it was never a question of to go or not to go, but merely a when.

I applied via the nomination process of KI and enough information was given by the international coordinator to do this smoothly. After I was nominated I started vaccinating and searching for a supervisor. I found that they were only allowed to be from certain departments, so check that with KI before emailing the supervisors. There was a slight lack of information from KI on the framework of the thesis, so when I had to design a project plan to apply to NUS I felt a bit at loss. It all worked out in the end though, and it is just about pulling through all the bureaucracy. In general I think the biggest issue pre- departure was the housing, but I will talk about that more when it comes to accommodation. Most things that seemed like obstacles were helped by contacting the international coordinators at both Universities, which both did excellently and helped me a lot.

The iconic bay area with the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the art museum, and the Helix bridge (inspired by the alpha helix in our DNA)

Arrival and registration

I arrived to Singapore and entered on a regular tourist visa, which was converted to the student pass after getting it. I was able to move in to the residence at NUS at the regular arrival dates (somewhen in the second week of January). This was very easy to do and quite quick as well. I bought a router (now they updated to Wifi everywhere, so no need to bring one any more), a pillow, glasses and a plate. There was a bit of programme before the term started, with a welcoming lecture for exchange students. A facebook group with all the exchange students was also created and many things like hikes or activities in Singapore were organized by the students by just posting in that group. For application of the student pass (Visa) there was a short event to attend in which the ICA, the immigration office, came to the university. There was also a welcoming party, which I could not attend since I had to study for my KI exam.


I paid for some of my vaccinations, whereas the Hepatitis B refreshment is free if you are a KI student. For the housing fee I paid 35 sg dollars, as well as the rent, which can depend on what housing you get and is paid in one go before moving in. The visa was 90 sg dollars and then there were miscellaneous fees of 125 sg dollars to the university. Adding the flight costs there can be quite some costs ahead of starting, which you cannot avoid. I received a travel grant from KI for 8000SEK, which just covered the costs of my flights there and back. I recommend booking your flight early and to check on when the prices will dip (this year it was for the 5th and 6th of January flight). 

Once in Singapore living is relatively cheap compared to Sweden. The sports activities and amenities are free to use at the university. Meals can be bought for 4-7 sg dollars at the hawker centres all over campus and the city. Public transport expenses are on a per use basis but cheaper than in Sweden. These two were my only big expenses and I lived on roughly 300 sg dollars a month. For saving money on these I recommend not going to proper restaurants, as these will be as expensive as in Sweden. Cooking by yourself can also me more expensive than just eating out. Cutting low on milk products like cheese is cost saving as it is imported from Australia, Japan or Europe. Travelling after hours (after midnight the MRT closes) can be quite expensive, but if you pool for a Grab or an Uber you can get home from the city centre for as low as 3 sg dollars. Talking about evening activities: Alcohol to buy is very expensive and forbidden to have on campus. As a girl you can avoid spending much by going out on (usually) Wednesday for ladies’ night, on which there are MANY free drinks and entrance to clubs. 

Travelling around in South East Asia can be both cheap (I got a 80 sg dollar flight to Borneo and back) and normally priced. Going to Malaysia across the border was only 3 sg dollars to the next town and long-distance busses to Kuala Lumpur and Melacca are very affordable. Food and hostels are also cheaper outside of Singapore.

A Malay woman serving food at a typical stand. Prices very according to how much you order.


Finding accommodation was quite a stressful factor in the months before my trip. I applied for accommodation to be arranged by the university but was informed that most likely I would not be able to receive housing via the university due to me not completing any course work. I was referred to the NUS websites for off-campus housing. I searched via the website and found a shared room in MDIS school housing together with a friend. However, in the late end of December (2 days before I was going to leave, as I flew early) I was informed by the university that I had managed to obtain housing in the Prince Georges Park residences on the NUS campus. Luckily, I was able to cancel the MDIS residence the only minor costs for the agent and decided to move in in NUS immediately. I recommend being cold blooded and waiting it out. 

I found living at Prince Georges Park residences quite pleasant, despite the age and some other setbacks of the accommodation. I lived in a B type room on floor 9 (respective 12 after room change), which was great regarding view, natural air circulation and absence of flying insects. The room was furnished with a ceiling fan, which was providing enough wind to comfortably sleep (I only struggled on 1 or 2 extremely hot nights) You were required to bring your own sheets and I bought a pillow there, as I did not want to bring it. I also had a sink, which was a great addition to the room and I recommend getting a B room over a C room. However, it must be said, that the building complex is not the most beautiful to live in with rather questionable cleaning of the bathroom (bring flip flops!) and student housing conditions in the kitchen. With my own sink and not cooking a single meal during my time there that was not so much of a problem to me and I recommend PGPR over living off campus. 

The residence was located optimally for me to walk to both the lab and the metro station. Due to the heat walking more than 15 minutes outside can be a problem and the biggest advantage was the free campus bus centre in front of the residence, which transported you all over campus in a few minutes. There was also 2 food courts in the complex (I recommend the Taiwanese noodles, Mala Hotpot and Ramen ) as well as a café serving food and waffles until late after hours (a life saver when stuck in lab too long). There was also a small gym and ball courts, but you had to take the campus bus to go swimming. Regarding amenities I can really recommend PGPR.

