Category Archives: East Asia

My Experience in Singapore

While I was walking to work one morning, an elderly man approached me and asked me for directions to a building. To my surprise, I instantly knew what building he was talking about and was able to navigate him around the area. This experience may not seem to be much, but to me, it meant I was fully integrated into the Singaporean way of life. In that moment, I no longer felt like I was a “foreigner” studying and working in Singapore, but I truly felt like I was a local Singaporean and that I had fully adapted to the country I am studying in. However, this was not always the case as I did experience a huge culture shock when I first arrived in Singapore.

 

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The symbol for Singapore is the Merlion. Its head represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura (or “Lion City” in Malay) and its body represents Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.

 

When I first arrived in Singapore, I was so excited to start my journey because it was my first time traveling outside of North America. I tried to visit and eat as many things as possible during my first few days here with my fellow university students. However, once a week or two passed by and I had started my internship every weekday from 9 to 5, and I started to feel a little bit lonely.

I lived in a single room, and that was honestly one of the reasons why I often felt alone during my time here. Unlike the dorms in the United States where the halls are alive and students would hang out with each other in the lounge, the dorms here are the exact opposite. First of all, it was during the summer, so there was barely anyone on campus. Everyone from my university was spread out and lived in different buildings, so it was really hard to find someone to talk to especially during week nights. Because everyone had a full time internship that usually didn’t end until 6 PM, it was really hard to balance working and socializing during the first few weeks. Furthermore, there was no lounge area in the dorm for people to sit in and socialize which made it harder for me to stumble into new people and talk to them. As a result, during the first few weeks of my time in Singapore, I often felt like I had no one to turn to. I often felt homesick and missed my family and friends at home. Thankfully, we tried to keep in touch as often as possible even with the huge time difference, which definitely helped me deal with the new environment.

 

I lived in a single room at one of the residences at the National University of Singapore.

 

Work was also a huge difficulty, as the work culture is so different from the United States. Singaporean work culture is definitely very different from the United States’ work culture. One of the biggest shocks that I have experienced is how employees really value teamwork and collectivism. What I mean by this is unlike the United States where individual achievement is highly valued, Singaporeans focus more on working together to achieve success. In a collectivist culture, Singaporeans strive to work together, share responsibilities, and achieve rewards together rather than strive for individual recognition. I learned this when I was working with my supervisor who was nominated for a Media of the Year award. When working on a video to highlight her achievements, she told me to focus on her whole team as they are the ones who helped her get where she is today.

Another thing I have noticed is how hard Singaporeans work and how punctual they are. Working hours are usually from 9 AM to 6 PM but almost everyone stays past 6 PM. I asked several people on my team why they always stay later than their work hours, and they said they usually stay until 8 or 9 PM in order to finish everything and prepare for tomorrow. I never thought I would have to work overtime as an intern, but I actually had to work overtime on many occasions. There was one time where I had to stay past 11 PM in order to meet deadlines as everyone was piling workloads on me. However, this was a time when the Singaporean “collectivist” value came into play as a lot of my coworkers offered to pick up my work and help me out. In fact, during the night where I had to work overtime, one coworker stayed with me to make sure I finished everything by the deadline. Although work was very difficult and I had a lot more responsibilities than I had anticipated, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by people who cared which helped me adapt to the culture.

 

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Everyone’s so busy and concentrated on their work. OMD is not ranked as the best media agency in the world for no reason!

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I love my team at OMD! I learned so much from such awesome people!

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This picture was taken during my first excursion in Singapore with new friends that I met. Singapore’s architecture and city plan is honestly the best in the world.

 

Lastly, although many people criticize Singapore’s work culture to be very hierarchical, my company is quite different. In fact, everyone is very chill and friendly towards one another and often makes jokes too. Even an intern like me who is here for just two months can make fun of my bosses. I had to direct a video for my supervisors to use for a sales pitch and during the filming process, we did a lot of silly things in front of each other. I had full creative license during the process and could do anything I wanted. As a result, I felt like my company had more of a laid-back and Western cultural approach.

