Written by: Preksha Banerjee
As an international student, I find leaving home after a vacation to be a tumultuous task. I have become so accustomed to the solace of my own home during the summer break, but the time has come for me to leave my comfort zone again.
Once more, I need to mentally prepare myself to live alone, to do my own laundry, track my own expenses, and be independent (without my parents’ guidance, supervision… and nagging).
However, this time is far more exciting than the first. After a year of acclimatising to Singapore, I have found a home away from home. I look forward to meeting and hanging out with the friends I have made in the past year. I’ve been through the process of learning to be self-reliant, and that unnerving feeling of butterflies fluttering in my gut during the first year are long gone.
This process of becoming self-reliant can be hard if you’re leaving your hometown for the very first time. Reassure yourself that there is strength in numbers and you are not the only one in your situation. Also, most people are extremely warm and welcoming, and are more than willing to help make you feel at home in NTU.
I was 17 years old when I realised that studying abroad was the right thing for me. However, convincing my parents of the same was much harder than I thought it would be. In India, there are insanely large numbers of engineering colleges. Trying to explain why I needed to do an engineering degree abroad required weeks of persuasion. The added fact that none of my siblings had completed their undergraduate degree abroad didn’t help my case.
Nonetheless, once I got my acceptance from NTU, a highly ranked and reputable institute, my parents ultimately struggled to reject the offer. The fact that my aunt lived in Singapore and would be my local guardian was a point in my favour. So after much give-and-take, I left for Singapore.
Surprisingly, more than my parents, the person who eventually had a harder time letting go was me! I had grossly underestimated the trials and tribulations that came with living alone. Looking back, there were many things I definitely wish I had known back when I first began my journey in the first semester here.
If you’re going abroad or coming to Singapore to study, here are some pointers to surviving away from home, based on my experience in NTU.
1. Cultural barriers are not mythical, but real.
Don’t let the fact you’re fluent in English fool you! Singaporeans have a very distinct style of speaking, which can be hard to comprehend at first. It pays to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and interact with people of all cultures, that being precisely what the international student experience entails. The more people you mix with, the easier it is to bridge cultural gaps. You might even find yourself fluent in Singlish by the end of the semester!
2. Self-studying is self-taught.
University is a whole new world apart from high schools or junior colleges, in the sense that learning is thrust completely into your hands. Prior to university, I was used to being told exactly what I should do, but in university this was not the case at all.
You can choose to go as in-depth into each subject whenever necessary. Days are spent scrounging for the right materials in the library in order to understand certain concepts. Professors may clarify your doubts, but they will not spoon-feed you. It is important that you take the initiative to approach them. After all, learning is what you make of it.
3. Homesickness is grossly underestimated.
Despite the excitement and anticipation that accompanies moving to a new country and studying overseas, the glamour of a “fresh start” eventually fades and homesickness will set in like never before. You’ll start missing your family and friends in no time, especially during the weekends when the campus is quiet. Nostalgia hits hard, and it hurts. At the same time, once you get past the toughest parts at the start, the loneliness eventually fades. By staying in touch with old friends and family to the best of your ability whilst making new friends, soon enough, you’ll feel settled in your new home.
4. Budgeting well is your new mantra.
One of the biggest obstacles I faced after coming to NTU was learning how to live with a fixed budget. My parents had given me a certain amount of money to survive on every month, and exceeding that amount would warrant a good chiding. Furthermore, having sufficient cash in hand gives you a sense of security in unknown surroundings. Tracking your expenses requires discipline, but it’s an important life skill. Furthermore, as Singapore is primarily cashless, getting apps such as PayNow or PayLah! will also help you track your bank balance and check whether you’re overspending.
5. Play hard, but work hard as well.
One of the most valuable takeaways from my first year of university was time management. Be make sure to plan your time and prioritise. Create timetables and space out your schedule well so that you will have time to complete all your work and still have fun. There won’t be anybody reminding you to stay on track. You are held accountable for your own actions – an initially daunting prospect to me. However, studying in groups with friends kept me in check. Their presence reminded me to study yet provided opportunities to enjoy and explore the city together.
Finally, if you’re wondering whether the international student experience is worth it, I can say that it definitely is! Besides becoming independent and gaining valuable life lessons, you are exposed to a multitude of people and cultures. You will also end up making the best of friends, having truckloads of fun, and stand to create memories that will linger for years to come.
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