Blog Post #1: NTU Exchange, Singapore

Barely had the words ‘exchange’ and ‘Singapore’ passed through my course coordinator’s lips when my brain shouted YEEEEEES. For one thing, I love travel, and will take whatever chance is thrown my way to get out into the world, be it to the Flinders Ranges or to Ireland (my true travel-loves, coincidentally). For another thing, I have been to Singapore twice before and I love it. Both those visits were only brief, the first lasting a few days and the second only a few hours. I was young, but I loved so many aspects of Singapore: the beautiful gardens that fill every available space, the incredible zoo (don’t roll your eyes, it’s in a class of its own), the streetscapes that encompass so many different cultures from one road to the next, the tourist-safe environment created by the country’s strict laws and regulations (don’t jay-walk though, you’ll regret it), the FOOD. Oh my lawd, the food. The only downside, really, is the climate. The weather has two settings: warm and humid, and hot and humid. I read that the lowest temperature ever recorded in Singapore was 19.4˚C. Not my cup of tea, but hey, it’s worth it.

Anyway, back to the exchange. I leave on the 2nd of July and return on the 27th (it’s an overnight flight, so I won’t actually reach Adelaide until the 28th). Three and a half weeks in the Flinders mid-year break, and I’ll get a whole topic out of the way. I’m studying a creative writing topic called Prose Fiction at Nanyang Technological University, and it gives me credit for my Honours studies in Creative Writing. As far as I know, there are two lessons per week, but I really don’t know the details regarding assessment. That’s one thing about exchanges: in my experience, you have to be fine with just going with the flow and trusting to the uni and travel gods that everything will turn out fine.

Case in point: This exchange gave us the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 New Colombo Plan scholarship courtesy of the government. When I got the letter of acceptance via email at 1pm, I noticed that it requested I return the acceptance form by the 10th of May.

Plot twist: it was the 10th of May. So I had a couple of hours to find a printer, sign the form, scan it and email it back. Done and dusted, I got the scholarship.

A few weeks later, I rang Flinders Connect to ask when I’d get the $3,000, and was told I wasn’t actually on their list of recipients of the scholarship. Cue severe panic, as I’d already paid some non-refundable fees to Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately, it was almost 5pm, so I had to wait until the following day before it could be sorted out. I spent the interval freaking out, calling people, eating chocolate, and having a very long bath. Come 10am the next day, I get a call from Flinders Connect informing me that I am magically back in the system and the scholarship should come through in the next week. And it did! Miracles really happen!

So, the moral of that story is, we may live in an adult world, but much like the ‘assignments will be returned within two weeks of submission’ rule (‘they’re more like guidelines, anyway!’), when it comes to organising travel for study, things don’t always happen when and how you expect them to. You just have to listen to your gut and nag when necessary, triple check everything, and find your inner zen (or at least your sense of humour) amidst the panic when things are out of your control. Which they will be. Often. Just keep hassling people as politely yet insistently as possible until stuff gets done.

I should probably say, I have been on a university exchange before. Last year as part of my Bachelor’s degree, I spent ten days in Southeast China with eight other students, exploring, writing, making connections with the local students, etc.. It was a fantastic glimpse of a completely different way of living, and a completely different environment. Pollution smog / gravity-defying mountains. Poverty and tropical decay / modernity and wealth. Green plant life growing wherever it can get a foothold / concrete and iron jungles. So my ‘go with the flow’ hippie mantra is in fact tried and tested, and I know that the experience is 100% worth the hassle of getting there.

Nanyang Technological University is quite out-of-the-way by Singapore’s standards. I mean, it’s in the city, because Singapore is pretty much just one huge city. But it’s quite a trek to get down town from campus, where I’ll be staying. So we’ll see how that pans out in reality! I don’t expect it to be too bad, especially coming as I do from country South Australia, where travel time is measured in hours, not minutes. Singapore also has really good public transport.

I really hope there’s good food nearby, though – I know there are a few campus cafeterias, and I’m hoping they’ll be as multicultural as the student body. Then again, sometimes when you’re travelling, you don’t give a flying noodle what you’re putting in your mouth as long as it’s edible.

While I’m in Singapore, the plan is to work on redrafting the creative piece of writing that forms 60% of my honours thesis. Then when I get back, hopefully I’ll have a finished story, and will be able to focus on writing the theoretical part, where I talk about the things I researched in order to write the story. Unfortunately, I leave in five days, and the first draft is, ah, not finished. Let’s leave it at that. Sigh. Honours is tense, to say the least. But I think time away will really help me to feel refreshed and able to approach things more openly and critically when I return. The final thesis deadline is October the 14th, so here’s hoping. And if not, well, at least I’ll have had a heavily-funded* overseas holiday!

Catchya later, Straya.

*The 3k is gone. Flights aren’t cheap at this time of year. In hindsight, probably should’ve got an OS-HELP loan to be safe.

Rowena Edwards,  Bachelor of Creative Arts (Honours) (Creative Writing)student, participating in the GEM Trailblazer Short Term Summer Programme at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore in 2016 under the New Colombo Plan Short Term

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