What I learnt from studying in an Ang Moh country

Photo credit: karinadresses.com

Shared by: Victoria Chang, University of Edinburgh

So you’ve decided to take the road slightly less travelled and head to the UK or the US for your undergraduate studies. At this point, you’d probably be several weeks into your first semester. Some of you might be feeling a little lost, homesick, unsure – plagued with lingering doubts about your decision in spite of school and newfound friends keeping you busy.

I’ve only just started my first year as a postgraduate studying English literature at the University of Edinburgh and already, I find myself admiring the self-possession and independence of the Singaporean undergraduates I meet. Unlike the freshmen here, as a former NTU graduate, I came into this knowing what to expect of university administrative systems. Plus, having spent a semester in Germany for an exchange program, I was more at ease settling down overseas this time.

What I learnt living the happy life abroad:

  1. Relish and Manage your Independence

Working Abroad
Photo credit: meldmagazine.com.au

 No more curfews! Or rather, you now have the responsibility of imposing your own. Contrary to pictures of party-goers you see floating around Buzzfeed, living abroad is a lot about self-discipline and cultivating your passion for your chosen major – while having fun, of course.  There is a secret pleasure in not having to report your whereabouts when you are hanging out with friends a little longer into the night than usual.

One of the things I love about Edinburgh is longer library opening hours (till 2.30am every day!) and how there are more dedicated 24-hour studying spaces.


Those memories of staying in with take-outs and cups of coffee with your friends on campus? They’ll be the ones you treasure most together on convocation day.

In my case, I find it helpful to give myself nine to five ‘office hours’ for studying with breaks in between, since my official class hours are considerably less as a postgraduate. Establishing a reasonable study routine will give you a sense of purpose as you keep up with your readings and avoid the eleventh hour essay rush.

Living abroad also means lesser healthcare advantages so do take care of your health! It is especially good if you have a regular workout routine for de-stressing now and then.

  1. Cultural Integration

The College of Humanities and Social Science in Edinburgh alone has students from over a hundred nations. When you are in a class full of students ranging from Europe, India, China, Canada, America and the UK, you find your ears becoming especially attuned to all the different accents that surround you.

In order to communicate better with my multi-cultural peers, I inevitably find myself taking care to speak more slowly and clearly – enunciating and varying the intonation of my speech more than usual. You become more considerate of others when you speak because you want to ensure that they understand you. Over time, this gives you the confidence to speak with people of all walks of life and ages.

It turns out that our bilingualism – our ability to converse with English-users never ceases to surprise and occasionally, amuse our foreign friends.  As my Russian friend observes, “You Singaporeans switch the way you speak so easily!” Just last week, when my German friend gave me some bad news, I couldn’t help but exclaim “Aiyoh!” and had to spend several minutes reassuring her that it was not an expression of physical pain or a swear word. It’s all about being patient and having fun learning from each other.

  1. I Could Get Used To This

 Soak in the atmosphere! Take to the streets now and then to appreciate the old European architecture or monolithic skyscrapers of the city you’re in.  No harm giving yourself a good meal or shopping spree while you’re at it too.

Scottish grilled mackerel
A surprisingly familiar taste: Feasting on some Scottish grilled mackerel and sweet potatoes – not unlike the grilled Japanese saba we have back home.
  1. Embrace Nature

Whichever part of the Western world you’re in, there are probably more national parks and scenes of nature to explore than you are used to. Thanks to the generally cooler weather, nature walks become a beautiful experience without you having to sweat too much. If you’re lucky enough to be staying near a beach, head there to enjoy some sun on a good day.


Enjoying the view and the hike
Trekked what felt like five Bukit Timah Hills over the Scottish highlands.
the beach therapy
Nothing more therapeutic than seeing and listening to the clear waves lap against the shore of North Berwick
  1. Discover the Homemaker in You

I discovered my inner ‘auntie’ upon moving in my dormitory. You learn the importance of thread counts for sheets, non-stick pans, lint rollers, and the smell of a good softener. You will grow to love the sight of pretty crockery, supermarket discounts, nicely shelved books and a well-made bed at the end of the day. You will look on with pride at the bak-kut-teh you’ve left simmering on the stove or your beef rendang painstakingly made from scratch. Have fun making the place you’re at a home away from home.

The home cook in you
Enjoying a simple meal of bak-kut-teh at a friend’s flat.
  1. It’s good to keep in touch

Subscribe to local news digital portals to so you don’t lose touch with what’s happening back home. Thanks to technology, once can easily skype, whatsapp or use social media networks to keep in touch with friends back home. Take advantage of the career fairs organized by local companies that often take place overseas. There are many organisations keen on offering midterm scholarships, management programs and internships specifically for exemplary Singaporean students studying overseas.

  1. The Practical side to Wanderlust

The friends you make are not just going to be the people you hang out with at school. In all likelihood, they are going to be your flatmates and travel buddies too. Living and travelling together is both a test of friendship, as well as an affirmation of it. You’ll discover new shared interests and learn to cope with each others’ quirks. It is perfectly normal to realize that a good friend may not make the best person to share a space with. When planning a trip together, be open with each other about your preferences, be it about budgeting issues or sleeping pattern.

Most importantly…

Take faith that your experience overseas will be invaluable. Your horizons will be broadened. Some of you may even find yourselves maturing overnight. You may be far away from home but always remember, there are loved ones cheering you on back home and you’ll have wonderful stories to last a lifetime.


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