Nothing can beat the four months I spent as an exchange student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, be it in terms of the learning experience, the amazing people I got to meet or the crazy adventurous fun. It is remarkable how four months in a different educational setting can do wonders to your perspectives about everything around you. It was a mesmerizing experience from the day I landed in Singapore till the day I was forced to bid goodbye.
It all started when, soon after arriving, a couple of friends and I landed in an NTU Canteen without any vegetarian options. Since I was a vegetarian at that point (survival instincts later forced me to convert to a non-vegetarian lifestyle), Singapore and NTU seemed a total nightmare to me. But luckily, that was just one of the numerous canteens all over campus and I was able to find vegetarian food. I ended up converting to a non-vegetarian because there were no vegetarian stalls open after 9 pm. Food issues apart, I loved the facilities for students in NTU — to name a few, the sandwich and drink vending machines all around campus, the Xbox consoles and snooker tables in the student lounge, the air-conditioned study rooms and the printer facilities in hostels. I felt like I was living in a five-star hotel room, complete with RFID tags used for keys (something which totally astonished me — although there was a fine of 50 dollars if you lost it). A hut-shaped glass-walled TV Lounge stood alongside the grassy lawns next to my hall of residence, lending it the air of a resort. Luckily, I was allotted one of the newer halls of residence, and even had an air conditioner in my room.
What I loved most about NTU was that most of the lectures were recorded (except tutorial rooms and seminar halls, all the lecture theatres have a central recording station, and lectures get uploaded within ten minutes of class getting over), and I had a lot of flexibility in making my schedule. I found the classes less mathematically intensive than those at IITM, but that could just be the exchange student in me talking. The number of electives available to students at NTU is much higher than that at IITM, with courses ranging from Communication Skills to Dancing to Theatre Skills to Field Sports. Another notable difference was in the grading — A+ and A both have the same score of 5.0, which seemed like a good thing to me. Perhaps even IITM could adopt such a system. I would say that the teaching quality there was pretty much the same as here.
There is a points system in place for the full-time students, wherein you need to have a minimum number of points in order to secure a place in residence halls. You can get these points based on the distance of your house from the institute and by taking leadership roles in Hostel Welfare Unit or Co-curricular Clubs or staying with foreigners (for locals and vice versa). The bulk of these points come from leadership roles and this automatically puts emphasis on co-curricular activities — it would be great to have something similar in IITM too. I realized that soft skills are as important as academics, and proper emphasis needs to be given to this in IITM. My roommate was a Singaporean of Chinese descent, a workaholic but an extremely helpful and funny guy, and four months with him were a piece of cake. I met many Indian full-time students as well, apart from Singaporean students and exchange students (a whopping 600+ exchange students were in NTU for the semester), and it was a pleasure meeting each and every one of them.
I, along with fifty other students from Asia, went there as part of the TF-LEaRN (Leadership Enrichment and Regional Networking) program, an extremely well-organized initiative. As part of it, we participated in several activities including community service, Leadership Forum and team projects (a book of memories, a video encompassing our exchange experience and the farewell event) along with several other networking events. The program also gave allowances to all the selected students, in order to ease the financial burden of being in one of the world’s most expensive cities. For community service, I gave tuition to visually challenged students which was quite an enriching experience. I wrote and compiled articles for the Memoir and was a performance manager for the farewell. Through these tasks I learned to respect cultural differences and also to appreciate different viewpoints. I had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people from all over Asia through this program and through participating in these activities, I made some wonderful friends as well. I would definitely recommend that juniors apply to this program in subsequent years for a lifetime’s worth of experience and learning, although now it is being offered during the odd semester (when I went, it was held in the even semester).
Singapore as a city is amazingly organized and most of the tourist attractions are on the famous Sentosa island. I loved the EZ-link card which pays for you on buses, trains, vending machines, as well as some shops. I had the pleasure of trying out Indian food at several places, with the best one being at a ‘pay as you wish’ buffet. Some of my friends dubbed the city as very artificial but it is simply too picturesque and well-maintained for me to complain about.
Other highlights of my stay included the extraordinary fireworks during the Chinese new Year event, trying alcohol for the first time, a trip to Bali (heaven for party and beach lovers), a skit performance during the Chinese new year celebrations on campus (the lyrics of ‘What does the fox say’ were changed to bring out the Chinese Zodiac story), joining the Toastmasters Club (a public speaking club), a small dance performance in traditional costumes during the farewell, Holi celebrations in a beach club and numerous trips all around Singapore. I loved the course projects as well but I’m not elaborating on them here. I learned a lot about different cultures and learned to think of things from a global perspective. Since exchange is not very common in IITM yet, to the students reading this, I’d like to say that you will definitely learn a lot by going on an exchange, and that I’d highly recommend TF-LEaRN and NTU.