By Xener Gill
Students stroll into the canteens during mealtimes, their chatter filling the air. But listen closely, and one may overhear unfamiliar accents as groups of exchange students converse among themselves.
Last semester, the Nanyang Chronicle reported that there was a record number of exchange students in NTU, with 1,200 graduate and undergraduate students accepted in total.
Living overseas for an extended period of time and adapting to the Singaporean lifestyle can be difficult, but for most exchange students, it just takes time.
The education system
When 26-year-old Swede William Nestor first started school in Singapore, he found it challenging to cope with the syllabus.
“In Sweden, we follow a course-by-course system so you have one course that runs for a month and only one thing to focus on in that month. But here, I have to keep track of five different classes at the same time,” said Nestor, who is studying at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
In order to catch up with his peers, he even stayed up until 4am doing work during the first few weeks of school. He has since grown used to juggling different modules at once, and enjoys the diversity of his classes.
On the other hand, Selena Debbert, a 23-year-old Canadian, had no such problems.
“The business courses here are structured very similarly to Canada, where the emphasis is on learning throughout the year with small assignments and having class participation,” said the Nanyang Business School student.
However, Debbert does feel more pressure to excel here because of the focus on grades.
“In Canada, if you get the degree, you get the degree, so the marks aren’t as important unless you’re trying to get into postgraduate school,” she said.
“In Singapore, everyone considers marks as important no matter what they’re planning on doing after, and the students are so hardworking.”
Hospitality of Singaporeans
Xenia Munger, 23, a Swiss student at the School of Biological Sciences, found it challenging to befriend local students when she first came to NTU last August.
She felt that exchange students had to make an extra effort to meet local students and be proactive in making plans since the local students already had their own circle of friends.
“It was hard at the beginning, because I’m not a very outgoing person and I’m bad at keeping conversations going,” she said.
Fortunately, before her first class of the semester, Munger met a local student who had just returned from exchange. She understood the experience of being in a foreign country and made the effort to speak to Munger.
Munger has since befriended more local students from her classes and the NTU Women’s Rugby team, which she is a member of.
Another bit of culture shock for her was the attitude of service staff in Singapore.
“A few times, I got quite an annoyed response from the (service staff) when they had to look at me and tell me that I should tell them what I want (when ordering food),” said Munger.
She added that in Switzerland, the service staff normally greet customers before asking them what they would like to order.
“While the culture here is different from Switzerland, I find it entertaining to learn about these differences because it’s a ‘Oh! I should’ve known that!’ kind of moment,” she said.
For Canadian Nicholas Pellegrino, who is studying at the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, conversing with Singaporeans is not a problem.
“After all, English is English. It’s just that in Singapore, there are different slangs and words that are borrowed from other languages which I just have to get used to,” said the 21-year-old.
Singaporeans tend to speak at a faster pace as compared to Canadians, said Pellegrino. However, his friends adjust their talking speed for him, which he is grateful for.
“I can understand what they’re saying to me but when they talk to each other, I can’t always catch it,” he said.
He added that it is challenging to understand some of his professor’s in-class jokes and he is usually unaware that a joke has been cracked until the entire room is already filled with laughter.
For 23-year-old Korean Jung Hyeju, adapting to spoken English in Singapore was a struggle, as she spoke English only to foreigners and exchange students back home in Korea.
“Singlish is really hard to understand and the words that are used in Singapore are in British English, which I’m not used to,” said the third-year School of Humanities student.
She finds it frustrating sometimes when she is unable to get her point across during group projects and discussions.
But Jung added that she has become more confident in her English since arriving, and can better understand Singlish now.
“I’m slowly getting used to it (Singlish). If I don’t understand anything, I will ask my local friends, who are very friendly and always help me even though they don’t know me well,” she said.
Singlish slang terms translated by exchange students
- Bo jio (to not invite someone to an event or activity)
William Nestor: What would you like? Or what do you think?
Selena Debbert: Oh well
Xenia Munger: Oh no
Nicholas Pellegrino: Bothering someone?
Jung Hyeju: Boy?
- Atas (high class)
Debbert: Oh my, I couldn’t even guess this one
Jung: A happy sound
- Bo liao (being in a situation of idleness)
Nestor: Jealous or uninterested
Debbert: It sounds like something negative
Munger: Someone who gossips a lot
Pellegrino: Someone who gossips
- Ang moh (to describe Caucasians)
Nestor: A directional thing?
Debbert: A foreigner
Munger: A foreigner
Pellegrino: I don’t know
Jung: Ang Mo Kio?
- Walao (to describe surprise or disappointment, similar to ‘Oh my goodness’)
Nestor: Don’t say this word to the professors
Debbert: Why or what?
Munger: It’s like what the hell, they say that during rugby training all the time
Pellegrino: Expression of exasperation
Jung Hyeju: Don’t have