What are the first things that come to mind when you think of Singapore?
I posted this question to some friends back home and got varied answers, from the standard “Tempat jalan-jalan dan shopping setiap libur harpitnas!” to the witty, half joking “Tempat ngungsi kalau Jakarta banjir atau kerusuhan!”
These sum up pretty nicely the typical impression that Indonesian highschoolers have of the said country. However, to this list of responses I would like to add my own, that Singapore is home to one of the world’s top universities, namely the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Granted, the name might not be the most well-known. Whenever I am home for the holidays, I would often meet various people, from my parents’ friends to my hairstylist, who would ask me which university I study at. I would tell them I go to NUS in Singapore, to which their response would almost always be, “Ooooh, NUS! Nanyang, ya?”
This breaks my heart. Apparently my university is sadly underrated among the average Indonesian community. Therefore, I wish to share my own views and thoughts as an NUS student and hopefully, by the end of this article, inspire a clearer perception about studying there.
The first topic I would like to bring up is, of course, the education quality. NUS is currently 25th on the QS World University Rankings 2012, with some subjects ranked particularly higher. I remember some of my mechanical engineering friends buzzing excitedly a while back about how they were in the world’s top 5 according to QS. As debatable and questionable as these rankings are, I do believe they can still be used as a general indication of a university’s merit. And drawing from my own experience, academic education in NUS is pretty satisfactory. Admittedly, I do have friends who complain about how some of their professors are utterly incomprehensible. However, I myself have enjoyed learning under some of the best lecturers in my management and marketing classes. Most of them are passionate academia and professionals in their respective fields, who also know how to conduct interesting and interactive lessons.
On top of the quality education, studying in NUS also opens doors to various international opportunities. For instance, thanks to the extensive network NUS maintains, I am now on student exchange program to the University of London, enjoying the experience of studying in a 19th century Victorian castle. As for the budding entrepreneurs, there are also programs that give you the chance to intern at start-ups in Silicon Valley while studying for a year at Stanford University. I know people who have managed to go on student exchange, summer programs to Ivy League universities, and international internships during their undergraduate years in NUS. All the opportunities are there for the taking, and it is really up to us the students to make the most out of them.
Academics and opportunities aside, another major consideration when choosing a university is, of course, the associated tuition and living cost. The NUS education is relatively more affordable as compared to its counterparts elsewhere, as the Singapore government subsidizes two thirds of the fees. On top of this, there are various scholarships, awards, and loans available to help students with covering their expenses. There is, however, a flip side to the government subsidy: international students are required to work for a minimum of three years in a Singapore registered company upon graduation. Nevertheless, I do not see this as a very bad thing, seeing as the graduate employment opportunities in Singapore are very promising, and full salaries will still be paid.
Now what about the culture, student life, and living environment? Well, when you first enter a foreign university in a foreign country, you will most definitely have an encounter with culture shock. In NUS’ case, this can include kiasu-ism (the competitive streak many Singaporeans possess) and Singlish (the language most Singaporeans speak, which is English with Chinese, Hokkien, and Malay mixed together). And now that I have been to the UK and experienced culture shock over here, I can say that the one I had some three years ago was really mild. Culture shock can be quite scary, and for a first venture out of your home country, having to deal with only a mild one is not a bad idea at all.
Student life in NUS is also very vibrant. There are various co-curricular activities, ranging from the standard sports and arts societies to quirkier ones like mountaineering and gastronomy clubs. The NUS Students Union, with its various constituent committees, is very active and plays a big part in campus life. Many students live in on-campus halls of residence, which are very lively with their own respective activities. In the past semester I was living in one of the residential colleges, the recently renamed College of Alice & Peter Tan, in the brand new NUS University Town complex. The residential colleges are basically adapted from the collegiate system of universities like Oxford and Cambridge, where students get to study multidisciplinary courses and live together with their classmates and faculty members under one roof. Each college also has its own student activities, which I must say are very interesting. For instance, last year a neighbor college did a successful lip dub project involving most of its residents, associate professors, and College Master.
Apart from all these exciting opportunities, at the end of the day, studying in NUS indulges me with the luxury of enjoying an overseas education while being merely an hour or so plane ride away from home. I also get to enjoy living in a very safe country with excellent public infrastructure. In fact, when I am home for the holidays my mom has to constantly remind me not to leave my belongings unattended in public places, saying “Ini udah di Jakarta, bukan Singapur lagi!”
Having said all these, I have to admit that there are also some not very positive points about studying in NUS. One of them can be the tear-all-your-hair-out annoying course registration system students have to undergo every new semester – which again, I shall not elaborate on as it can take years to explain – called CORS Bidding. I also know some students who harbor many complaints against the university. However, based on my own experiences, the lessons I have learnt both inside and outside the classrooms, I can say that it has been a very good ride for me and I am thankful to be an NUS student. And I hope by sharing this to more people, I shall be greeted with fewer “Ooooh, NUS! Nanyang, ya?” when I am next home for the holidays.