Singaporean Cuisine

I think if there is one thing everybody in the world can agree on, it would be that everyone loves food. This attitude is especially prevalent in Singapore, where food is a culture- not simply a way to fill up your stomach. The food here reflects the diversity of the people that live here: Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Italian, Mexican- every cuisine on this planet can be found in bounties in Singapore. Singapore’s main center of eating isn’t at restaurants though- they take place in hawker stalls- large food court-type centers where food stalls are littered around tables and the whole place functions through self-service. Meals here are super cheap- a plate of rice and chicken will only run you about $3-4 USD and the options are endless. Some of Singapore’s signature dishes include Milo (Nestle-type drink), Fried Kway Teow (a type of noodles made in soy sauce and often paired with sausage and seafood), Stingray (tasted like fish? But tougher? I think that’s probably the best way for me to describe stingray), Black Pepper Chili Crab, and Kaya with Kopi (an amazingly warm piece of toast with cold honey and hot butter- literally the best breakfast food ever paired with the Singaporean version of coffee). Their national fruit? Durians (although curiously enough, is banned from pretty much anywhere that’s public in Singapore. You can get fined for bringing durians on any public transit and is frowned upon in most stores due to its scent, of which some describe as sweet while others deem repulsive and rotten). I’m enjoying all the cuisine offered here in Singapore, although I’ve only seen familiar titles here in Singapore. There’s a Starbucks just about every stop and McDonald’s, KFC, Long John Silver’s and especially Subway, are not uncommon sights. Out of curiosity, I stopped by McDonald’s and without a doubt, the menu is region specific and significantly better than in the US (although I will note that a meal at McDonald’s will often run more expensive than eating at hawker stalls). Some region-specific menu items include the twist and shake fries with crab seasoning, Singapore’s famous McSpicy (absolutely incredible although definitely hot), and Green Apple burst icecream (75 cents with a punch of sweet and tangy green apple).

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fishball soup!

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An impressive amount of satay~

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me trying durians for the first time

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stingray

 

International FOMO

In these days before I depart for Hong Kong, abandoning the familiar saddens me a bit. Travelling inherently holds this trap: leaving a home, family and friends behind, knowing there will be a senior-year NU football season that I won’t see, and missing the slow but steady transition from sunny days to the blistering but beautiful and familiar Chicago winter. In knowing the last moments in which I am home, every day and every hour becomes ever-more cherished. These are my last moments here for a long time which I will stamp into my memory until I return, for fear that they will somehow be washed away by new images, places, and experiences, and to be traced in moments of homesickness or longing.

But I know that study abroad, in addition to these difficulties, inherently holds the excitement of an entirely new environment with the advantage of finding familiarity, comfort, and sameness in making my host city and university feel like a new home. Chilly fall afternoons to be replaced by 80 degree days, football perhaps to be replaced by dragon boat races, deep dish pizza by dim sum; but all the while keeping music-making, sport, and economics, in one form or another, part of my regular student life.

Traveling inevitably means missing home, but studying abroad offers the mirror image of most of what I will leave behind. And knowing the temporality of my time in Hong Kong troubles me too; no matter where I go, I will miss someone and some place.  But in this moment, I have the most days abroad in front of me; the most to look forward to. And I won’t be missing out.

Dim Sum. Can't wait to try it. Can't say that I took this photo.

Dim Sum. Can’t wait to try it.

A dragon boat race. Can’t wait to witness it.

Just a Small Girl in a Big World

161566The National University of Singapore is huge. I think after two years of college at Northwestern University I was used to a campus where the tip of the campus and the lowest point of the campus could be reached in 20 minutes walking. And the closest CTA station was only 4-5 minutes away (here, the closest subway station is a 20 minute walk). Stepping foot on this campus was definitely a shock. My dorm (University Town) is on a campus of its own (to give a frame of reference, University Town is probably as big as the entire Evanston campus- boasting several dorms each about 17 stories high, a gym, an infinity pool, 5 different dining halls, nail and hair salons, grocery stores and shops in case you’re in the mood for Pizza hut over school food). To get to my classes, I have a 15 minutes walk to the bus stop followed by another 15 minutes bus ride to get to a whole other campus, which is probably twice as large as the Evanston campus. At NUS, students come in specialized so there are mini campuses within the overarching campuses (for example, Dentistry has its own clusters of buildings, as does Pharmacy, Business, and Computing Sciences). On the first day, trying to get to class, I got lost more than I care to admit. I think the entire freshman year, my walking schedule was from my dorm in Willard to Tech. I don’t believe I actually ever had class anywhere else. Luckily, the professors here are more than understanding of the massive size of the campus. Professors here tend to let students out 20-30 minutes early so students can get to their next class and are usually forgiving when students are a few minutes late. Nonetheless though, the campus is gorgeous, with tall tropical trees I’ve never seen in the US and long, winding stairs (it wasn’t until I got here until I realized how flat Northwestern was). I’m definitely expecting that by the time I come home, my legs will be super toned. Additionally, although I’ll always miss the bunnies at Evanston, NUS is home to an incredible diversity of butterflies, geckos, and stray cats. A little further out, there are monkeys in Singapore as well- the little remnant of Singapore’s old rainforest that’s leftover.