Now being back in the United States, I realize how diverse Singapore is. At my workplace, there were people from all parts of the world: China, India, Russia, Australia, and so many more. This is my favorite part about Singapore and the thing that I will take with me the most. I believe that each person can and must learn from other cultures in order to grow and create a more harmonious society.

 

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My company celebrating Chinese New Year.

 

I was a little hesitant to study abroad at first not only due to my financial situation but also because it would be my first time traveling outside of North America. However, this experience in Singapore has exceeded all my expectations. I have never seen a place so diverse, clean, regulated, and architecturally stunning as The Lion City. Throughout my time here, I have learned so much about not only Singaporean culture, but also my role as a global citizen in this globalized world. Using my internship and courses, I have noticed how Singapore and my workplace can be described as a unique mix of Asian and Western cultural influences due to the increasing amount of globalization. Furthermore, I definitely feel like I have grown and become more independent. I have never felt more “adult” as I did when I commuted to work using the public transportation, bought my own meals, and planned out my schedule every day. I will continue to use what I learned during my time here in Singapore to become a better global citizen. To anyone who is thinking about studying or interning abroad in Singapore, please do it! Everyone here is so friendly and willing to share their experiences and if you’re a foodie and photography junkie like me, this will be absolute heaven!

 

I am so grateful to have this opportunity to experience the Lion City up close and personal!

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Globalization in Singapore

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A Day in the Life of Tan in Singapore

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Home Away From Home

I finally returned home to the U.S. after being in South Korea for nearly a full year and it didn’t take long for me to seem out of place in what is supposed to be home. I became so used to daily life and culture in South Korea that I’m sometimes confused as to where home is. When I arrived at my house I was excited to see my dog Pooka and after picking her up I set her down and told her “Pooka, anja!” three or four times. She stood there wagging her tail and I was confused as to why she wouldn’t respond. Surely she couldn’t have forgotten how to sit while I was away! My brother looked at me and with a laugh said “Pooka didn’t study Korean while you were gone.” I was a bit shocked at myself for immediately trying to speak Korean to everyone when arriving home. I’ve spoken English my whole life and now I find myself speaking Korean without thinking and at times having difficulty coming up with the right words or expressions in English. 

 

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A view from a street in South Korea.

 

It has been about a week since I’ve returned and it’s a bit more difficult than I thought going back to speaking English full time while trying to continue learning Korean. The time difference when messaging friends in South Korea always plays a factor and I also realized how difficult it is to try and communicate daily like before because we aren’t able to meet or live in the same place. I find myself not able to drop the Korean cultural habit of a slight bow when greeting someone and also holding my elbow when handing over something such as money.  My phone rings to a song by TWICE (Korean girl pop group) and often the reactions are similar to if my phone rang in a library! These things became so natural while doing it everyday in South Korea, however now I can only assume I look quite awkward or seem like a foreigner to others as I do these things in America. 

While the food in South Korea was amazing, there are always times when I missed comfort foods from home. Things such as cakes and pastries, Chipotle, a good cheeseburger, or my mom’s homemade meals. I also missed being able to meet with my friends every weekend for dinner or being able to play games with them. Now that I am back to meeting with my friends in Colorado, I often miss meeting with my friends in South Korea and picking a random area of Seoul to explore. One thing I found myself continuously complaining about is public transportation and how far things are from home. In South Korea the subway system was amazing and convenient, as you are able to get to any destination quite easily. I suppose I became a bit spoiled having a subway station always within a 5-10 minute walk and any type of food within walking distance as well. Now that I’m back in America, I am back to driving at least 30 minutes to anywhere I want to go.

 

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With friends in South Korea.

 

Some other differences I’ve noticed are how things like buildings are built. South Korea stacks 4-8 shops and restaurants in a single building while in America things are built outwards. In South Korea, things are very close in proximity which made it seem easier to get a bit of exercise and stay fit, while at home driving everywhere makes one become a bit lazy and drive-thru restaurants do not help at all! A final difference I noticed is in the meals. Here in America, there are certain foods usually eaten for each meal. For example, a typical American style breakfast consisting of pancakes, eggs, cereal, etc. was difficult to find in South Korea. In South Korea, I usually ate anything I wanted and breakfast often was kimbap (rice rolled with vegetables or meat, similar to sushi) or just fruits.