I managed to take a picture in which the building actually looks beautiful... The best thing about the building however, was the view on the harbour.

Studies in general

When going to Singapore to do your thesis you can end in very different situations depending on the lab and supervisor you end up in. Generally, I would say that more work and time effort is required than if the degree was handled at KI (someone recommended for me to not pick a Japanese supervisor, as they even among Singaporeans have a reputation for working and demanding too much). 

I ended up in a lab, in which many things were not handled well in my opinion. The expectations placed on me were too low and my direct supervisor was not very scientifically adept. She would quit very early every day, did not or sometimes even taught me wrongly. In the beginning I thus had much free time while later I had to time-consumingly fix her and my mistakes. My direct supervisor quit 1 and a half months into my thesis, when I was just starting to get results. Because of this and after reassurances from the PI I felt like it would be fine to continue my project anyway. By bad luck however, the only other person working at the lab was hospitalized a week after my supervisor quitting, so I ended up working alone, which in retrospect made me hate being at the lab and investing into my project. 

My PI was very kind and supportive, but he had the Asian habit of the boss talking over you and not listening much on what I had to say or what I had done. When my supervisor was still there she advised me to do the following in meetings with my PI: to agree to everything he suggested but then returning to the lab, reconsider and not tell him if I did not do something he suggested, unless asked. This seems to be a common thing in Asian labs, as I heard some other scientists mention similar things. However, for me this was very difficult, as I had no experience in what was feasible to do and what not to do with no one advising me.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI

I performed the practical work of my bachelor’s thesis at NUS.

Language and Culture

In Singapore most people have good English. Everything in public areas is kept in 4 languages (Tamil, Malay, Hokkien and English), but English is the lingua franca. In normal conversation most people will use Singlish, a version of English with oversimplified grammar and sentence order with slang words. It is common for even your supervisor to ask “Can?”, to which the reply is “Can.” Or “Cannot”. I found the pronunciation and slang quite endearing and will miss it a bit. I did not take any language courses. 

Culturally there were of course some differences. In the working environment there are bigger differences between supervisor and student than in Sweden. This can be very extreme in the case of the PI. I was lucky, to have a more relaxed PI, but you will be talked over. I recommend choosing a supervisor that has some experience from abroad, so they accept and can understand when you speak up. 

Singaporeans I found very pleasant to talk to. In the public they are open, friendly and respect one another. Most are properly and well dressed, so I preferred to look the part as well. It is very easy to make friends and to meet for food. I found that food is the one thing Singaporeans really can talk about forever and it is a great conversation starter. This is not a surprise, as there are many excellent food cultures present in Singapore (make sure to get invited to a Chinese New Year celebration with steam boat!). 

There are many different festivities (Thaipusam, Chinese New Year, …) to be held by the various communities, as well as Singapore specific events like the chingay parade. I could go on forever, but I think I will start to swoon then. It really is worth experiencing it by yourself!

The Bhudda Tooth Relic temple in Chinatown was lit up beautifully for Chinese New Year. There were celebrations in the city and at peoples homes.

Leisure time and social activities

In my leisure time I partook in many social activities organized by the university and by students. There were organized parties, a Chinese New Year event, Astronomy events, and many more. The residence I stayed at also arranged events like Dragon boating and Biking on Pulau Ubin, a small Singaporean island. 

On campus there was the option to use all facilities, like the pool, gym, etc. for free. I never figured out how to book a tennis court though. There are also teams that you can join for free and I joined the waterpolo team, and even though I had never done it before I was welcomed heartily. 

In the city there are also countless leisure activities, from all the hikes (green corridor is a secret gem and Sungai Buloh is a must to see wild crocodiles (and snakes…)), to the hidden culture (Bukit brown cemetary beats skogskyrkogården by miles). From all the food courts to explore, the cultural quarters and the countless events held by marina bay it was difficult getting bored in Singapore. The bigger question was when I had time for all these great things after lab.

One can feel like Raffles (explorer and founder of Singapore) when delving into the overgrown jungle-graveyard. Bukit brown was one of the most unique places to me in Singapore and one that I would not have expected in such an ordered city.


Going on the exchange in Singapore has influenced me in many ways. As a student I experienced an environment with very different work ethics and I learned to adapt to them. I also learned the value of what we have in Sweden. Personally, struggling in the lab made me grow stronger and much more aware of how to run a functional lab and how not to. The exposure to this will hopefully positively shape in my working approaches in the future. 

Generally I enjoyed my time in Singapore tremendously. The people were extremely kind and overjoyed to show me their culture and traditions. There was everything I could wish for: Skyscrapers, Beaches, Jungles, Religions, Foods, all the friends I had and made, and sometimes when the other end of the world was too much to take in, the option to just have some Swedish kanelbullar in Kampong Glam. 

I wish I could go back to Singapore.

The best thing about Singapore is its varitey. From the different cutures and foods to the many different building styles and the interplay between city and nature there is always something in Singapore for everyone.