Studying in Singapore

Studying in Singapore

As I've mentioned before, my two-month stay in Singapore was not a full exchange semester, but only a relatively short research internship at the School of Computer Engineering of the Nanyang Technological Institute of Technology. The program I attended was the Summer Research Internship program (for which registrations are still open!). The program (designed to lure qualified students to Singapore, I think) is an internship during which you write a research paper about a subject that you chose when applying. Accomodation is free, and the program even gives a generous amount of pocket mony (3000 SGD when I was there). Sounds good, right?

Campus and Accomodation

The NTU is a very well endowed university with a pretty campus and extremely well kept sports facilities. There's pretty flowers, a little lake and some chinese buildings. Also, since one of Singapore's national hobbies is eating, food on campus was plentiful, delicious and cheap. If you like south-east asian food, you will be happy here!

Accomodation is free on the campus (but only for us exchange students!), a fact that I learned to appreciate rather quickly, after reading up on Singapore's housing conditions. Rooms start at about 300 SGD per month, and those are often shared rooms (with about 4 to 5 other people per room).


Figure 1: My room in Singapore

Compared to the room I had in Germany (at the Studentenstadt in Munich, where I had a 16m² room with kitchen and bath), the room was a bit bigger, but was shared with another exchange student. Also the bath was shared with our neighbors (so 4 people per bathroom). More annoying was the lack of an aircondition. With 32°C throughout the day (and 30°C throughout the night), I relied on having an ice-cold shower every morning in order to wake up. We had a ceiling fan though, and that helped a bit at night.

Men and women were separated, and in fact the house rules forbid being on the women's floor, or even being in a woman's room when the door was closed. Well, when in Rome…


After some trouble with the selection of the subject of my paper, I selected (or rather, was assigned, since nobody seemingly wanted to have me) "A survey on crowd sourcing". Turns out I got the same subject as my roommate, so we had to share the subject. If this sounds badly organized, well… it was. Our professor didn't really have any clear questions for us, and this being a survey paper meant that there was lots of material to go through, without getting much of a direction. The guidance we were given consisted of a link to Google scholar.


Figure 2: The NTU gymnasium

Now, speaking to other exchange students, I got the impression that everyone rather liked their topic, so I guess it was just us that got the short end of the stick here. Nevertheless, when arranging an internship, I would expect the host to have some clear goal in mind, not just som busywork (which was what our work seemed like).

I repeat that this was probably just bad luck. Everyone else seemed happy with their project, and maybe I was just not suited for that kind of research.

All in all, the NTU was a very organized university. We were taken on trips, made some acquaintances with local students (just on the trip though, we didn't manage to organize another meeting). Equipment seemed to be available in abundance, the library was extensive (and very well refrigerated, erm. air-conditioned, it was about 16°C in there!) and had a snazzy checkin/checkout system as well as a lot of work computers.

Since I was there on an internship, I can't really comment on the quality of education at NTU, which is a pity, because I would have been interested in the quality such a moneyed institution puts out.

In fact, my overall impression was that the NTU is very similar to my home university, the Technical University of Munich. Everything was clean and organized, and there was a lot of material available for students. However, I had a feeling that studying was more institutionalized, without any "playfulness". I believe that studying in Singapore (and in Asia in general) is much more of an occupation, while in Germany, it is also an opportunity to change as a person.

Seeing Singapore

As might be guessed, the University did not place a high priority on their students having fun, so the Campus was almost at the end of the East-West MRT line, namely at the Pioneer MRT station. From there, you could take a free shuttle bus (that even has a nice website) that made the rounds through the Campus. A trip to central Singapore took about 45 minutes and the buses stopped running at 10 at night. So if you want to party all night, better save some money for taxi fare (thankfully, taxis are allowed to go into the campus, so if you want to, you can come home anytime you like).

I chose to follow the local custom, and didn't do much going out, so I can't tell you about the vibrant night life of Singapore (also, Tiger beer really isn't that good).

In any case, Singapore is expensive when doing something other than eating on campus. A cheapish restaurant meal runs you about 20 SGD at least, and that is without any extras. Cheap food (and a wide variety of it) can be had at many foodcourts all over Singapore (eating = national passtime, remember?), but once you've done that, there's not much else you can do on a budget.

Some examples: A ticket to the Jurong bird park (something that I would recommend), runs about 20 SGD (11 €). Not too bad? If you want to go to the Singapore Zoo as well, you pay 39 SGD (20 €). Finally, add the Night Safari, and you're at a whopping 69 SGD (which comes to about 30 €). While I would absolutely recommend these places, they're not for the budget-minded.

As is Singapore. Also, to be absolutely frank, I found Singapore a bit of a bore (more like Singabore, amirite?). Everything is immaculately clean and cultured, and while Singapore has some nice places (such as Chinatown, which I enjoyed very much), they all seem somewhat artificial. Singapore seemed like a theme park version of southeast Asia to me, and after a while, the charms wore thin. Do spend a few days there on layover, but don't plan a whole holiday around Singapore. Or at least, I wouldn't.


So, all in all, would I do the SRI again? Yes! My main gripes were the uninteresting research subject, and Singapore itself. The research subject was, as I mentioned before, bad luck. So if you take part in the SRI, be careful to choose a topic that interests you. If it doesn't, still think about it, but mind that this subject is what you will be doing most of the time.

About Singapore itself: I guess it can't be helped that Singapore is a bit boring by itself. But it lies in the vicinity of a great number of very interesting and beautiful places (Bali, Borneo and Malaysia come to mind), and as such, it is a great jumping-off point for exploring South-East Asia. Also, if you're not entirely sure Asia is for you, Singapore int too foreign. Everybody speaks (heavily-accented) English and you can get around very well. But in order to get a truly different cultural experience, go somewhere else. Maybe to China?

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Author: Jan Seeger