Five things every Singaporean student needs to know before studying overseas

Studying at an overseas university has pushed these youths into the adult world earlier than they expected.

Chevonne Law

Published: 20 February 2020, 2:45 PM

Pursuing a university education overseas can be appealing to many Singaporean youths, especially with the fresh experiences and perspectives that it brings.

But making the decision to leave Singapore, be it for semester exchanges or for a few years, can be tough. There’s a lot to consider, such as adapting to a new environment, overcoming culture shock and becoming more independent.

We hear from five Singaporean undergraduates studying in overseas universities to know more about their experiences.

It is normal to feel homesick

“I felt really homesick during the first two months. It only got better after I FaceTimed my friends and family back home, made friends in Australia and focused on my studies. There are a few holidays in Australia which gave me a chance to fly back to Singapore to meet my friends and family.” – Ella Teo, 19, First-year student at University of Queensland

“The first few months during my first year weren’t too bad. I kept myself busy with settling in, making new friends, going to classes and working on assignments. I even got a part-time internship alongside my studies. It wasn’t until Chinese New Year in February when I felt a little homesick for the first time. Thankfully, I had my group of Singaporean friends whom I celebrated with.” – Kimberly Leow, 21, Third-year student at King’s College London


Various university events provided opportunities for Kimberly (second from right) to make new friends. PHOTO CREDIT: KIMBERLY LEOW


You might experience culture shock

“Australians are sociable and outgoing. They’re really different from Singaporeans who tend to mind their own business. But it’s difficult to break the barrier [between Australians] and get into deeper conversations that could solidify a friendship. I think I overcame this by actively choosing to spend more time with locals.” – Kiu Qing Ru, 20, Second-year student at University of Western Australia


Joining an acapella group in university helped Qing Ru (first row, fourth from left) get to know more people. PHOTO CREDIT: KIU QING RU


“There are differences between Asian and Western cultures but the locals are not judgemental about that. Americans are very liberal, so I’m not afraid of facing rejection in the US.

“What I struggled adjusting to the most was the drinking culture. Drinking is legal for those 18 and above in Singapore, but the legal drinking age is 21 in the US. It was difficult for me because I enjoy drinking!” – Amanda Yu, 19, First-year student at Washington University

You get to explore your own interests in school

“The education system here is very different from Singapore’s. At my school, everyone enters university with their majors undeclared. Even if you’ve decided on a certain major, they will get you to take classes to solidify your decision.

“It’s refreshing for me to not have to declare a major and be able to explore my own interests. I’m learning so much and I really appreciate the flexibility and education system here.” – Amanda Yu, 19, First-year student at Washington University


Amanda (first row, third from left) enjoys the freedom of exploring a range of modules without being tied down to a specific field of study. PHOTO CREDIT: AMANDA YU


“The culture in the UK is more open and encouraging towards one’s successes beyond academia. The teachers here expect more self-exploration and individual research, which I believe helps individuals become more passionate about their topic of study.” – Eliana Sarah, 21, Third-year student at King’s College London

Adulting at an earlier age

“Living in London turned out to be more expensive than I expected. The biggest issue I struggled with was spending too much money on food. As I was still learning how to cook, I mainly ate out or had food delivered to me. After my cooking got more decent, I realised that cooking at home saves me more money.

“I’ve also learnt to be more responsible for managing my finances and making important decisions. However, studying overseas has thrown me into adult life quicker than I would have in Singapore, and I’m really thankful for that.” – Kimberly Leow, 21, Third-year student at King’s College London

Making the most out of your overseas experience

“I wish I knew how to speak another language. It could have helped me break the ice when I spoke with some Europeans that felt uncomfortable speaking in English.

“Also, it’s easy to get distracted while you’re overseas, so be certain of your goals and what you want to achieve out of this experience.” – Eliana Sarah, 21, Third-year student at King’s College London


Eliana (first from right) knew she needed to strike a balance between having fun and studying. PHOTO CREDIT: ELIANA SARAH


“Growing up in Singapore’s fast paced environment might condition us to think that we need to excel at everything, including our social lives. But I’ve learnt to be patient with myself.

“While I’m abroad, I’ve learnt to soak up the local slang and do things I would never get the chance to do back home without losing the Singaporean in me. Studying overseas is expensive and I don’t want to waste my parents’ money by having a bad time.” – Kiu Qing Ru, 21, Second-year student at University of Western Australia

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