Written by: Spriha Mishra
The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of U-Insight.
Coming to Singapore from India, I guess I expected a lot of things. I expected to fall right into place, explore a new culture, get all As… the list was endless. Back in July, my first few days passed comfortably in hotel rooms and Ikea stores with minimal social interaction – which, incidentally, was exactly how I preferred it.
Then it was time for hall camp (my first camp in NTU), and I realised making friends would not be as simple as I had thought. Brought up on textbook English, the thought of a language barrier hadn’t even crossed my mind, until I found my Malaysian friend acting as a translator between me and another guy. We were all speaking English, but the unique slangish accent of Singaporeans, with some Chinese and the Hokkein dialect thrown in here and there, made it a tad hard to fully grasp what they were saying.
Over the next few days, the homesickness was real. Little things pricked me – people would mention where their homes were, thirty minutes or an hour away, and I would stare blankly. I missed my family, the feeling of familiarity, even the food. I was sick of noodles within a week and chicken rice earned my wrath soon after.
Ordering in food courts was an ordeal, and one memorable occasion, I tried mala and accidentally asked for da la (extra spicy).
Homesickness was a constant ache I couldn’t escape. It was a strange kind of displacement, being so far away from home with barely any support. University kids all struggle to fit in, but it is even tougher with no common cultural base to work off on.
Somehow, though, things started changing. It was a gradual process, but as I explored more of the culture, I realised how exciting discovery could be. Somewhere in the middle of trying out mooncakes and having steamboat dinners, I realised I had started enjoying myself.
Integrating into another culture is never a seamless process, but my newly-made Singaporean friends helped. With their help, I learned how to eat with chopsticks, recharge my EZ Link, and speak Singlish. The cadence and the expressions of Singapore started becoming more familiar day by day. I fashioned a small piece of my old home with other people from my country, and I made my new one with new traditions and fresh memories.
More than anything else, it is this evolution of identity that matters; I will never not be Indian, but that doesn’t mean I cannot be a little bit Singaporean.
Now, I like my chicken rice with lots of chilli and I’ve developed enough of an accent to stumble through casual banter with my local friends. I’ve also come to realize how lucky I am to be here, in a place full of people who will accept you as their own, in one of the most exciting cities in the world.
So for all the other international students who are in the same boat as me, I have one phrase for you. Jiayou! You’ll figure it out, with a little bit of help from everyone else. Time will tell and you’ll fall into place gradually. The fun of studying abroad is in learning and trying new things – and if you do that, your years in university will not only be memorable, but insightful and nurturing as well. Somewhere along the way, you’ll realise that there is a home right here, miles away from home.
NTU is a cosmopolitan and international University with more than 100 nationalities amongst its staff and students. Currently an international student at NTU or looking to study at NTU? NTUSU’s Student Integration Committee aims to help international students integrate fully into the NTU community.
Come join us at Confluence on 14 March 2019! Confluence is a multicultural night, which aims to promote cultural integration amongst students through engaging and hands-on experiences like cultural booths, hosted by our very own international students. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on Instagram @ntusu.sic!
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