Making the decision to study and live abroad for the first time is chaotic. I was really practical when I chose to study in Singapore. The United States dollar was doing well against the Singapore dollar, the school had a great Communications major, and the main language English. Plus, everyone always tells me how clean and safe it is, which seemed like a win-win for a young single female. With my bags packed I boarded a plane and was ready to start my new adventure.
Once I arrived and grabbed my luggage the automatic doors of the airport opened and at 10pm I was hit with a wall of humidity. Holy heck it was humid! I came from the dry city of San Diego and the humidity of Singapore (minimum 64%) I would find to be the hardest adjustment to make.
Since my living conditions were provided by the school, my main concern was finding food. Luckily Singapore has AMAZING street food. If you are ever really lazy just flag down a taxi and ask them to take you to their favorite hawker stand. They’ll think you’re a little funny, but be sure to use your Singlish and they’ll be sure to acquiesce. “Uncle, to the nearest hawker stand. Can do-lah?”
Once there there’s tons of yummy food! On a budget? I often lived off of toast and Kaya. Kaya is a delicious jam made of coconut, sugar, and egg. For a late night snack, my personal favorite was finding a roti-parata stand. The Mexican in me likes to compare these to quesadillas, but you can find them filled with sweet, savory or more neutral flavors.
The best part? When you eat at a hawker stand, there are usually tons of tables in the middle of the stands, like in an American food court mall. Unlike America, it is acceptable, and encouraged to join someone else at their table. This is a GREAT way to make local friends. Grab a seat and their curiosity will surely lead them to answer questions about your home country and you’ll undoubtedly get an invitation to get a tour of their neighborhood or to their house.
You may find the English hard to understand at first, but with time you’ll find yourself speaking Singlish (the local dialect of English) fluently. When you don’t understand what someone is saying just respond with, “catch no ball.” That basically means that while you understand they said something, you don’t understand the meaning.
Of course, not everyone in Singapore speaks Singlish fluently. There is a significant number of expatriates who get out and about. They often are at a happy hour meet up. Of course the best way to make friends is to find other international students at your school. Be friendly before and after class and plan outings for others to join you on! Many people want to explore the city, but are unwilling or unable to find exciting things to do. If you look into attractions and invite people out, you’ll make friends and see the city!
Where to start? The Singapore Botanical garden is a UNESCO site and quite gorgeous, but it is a bit expensive. On the cheaper side, Singapore also has tons of free museums to enjoy. The Singapore City Gallery is an interesting spot I’d suggest to visit early in your visit to learn more about how Singapore came to be the country it is today. The Singapore Art Museum is usually $10 Singapore dollars, but on Fridays from 6:00pm to 9:00pm, you can get in for free! Check out the famous merlion as you walk the Esplanade and find a listing of free upcoming performances and sometimes find free art exhibits.
Another key way to save money is to avoid the cabs. The taxis aren’t overly expensive, but purchasing an EZ-Link card and refilling it to use the bus and MRT. The MRT is RIDICUOUSLY on time, and on the off chance that they are late, you can ask the employees to write you a note which I guarantee you your school will accept. They take great pride in their transportation being punctual, and when it doesn’t work, they take the blame.