Exchange report - Student at KI
Marina Bay Sands
Home university: National University of Singapore
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: INK
Semester: Spring semester 2018/2019
Name: Hrista Micheva
Email address:


As an international student at KI, I was already "on exchange". However, I chose to go abroad for my bachelor thesis for a number of reasons. I wanted to explore a new environment, meet new people, see a different side of the world. 

I chose to go to Singapore mainly because I had never been to Asia. This trip provided the opportunity not only to do research in a top university, but also to explore Asian culture and cuisine. Additionally, I wanted to go somewhere warm and Singapore, being almost on the equator, is perfect for that.

As the application process is divided in two parts, first I applied to KI to be nominated to go to the National University of Singapore, and once I was indeed nominated, I applied to NUS directly. KI had provided accurate information about the exchange with NUS on the "Study abroad" webpage. The communication with both the KI and NUS international coordinators was easy, both were very responsive and willing to answer my questions.
I applied to NUS as a Non-Graduating Exchange Research student. I applied for the 30.0hp course "Degree project in Biomedicine" at KI, meaning I did full-time research and did not sign up for any additional classes. Before applying to NUS I had to secure a supervisor and a project. As there was no list of available projects, we were expected to find supervisors on our own by going through the NUS departments and lab groups and showing interest by emailing potential supervisors. It is important to start looking for a supervisor from early on, as they would need time to interview you and find you a project within their research topic.
My degree project focused on the co-occurrence of two types of dementia; more specifically, I studied the effect of chronic cerebral hypoperfusion on the amyloid beta burden in a mouse model of Alzheimer disease. 
Once I had found a lab group, I had to apply to NUS. The process is a bit long and tedious, as expected. However, the international coordinators were really responsive, so that helped. 

There were no requirements for vaccinations; however, if you plan on travelling around Asia it is a good idea to get some of the suggested vaccines, such as the ones for Typhoid fever or Hepatitis A. I brought my vaccine certification booklet with me, just in case. 

As a Bulgarian citizen, I was required to apply for a visa to stay in Singapore. There are different requirements for visas based on citizenship, purpose and length of stay, but NUS facilitates the process and provides support to the incoming students. 

Arrival and registration

I arrived in Singapore two weeks before the end of the autumn semester at KI, as the spring semester at NUS starts at the beginning of January. Because of that, I was given the option to take my last exam at NUS, under the supervision of the International Coordinator. 

I arrived at Changi Airport early in the morning of January 7th and I decided to get to the accommodation by public transport. I decided to do so because I wanted to see how the Singaporean MRT works, how it looks like, if it is well connected. IT took me about an hour an a half, which would have been okay had I not been lugging around a 30 kilo suitcase. A better way of getting to your accommodation would be a taxi or even better, a Grab. Grab is an essential app to have while in Singapore; it offers a range of services such as transportation, food delivery, money transfers, etc. A Grab would be cheaper than a taxi, and if you have made an agreement beforehand with some other arriving exchange students, you could share a car with them (You will probably come across a WhatsApp or Facebook group for new exchange students before arriving).

NUS had organized introduction days with lectures for the newcomers, where they introduced the specific rules of Singapore and NUS, the online platforms used for signing up for modules, the Buddy programme where they assign you to a local student, etc. Some clubs at NUS also organize campus tours or shopping trips for essentials such as sheets, pillows, etc. 

It is a good idea to arrive early, if possible, as this will be the time you will come across most of the new students. That isn't to say you won't have a chance to make friends later on; it's just a good introduction into your next 5 months.
Flying into Changi International Airport.


As an exchange student going to Singapore, you are entitled to an INK grant from KI. 
On average, the daily expenses in Singapore are much lower than those in Stockholm. One huge difference is in the cost of eating out vs the cost of cooking - eating out can cost as little as 4 SGD/meal, while buying groceries is much more pricey.
In general, in Singapore it is important to have cash as not many places have the POS terminals for cards. There are some apps available such as Swish, however you will need to have a Singaporean bank account. (Grab has a Swish function called GrabPay which does not require a Singaporean bank account :))

I did not get a SG bank account as I did not think it was necessary; you will be charged every time you use an ATM, but you could try and take out larger amounts to avoid the multiple charges, or you could get a Revolut card before leaving.

