Did badly for your exams? Why worry. Soon you’ll be backpacking all over Europe, or perhaps road tripping across the US… you’ve got the top down, wind in your hair, and not a care in the world. Oh and, you’ll ace all your exams easily, of course. UK universities have got nothing on us Asians.
You May Not Like Studying Abroad and Here’s Why
Look, I’m not all about being a killjoy… but a spade is a spade, and that’s what I’m going to call it. In Singapore, students (and parents) seem to view studying abroad as some sort of recourse from less than satisfactory grades; where they can excel with minimal effort.
I’m not pointing fingers here – in fact, I was told the exact same thing when I was going over to the UK a number of years ago. The manner in which studying abroad is pegged in Singapore has perhaps led to many, many misconceptions.
It’s worth knowing (or acknowledging) that like so many other things in the world, studying abroad has disadvantages too, and may not be for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, the time I spent in the UK was easily amongst the best years of my life (so far). That being said, I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t enjoy their time abroad either.
So I’m going to set a couple things straight for you.
1. It’s Not What You Expect It To Be
Let’s put it this way: think about everything you thought studying abroad would be like.
That’s not it.
I didn’t know very much as a child, but I was very clear on 2 things:
- I was going to study Law
- I was going to study Law in the UK
Don’t ask me how I knew… I just did. Being the blessed child that I am, my parents did all they could to help me realise my childhood dream. It was incredible. In my mind, at the time, it was like life was finally starting.
I spent the first 3 months cooped up in my dorm room.
I waited my whole life for that experience, and when it came, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready for it. I tried to determine what this stemmed from, but the truth is, it was a mix of a lot of different things — from age, to this newfound independence. Even classes were different. Teachers liked you for speaking up, not for taking down notes. Everything that was once familiar to me was now gone, and I struggled to keep up.
I’m not saying that everyone went through the same “spiritual odyssey” as I did. But I am certain everyone did go through some rite of passage of their own. Moving to another country for the first time is not easy, more so when you’re alone.
No matter how prepared you think you are, brace yourself for impact.
2. No One Is Going To Care
There’s no other way of putting this. The amount of freedom you get while studying abroad is insurmountable. Your decisions will be based entirely on what you want. Feel like skipping class? No problem. Laundry too much of a hassle? Don’t do it. Drinking your week away? Your liver wouldn’t be too pleased, but no one is going to stop you.
It all may seem awesome at first… till you get a warning letter from your university. You used to ace all your subjects in the first term, but that’s taken a plunge now from all the “networking” you’ve been doing.
Look, all this independence does come with a price: discipline. You’re going to take some time to cultivate it, but the point is that you do. I used to think of discipline as caning in school, or detention for coming in late – not attending class. That’s because we’ve probably never actually had to discipline ourselves. Our parents had always done it.
Prior to entering university, I had gone through a Foundation programme and that helped a great deal. Not only academically, but also socially. The classes were considerably smaller, so teachers would notice when you didn’t turn up. Participation is integral in class and it was just so much easier to do when you were familiar with your coursemates.
Don’t be too worried if you find adapting to the new environment, people, and culture, on top of the unfamiliar course materials all at once too overwhelming. There are schools in Singapore that offer foundation courses/pathway programmes to students who are looking to continue their studies abroad. Take Stansfield College, which runs a Foundation Certificate in Law (FCL) course. The FCL was designed for students who have just completed their O-Levels and offers a pathway for them to eventually pursue a degree in the UK.
This way, you’re able to get adjusted to the new curriculum first, before moving overseas. In some instances, you might even get a headstart on a few of the modules!
3. You Make Your Own Experiences
There are also students who are left confused when their own experiences don’t quite match up to their friend’s. Why?
Your study abroad experience depends on you.
If you’re all about dancing the night away and making new friends on Cheesy Tuesdays, then your time abroad might slightly differ from someone who spends most of their time in the library. But that’s a given.
A lot of youths do spend their time in university experimenting. Those 3 or 4 years are not purely academic, but also about discovering yourself as an individual. Universities in general offer a vast array of opportunities for their students to dabble in – and some may well find themselves excelling in domains they may not have considered. It is essential that you try out whatever it is that sparks your interest, rather than shy away from it. That’s what makes your experience.
You may be doing pilates in a campus cafe one night and finding yourself prancing around a bonfire the next. Why not, right?
4. You Will Miss
Your Parents Food
This may not apply for those of you who are going to be studying in major cities with multiracial inhabitants. But this is just a heads up, nonetheless.
I am not much of a foodie – I pretty much just eat for sustenance. So you can imagine how strange it was for me to miss food from home. I remember combing through Chinatown in London, searching for a plate of Nasi Lemak. I don’t even remember liking Nasi Lemak. It came as quite a shock to be missing it.
Gradually, I started picking up on cooking food which I enjoyed from home. International supermarkets were my hood, and I’d venture out there a couple times a week for some Yeo’s Soy Milk and a box of Pocky. I had to be very careful with how I was spending my money though – those things were mad expensive.
And every time I went back home (or to London) I’d make it a point to stock up on ingredients that I needed in the event I got hit by a sudden craving. Let me also point out, after a while you start to realise that nothing really beats Mum’s home cooked food.
This was not written with the purpose of deterring you from making the decision to study outside of Singapore. All I’m saying is, it’s worth taking a step back to first evaluate yourself, and what is expected of you before taking that leap. And if you decide to, I would highly recommend visiting your local supermarket to get a couple (dozen) boxes of Pocky. You’re going to need it.