That feel when the school’s map kind of looks like a mini island

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Waffles & Icecream at the school hawker stall was only $1.40 USD!

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Cultural diversity in Singapore

It’s amazing how Singapore has managed to become one nation with so many different cultures, and each and every culture does shine. When you go to any food courts in Singapore, the option of food ranges from Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and more. While local residents of Singapore are officially Singaporean, they still do maintain a large part of their original culture. In most cases, people learn their home language first, but start to learn English as a second language from the age of 3 onwards, meaning pretty much everyone in Singapore is bilingual and keeps their previous cultural ties. In many cases, both English and Chinese are spoken, and it is common for people to speak to me in Mandarin before realizing that I actually only speak English.

From a cultural standpoint, Singapore feels similar to the US in that many US residents (like myself) are bi-cultural. Although I still have strong ties to my Korean culture, I do relate heavily to American culture also (I’ve never thought I’d crave a hamburger so much until I got here). Each culture even has their own hotspot in Singapore, such as China Town, Little India, and Arab Street. I’ve visited each of these places and it feels much different than the China Town in the U.S. Everything actually feels very local as if I’m actually not in Singapore but in the respective home country. I’m constantly amazed by the cultural diversity of such a young country, and hope to see more.

Sultan Mosque in Singapore, Arab Street.

Sultan Mosque in Singapore, Arab Street.

A New Adventure

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After months of packing and bumbling excitement, I’m finally 19 hours away from landing in the beautiful country of Singapore. Next to me, my mom sits with her Fodor’s Travel Guidebook for the 25 best places to visit in Singapore, amongst them the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Marina Bay Sands and the little islands around Singapore such as Sentosa! I leaf through the book and started my own bucket list- to take a night safari in the world’s first nocturnal zoo, to wander through the streets of Little India and Arab Street, and to learn Singlish- a local combination of English and Singaporean language.

The National University of Singapore does a good job of making resources available to exchange students who want to connect with the locals. Already, I feel like I already know people in Singapore- my exchange pal Glennys, my residential house the Dragons (every third floor of my residential college is named after a winged mythical creature), and activities planned for when I arrive (a welcome tea, an Exchange Student Party), and consistent emails have ensured that I already feel like I’m at home even though I’m thousands of miles away!

Although I’m nervous for the journey ahead, I’m also excited. I’m excited to try new foods (such as baked stingray and durian fruits), meet new people, and grow as a person (I’ve never traveled abroad independently for so long). With my passport in one hand and a luggage in the other, I know I’m ready for the adventure ahead.

8,434 Miles from Home

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Well, this is it. After so many weeks of going to travel doctors, submitting forms, applying for housing, buying new clothes suitable for hot weather, and booking flights, I’m finally ready to leave for Singapore, my new home for the next 4 months. It still seems completely surreal that I’ll be experiencing such a different culture and environment for so many weeks. I’m not sure whether I feel more excited or nervous — probably an equal mixture of both.

Between all the preparations I’ve been tackling this summer, I’ve also created a bucket list for my semester in Singapore. Although 4 months sounds like a long time, I know it will fly by without me even realizing it, and I want to make sure that I take advantage of every opportunity I have. Besides exploring all the food, architecture, shopping, and culture that Singapore has to offer, I also want to visit other nearby Southeast Asian countries. Even if it’s just for a couple of days, I’d love to visit Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and any other places I can manage to fit in.

Leaving the comforts of my home and Northwestern makes me nervous, but also incredibly eager for something so unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. I know living in Singapore won’t always be easy or secure. Yet it’s this unknowingness that will make the semester a life-changing one, as cliche as that sounds. I know I’ll return to Northwestern with a broader cultural viewpoint than I could have ever imagined.

Small country, big changes

Anytime I tell someone that I’m studying abroad in Singapore, I get the usual comments about how one cannot chew gum or spit without a hefty fine, or some even claim that there are jail sentences for such a seemingly minuscule act. When I think of Singapore, I too hold these stereotypes, and I’m excited to see which actually hold up to be true and which are just over-exaggerated rumors.

For a small island, Singapore has a diverse group of cultures, which was also a primary reason for choosing Singapore as my exchange institution. I’m excited to explore the various cultures that are part of Singapore, try out local foods in hawker center ranging from Indian to Malaysian cuisines, and become friends with the local students of Singapore.