Food: Singapore is known for its hawker center culture - everywhere you go, you can find a food court offering a variety of cuisines - from Chinese to Malay to Japanese to Western. This way of dining is standard for the locals and it proves really cheap and convenient, and delicious too. Meals can go from 3-10 SGD, depending on stall, location, meal, etc. Usually it comes out to 5-6 SGD/meal; the Western food stalls are the ones that are more expensive. You can find different canteens everywhere on campus, at the dorms, and all around Singapore. In fact, there are some famous stalls that have earned Michelin stars, but be prepared to queue for at least an hour and a half to grab a plate.
There are also some food delivery apps available such as Grab Food, Foodpanda and Deliveroo, where you could order food from different hawker centers and restaurants, and this is usually more expensive (~20 SGD minimum).
If eating out at a restaurant, prepare to pay at least twice what you would pay at a hawker center, oftentimes even more than that. 

Transport: Easiest way to go around campus is by using the free internal shuttle buses. There are a few apps available where you could check the timetables (NUS NextBus, NUS Buses), however none of them are accurate enough, so you will have to see for yourself. Outside of campus, the subway (MRT) is most convenient. Their underground network is great, and you can use Google Maps to get around. There are a few different public transport apps available, but I found that none of them were as accurate and easy to work with as Google Maps. The access card is called the EZlink card and you can get one in any convenient store or at the subway station and top it up using the automatic top-up machines there. The EZlink card is for both the MRT and the buses, and also for the SentosaExpress (if you decide to go to Sentosa Island).Additionally, you can use the EZlink card for doing laundry.  
Public transport is fairly cheap, but it stops before midnight, even on the weekend. In that case you'll have to call a cab or a Grab. Grabs are a bit cheaper, and if you are going out with friends from your dorm you can split the costs, making it ~5 SGD each, which is really convenient. 

Nightlife: Singaporean nightlife is one of the more costly expenses you will have, with both entrance fees and alcohol prices on the expensive side. Entrance can be anywhere between 10-30 SGD, and drinks can go up to 30 SGD, with some places selling cocktails for 39 SGD+. To avoid this you could sign up for different Facebook groups such as Hazel's Guestlist or the NUS Exchangers group, where the admins regularly post discounts or events with free entry for students, both throughout the week and during the weekend. Additionally, you could go to bars during their Happy Hour when drinks are discounted. The party areas of Singapore are mainly Clarke Quay and Holland Village, but there are bars and clubs all throughout. Additionally, hawker centers offer drinks for relatively low prices.

Travels: Singapore's location provides the best opportunity for travelling to the neighboring countries. It could be difficult to take time off while doing full-time research, however you should try and organize a trip or two at least. And while accommodation may be relatively inexpensive, keep in mind that if you decide to book flight tickets last minute, they can cost up to 200 SGD+. And depending on where you are from and where you are going, you might have to account for visa costs and processing time. 

Phone plan: Singapore has a small number of phone providers, with SingTel and StarHub being the most popular choices. Both offer prepaid SIM cards, however from my experience the deals StarHub has are much better. You could buy a SIM card and top-up using an app. Their schemes include mainly mobile data and some calls, but no international calls, so you would have to use Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, etc. It is a bit difficult to explain how their system works, but there is a StarHub kiosk at Changi, so you could get a SIM right away and they will tell you how it all works. Additionally, you could get a SIM or top up at 7Eleven or Cheers. 


The National University of Singapore offers accommodation in many different Halls, Colleges, and Residences. All the housing facilities are spread out across campus, with the ones in UTown being the most desired. UTown houses a number of Halls and Colleges, and the sought-after UTown Residence. 

I was able to secure student housing in Prince George's Park Residence, however none of the other Karolinska students who went on exchange the same semester managed to get rooms. I believe that was because I was a Bachelor student and all of them were Masters. Nevertheless, if I hadn't applied on time I don't think I would've been able to secure a room. 

The room (Type B) was okay in size, a bit old, not cleaned very well, and really warm (and it had a sink). The bathroom and kitchen were shared. The rooms do not come equipped with AC, nor is there centralized air conditioning. You could either pay more and request AC or rely on the small ceiling fan for cooling off. PGP Residences is indeed old and worn down, but it was an ideal location for me; it has two food courts, a mini-mart, laundry rooms, a gym, and a fast food joint closing late in the evenings, which was a life-saver. 
All the Halls and Colleges have a mandatory meal plan consisting of breakfast and dinner, while the Residences don't. Additionally, the Halls and Colleges are really proactive with events and gatherings, while the atmosphere in the Residences is more relaxed - everyone is left to socialize as they please.

