Getting to Know a New Country

Guest Post By: Senior studying Accounting and Information Systems, Lynn Wang. During UW’s Winter & Spring Quarters 2022, Lynn studied abroad on the Foster Exchange with the National University of Singapore.

Studying abroad during the pandemic wasn’t the easiest logistically, considering all the paperworks we had to prepare and all the PCR tests we had to take before departure. Any missed procedure could have prevented a successful start to our exchange program in Singapore. Luckily, we had a team of three (Hallie, Kevin, and I) on the same program, and we managed to keep each other in check as we nervously prepared for the long-awaited travel in the last few weeks of 2021.

We kicked off our new year with an 18-hour flight and landed in Singapore on schedule. What immediately warmed me was not the distinctively Southeast Asian hot air (what I was most nervous to feel) but the friendly faces that I met on the first day. When I took my first taxi ride in Singapore from the airport, I was warmly welcomed by the taxi driver. He started the conversation by asking me where I flew in from, but we then went from exchanging COVID news to getting his recommendations of places to visit.  When the driver learned that I can also speak Chinese, the conversation suddenly switched from English to Chinese. Later, I learned that this amazingly diverse country has four official languages – English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. What’s even more fascinating is that every Singaporean has to learn a second mother tongue besides English. 

Speaking of language and taxi rides, I have to mention another very memorable one I took with my local friend later on. A group of us had dinner together on that day and shared a taxi ride to go home. Sitting in the back seat, I had the pleasure to hear my Singaporean friend explain to our driver where each of us would like to be dropped off using THREE different languages! The mix of different languages and cultural integrations in this tiny country were among the first of many impressive things that intrigued me. Because of how open-minded and diverse this country already is, I did not feel lost or out of place as a foreigner landing in this country. 

Throughout the four-month exchange, I not only had enough time to learn about Singapore by observing and meeting local friends, but also by interacting with uncles and aunties (how they address older adults) in places only locals would go, like hawker centers. The three of us ended up having a lot of fun sharing new Singlish words that we each picked up from different places and started using them here and there in conversations. We ended sentences with a bunch of “lahs” and responded to questions with “can” or “can can”. Our Singaporean friends were pleasantly impressed! 

While language was one aspect that I observed closely during my time there, I also had the opportunity to take a fun elective to further my knowledge about Singapore. This class was about the South Asian diasporas in Singapore, and we discussed how different waves of migrants from South Asia arrived, contributed, and settled in this country. For me, it was a very unique way to learn about a new country, and I would highly recommend anyone who is going on an exchange to try the same!