 

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Kimbap.

 

Now that I am back in America and thinking about my future, I realize just how much I miss and enjoyed my time in East Asia. My lifestyle and goals are different now than they were prior to studying abroad. I plan to finish my degree and continue learning Korean and Japanese. Once I obtain my Bachelor’s degree, I hope to return to Asia and teach English, as I have found a love for teaching. Perhaps in the future if my language abilities have improved to a high level, I can teach Korean or Japanese at schools or programs in America! Studying abroad for one year allowed me to not only learn about other cultures around the world but also learn more about myself and what I am capable of. Just a few years ago I would never have imagined I would go to South Korea for a year, play soccer for a foreign university, and learn Korean and Japanese, all while finding a passion for teaching. My year of studying abroad in South Korea has come to an end but I have so many great memories to keep with me forever. Thank you, Gilman Scholarship, for giving me this opportunity!

 

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The Beauty of Singapore’s Subway System

My first time using the metro system in Singapore, which is called the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), was quite an embarrassing one. After getting off the train, I decided to position myself on the right side of the escalator in order to take a break and browse on my phone (you know… because I’m a millennial). Within seconds, I realized my mistake as I started to receive judging stares from people around me – the flow of traffic for escalators in Singapore runs opposite to that of the States. I quickly changed my position to the left of the escalator and instantly, the people who were behind me started to rush up the escalator. Because of this mistake, I learned the most important lesson: in the States, slower traffic pulls to the right, but in Singapore, it is to the left.

Besides that hiccup, the MRT here has been nothing short of amazing. I use the subway system here a lot in order to commute to my internship every day, and after three weeks of using the MRT, I can see why people call it one of the best subway systems in the world. I can’t even describe how much I love using the MRT here as it is so easy to use and so affordable compared to public transportation in the States. So here’s a list of the top five reasons why I absolutely adore the MRT.

It is so affordable.

  • A trip from my dorm to work, which is around 6 miles, only costs $1.80 SGD (about $1.30 USD). A trip from the east side to west side of Singapore only costs around $2.50 SGD (about $1.80 USD) as well. Yes, let that sink in. I can’t believe it either.

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It is so clean.

  • Singapore is known for being clean, and the same holds true for the MRT too. There are signs everywhere that tell you what to do and what not to do (no chewing gum, no durian, no smoking, and many more). Throughout my time here, I have not seen a piece of trash on the MRT trains. Furthermore, there’s just something about how shiny the seats are and how spacious the trains look that make the MRT system here feel so clean.

 

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It is so organized.

  • One of my favorite things about the MRT is that there are signs everywhere to let you know what to do and where you are. Inside the trains, there are signs under every door with LED lights that let you know where you are and where the train is going. That is so convenient because instead of having to look outside after every stop, you can just look at the sign to know where you are.
  • Furthermore, the lines are very organized due to many arrows and signs. Outside the trains, there are arrows that tell you where you should wait in order to let the people from inside the train go out first. I think this is such an easy but efficient way of making queues more organized, and I am actually very surprised to see a lot of people following it.
  • Furthermore, its efficient design (little seating and more hand rails) allows more people to be on the train. The ride is so smooth and fast that it is really not a big deal to stand.

 

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It is so efficient.

  • In the States, I go to school in the bay area, so I used BART a lot. Whenever I miss a BART train, the next one usually comes 15 minutes later. However, that is not true for the MRT. Trains usually come every three minutes, on average. Even during nighttime, it comes every eight minutes at the latest which makes is so convenient for me to use the MRT because I don’t have to worry about missing a train.

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It has such a cute card!

  • I don’t know about you, but I love kawaii stuff and the EZ link card design definitely delivers. The EZ link card is a stored value card that can be used for the MRT and buses in Singapore. The card is so easy to use as you just need to tap it onto the scanning machine, and it completes the transaction within less than a second. As a result, you can avoid the hassle of carrying change to use the subway system. Furthermore, the EZ link card can be used to pay for laundry in student housing and printing in the library. But the most important part is that it comes with various cute designs that feature super adorable cartoon characters.

 

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Meet Tan in Singapore

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Jeff Reflects on His Year in South Korea

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