The rent for the whole semester is paid upfront and is around 2500 SGD.

UTown: Over the course of the semester many exchange students requested transfers to one of the accommodations in UTown. That is because UTown is indeed like a small university town - there you can find libraries, cafes, shops, the gym, the pool, pharmacy, hair salon, etc. It is a great place to hang out and study and make friends, however it is also more expensive. Additionally, it is more competitive to get a room. The most desired accommodation there would have to be the UTown Residence, as mentioned above. Each apartment houses 4 separate rooms with shared bathroom and kitchen (not well equipped). The building is huge, and houses mostly exchange students, while the other places are mixed. 
I chose not to relocate to UTown as the location of PGPR was much better in relation to the lab, it was closer to the Kent Ridge MRT station (5-7 min walk), it had a fast food place open until 1am, and, as I was working every day 9-5, I wouldn't have had the chance to enjoy all the amenities at UTown anyways. Also, everyone who requested a transfer had to pay for the new room and did not receive a reimbursement for the previous one, so choose wisely. 

View from the room at Prince George's Park Residences.

Studies in general

The lab

My experience with the lab was amazing. I worked on a vascular dementia/Alzheimer's disease project with a direct supervisor and a main supervisor (the lab's PI). The lab group included researchers from Singapore, China, Taiwan, Germany, USA, Malaysia. Even though it took some time to become familiar with everyone, people were so friendly and helpful. It was really hard to leave. 

My direct supervisor (a postdoc) had been working on the project for almost a year, so in a sense both of us were learning at the same time. On the other hand, she taught me so much, she was extremely patient and helpful, but still allowed me the space to become comfortable with the techniques by myself. She was an amazing mentor. 
The PI was incredibly supportive, he trusted us to do our own work without micromanaging; he was really inquisitive and attentive to the details. 
The whole lab team was always helpful; they were all willing to spend time with you and explain different methods or concepts. Attending their weekly journal clubs was an educational experience.

The lab :)

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI
As I was doing full-time research, I did not attend any courses at NUS.

Language and Culture

Singapore is a fascinating mix of Asian and Western culture. There's the multiple hawker centres spread around town, the ethnical neighbourhoods (Chinatown, Little India,...), the different religions and ethnicities. There's the rules and regulations, the cleanliness, the armed officers at MRT stops. The peaceful existence of everyone in such a small patch of land comes at a price - the increased presence of the government everywhere. However, everyone living in Singapore is aware of that and gladly pays that price. 

Satay Street, Lau Pa Sat.

Leisure time and social activities

NUS is very good at organizing social and sports activities. Once you start, you will get to know about all it has to offer. One thing not to miss is the Dragon Boat race. It is essentially paddle-boarding in a huge boat and then racing the other teams, along with some serious splashing and great views of the Marina Bay. However, it is a very desired activity, so keep your ears open for it and be sure to secure a ticket. 

Getting to know other students was relatively easy, especially if you attend the orientation days and activities. You'll meet many exchange students, but not that many locals, unfortunately. The only locals I met were two girls in my lab, who were also doing their final year projects. However, if you attend classes you'll probably have a higher chance of sparking a conversation with Singaporeans. 

The city of Singapore is vibrant and filled with things to do and places to visit. A go-to guide for going out clubbing is going to be Hazel's Guestlist, a Facebook group ran by a former NUS student. Hazel arranges free entry for students to a number of clubs around town and has a spot for almost every day of the week. A great club you should not miss is Ce La Vi (not spelled C'est la vie), which is right on top of the Marina Bay Sands. 
There's also many, many bars all over town. However, keep in mind it is a tourist destination and alcohol is on the expensive side. 

Other non-alcohol related things you can do is go to street festivals, go to a Holi festival, go see Gardens by the Bay, the light show at Marina Bay, the fireworks at Chinese New Year, go to the beach at Sentosa, go on a hike. Singapore offers lots of attractions and sights which should not be missed. 

And lastly, you can go travelling. Singapore acts as a pit-stop to so many beautiful destinations so make sure you try and visit at least one or two. It will be worth it. 

Bangkok, Thailand


All in all, visiting Singapore was a great opportunity and an amazing experience. I witnessed a different culture, made new friends, travelled, made some memories, and had a great time in the lab. Additionally, the skills I gained during the thesis helped me secure my first job after graduation. 

I highly recommend going on exchange to Singapore and especially doing a thesis project at the National University of Singapore. If I could, I would do it again. 

Gardens by the Bay