Academically, I have not gotten all the modules (courses) that I would have liked to take, but there is a module add/drop period when school starts so I’m very much hoping that there will be some classes open during that period. I’m not sure how much different the academic environment is going to be in Singapore, but I think it will be just as academically stimulating as in Northwestern, and I’m hoping to learn a lot and experience a different academic setting.

The past month has been hectic, as I had to apply for housing, modules, visa, and foreign bank accounts. I’m constantly worried that I may have forgotten something important, but the advisers from both NUS and Northwestern has helped tremendously to relieve my worries and the only step left now is to arrive on their campus. Singapore maybe a small country, but it will be a big leap of difference from Northwestern, and I can’t wait for it.

 

 

singapore-map

Reflection after a Long Quarter

It’s taken me forever to get around to writing this post, and for that, I am sorry. From the very beginning of the quarter, I was crazy busy, and it never really got better. From sorority and internship recruitment to my independent study and extracurricular work, every second of this quarter seemed to be full of work.

I had a much harder time adjusting back to Evanston than I had anticipated, despite knowing what was to come. In Paris, I had no responsibilities, other than classwork, and I spent nearly every weekend traveling abroad or exploring Paris and its surrounding cities. Coming back, I was suddenly expected to return to the insanely stressful life of a Northwestern student, with hardly an adjustment period in between. I also had to deal with some personal issues that cropped up a week before I left Paris, and continued to plague me all quarter, so it was not easy. Luckily for me, this was the warmest winter Chicago’s had in years and years, and so the weather didn’t lower my mood as much as it usually does during winter.

Despite the difficult parts, I still find myself remembering Paris just about every day. I’ve taped a map of Paris up above my bed, so I can look at it every night as I fall asleep. This sounds very cheesy, but I adore looking at all the places I’ve visited and enjoyed.

Embracing life abroad. Thank you Paris.

Embracing life abroad. Thank you Paris.

Before I left for Paris, everyone told me how much fun I would have. I’d had lots of experience with things in college that everyone said were amazing but turned out to be totally overrated, and truthfully, I expected Paris to be similar. But against my own expectations, and despite the horrible bureaucracy, occasionally frustrating attempts at communication, and inflated prices, I fell in love with Paris and everyone I met. I loved speaking French most of the time, I loved eating delicious food, I loved meeting interesting people from all over the world, and I loved the opportunities afforded to me by NU and Sciences Po. Despite the difficult parts of returning, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, and, in fact, hope to work and live in Europe one day. I still keep in contact with most of my friends from abroad, and I hope that we’ll remain friends for a long time, held together by the amazing memories we made. After all, we’ll always have Paris.

 

Carefree lyfe man

During exchange, reality is suspended for four months. Being away from the pressures of student life at Northwestern along with significant distance from the responsibilities of reality produces a relaxed environment. This gives you opportunity to explore a new environment, experience a different part of the world, and meet new people. The çay breaks are long, the lunch breaks longer, and the three day weekends spoiled me.

For the first time in awhile, school was not an overwhelming burden and I finally had the time to introduce some more variety into my life. I read for enjoyment, something I haven’t done in years, finishing off a few biographies of comedians. I exercised more and played quite a bit of soccer and Frisbee.  I also got the chance to sightsee places that I’ve dreamed of visiting.

But above all of that, I just enjoyed hanging out with new faces that I’ve grown to cherish as friends. Although exchange is short, there is a desire to hang out and do as much as you can due to the fact that it is temporary with a quickly approaching finale. This shared urgency is really what allowed me to get close to a lot of people in such a short period time. During the last month and a half in Istanbul, I feel like I really lived, rarely saying no to a new or unfamiliar experience. In some ways, I hope this carries over to life in America.

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Ortaköy Mosque

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Brain Salad, yum

Pausing

You’re not always on high alert while abroad; while you’re obliviously eating your croissants and adding stuff to your snapchat story. Events like the 13th of November are something no one ever imagines, but the horrific truth is that they happen, and this happened. I have at this point been all too close to too many of these big events. I was six and confused being taken out of school on 9/11, and 21 and crying watching the news in Paris, waking up in London to a text about stabbings in the tube, and blithely wandering around Istanbul right between two separate attacks in Turkey. I’ve dodged too much at this point, I’m too close to all of it, and I feel as though that’s all I can say. There’s no blog post that I can write that will say anything more profound or more profoundly offensive than all the journalists and over-excited Twitter users have already covered. For me, it’s simple silence in the wake of shock that, devastatingly, just isn’t as shocking as it should be.

I think in terms of this blog entry and how this all relates to the exchange experience, it’s important to remember that going abroad is not a fantasy, it’s a fantastic opportunity to gain practical and meaningful life experience. Europe is not an amusement park, it’s not just fashion and food and dancing. If you come here, if you study abroad anywhere, and particularly if you choose exchange, it should be in answer to an express desire to grow up.