“Through volunteering, I found out that Singaporeans are kind-hearted and willing to give a hand to people in need. Volunteers help out just to make Singapore a better place without any rewards.”

In this article, Wu Yen Kuan from National Taiwan University shares his experience at SUTD in Spring 2020 amidst the COVID-19 situation.

First arrival in this tiny island state

I arrived a few days before the orientation and matriculation program to have more time to settle down. Fortunately, the SUTD hostel allowed for early check-in. (Do inform the SUTD housing office if you would like to check-in earlier, subjected to availability)

It was my first time in Singapore and after I left the airport, I immediately felt the hot weather! As the check-in time for hostel was rapidly approaching, I quickly took the MRT to SUTD and thankfully SUTD was only 2 stations away from the airport and I managed to check-in on time. There were a few types of room to choose from, I chose the single ensuite room but I was offered the non-ensuite one due to limited availability. The room was simple and decent with adequate furniture.

Find out more about housing for exchange students at this link.


Orientation and touring around Singapore

A week before the official start of term, we had an orientation and matriculation program. The first day of the program was the first time that exchange students gathered. Staff from the university welcomed us and gave talks regarding various topics that will help us during our stay here. We met our exchange buddies from SUTD during lunch. After which, we were split into smaller groups with our buddies who led us on a campus tour and showed us to nearby places where we can get our necessities.

The morning of the second day was spent completing the matriculation procedures. I would like to thank my friends from my home university who came here last term for suggesting me to do the required medical checkup first before coming to Singapore, that saved me a lot of trouble (Office International Relations recommends this too!). After the matriculation was done, we proceeded with a race around Singapore where our exchange buddies took us around Singapore. A big shout out to all the buddies for being so hospitable!


It’s class time!

This was the first time I attended classes in an overseas university and it was really different from my home university. Although the content of HASS courses are similar to the liberal education courses back home, the grading requirements are totally different. In SUTD, lessons are conducted in classrooms, professors interacted more with students and the course requires us to do lots of group presentations and projects. Whereas such courses at my home university are usually conducted in large lecture halls, professors seldom interact with students and grading are mostly based on exams. Students at SUTD were so much more willing to express their thoughts in classes compared to students I met in Taiwan.

One of the many challenges I faced during exchange has to be language. In my day-to-day life, it wasn’t such a huge problem communicating in English. However, when it comes to attending classes, sometimes I was unable to understand what my professors or classmates were talking about. That was made worse as I was not used to voicing out in class. Thankfully, my classmates knew that I was an exchange student, so they were all very willing to explain to me the things that I could not understand and thus I was able to keep up.

Integrating like a local!

It was week 4 and after getting familiar with Singapore, we decided to visit Bugis as our exchange buddy, Keng, told us that Bugis was one of the best places to buy trendy (and affordable) clothes and stuffs.

We went to Albert Hawker Center for lunch and it was the first time I tried to order traditional coffee by myself. For those who like to drink coffee or tea, you must know how to order like a local! To keep it simple, “kopi” and “teh” are Malay term for coffee and tea respectively, and is commonly used by locals no matter what race they belong to. There are also many ways you can customize your drink order. For me, I always ordered “kopi c kosong peng” (which means iced coffee with evaporated milk, without sugar).

After lunch, we went shopping at Bugis+ and Bugis Junction shopping centres. My friends bought some dresses and I got myself a pair of good sandals. It’s a pity that we didn’t have enough time to go to Bugis Street this time as we wanted to visit The Cat Cafe after dinner. Though the entrance fee was not that cheap, it was worth it as we got to play with cats!

Find out how to order your drinks like a local here!


Urban forest

Singapore is a very well-developed urban country, but there are still green spaces around like the Mount Faber Park.

Located in the southern Singapore, it takes about 1.5 hours to go to the park from SUTD. The closest train station to the trail is Harbour Front Station. I would suggest one to go in the morning since it gets hot in the afternoon. The total distance I walked is about 3 km. One reason why I loved this trail so much was that we would be able to see the breathtaking views after climbing for just 10 minutes!


Volunteering at Willing Hearts

As part of an exchange scholarship programme TF LEaRN Programme, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Willing Hearts. Willing Hearts, a secular and non-affiliated charity, is operated by a handful of staff and volunteers. It is a soup kitchen that prepares around 6,500 meals for underprivileged people in Singapore everyday.

Apart from having fun, I always wanted to learn more about the community and talk to the locals whenever I travel to a country. Through volunteering, I found out that Singaporeans are kind-hearted, and willing to give a hand to people in need. Volunteers helped out just to make Singapore a better place without any rewards. This was definitely a unique experience that made my exchange life meaningful.

Find out more about volunteering opportunities in Singapore through SUTD Rotaract Club (one of the 100 student clubs you can join in SUTD)!


Pandemic! and the end of term

Towards the last month of the term, as the COVID-19 situation escalated across the globe, the Singapore government implemented stricter measures and classes went fully online in SUTD. Though I preferred physical classes as it was hard to pay attention during online lessons, there was plenty of time to catch up on studies since we stayed indoors most of the time. Despite my plans been affected due to the pandemic, I was glad that I came on this exchange and I appreciated all the people that I have met.

I was grateful that I had a chance to study in SUTD. During the four months of exchange, my English proficiency improved a lot. I would like to thank my group members in class for being patient with me. After going through a term in SUTD, I learnt how to discuss and communicate with others more efficiently through the multiple projects and presentations I have to do.

P.S. There are some places where I didn’t have a chance to visit so I will definitely come back again. 😉

Find out more!

If you are interested in experiencing Singapore and SUTD’s unique curriculum, come for an exchange term at SUTD!

Pictures courtesy of Wu Yen Kuan, National Taiwan University

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