Study Abroad in Singapore, Where East Meets West

by Djulia Montana de Veyra

Studying abroad in Singapore is a great introduction to the Asian way of life — with one foot firmly planted in Western culture. Offering an exquisite blend of Asian culture and Western modernity, Singapore is a showcase of Chinese shop houses, Hindu temples, Malay mosques and gleaming modern skyscrapers, all in one small country. Called the Garden City, this urbanized Southeast Asian city-state is clean, safe and green.

Tourists Around the Marina Bay Sands Area, Singapore
Singapore: Asia’s garden city. Photo by Ian Delgado

Singapore is home to a unique blend of people: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian. While racial harmony is emphasized and practiced, each ethnicity in the country has managed to retain a distinct identity. Studying abroad in Singapore means living amongst many different cultures all in one place.

Live In A Progressive World City. 

Singapore is highly cosmopolitan, with a multicultural lifestyle that values respect and openness toward people of different races. Expect to find locals who are courteous and amiable. Singaporeans have a reputation for being honest, hard-working, and highly disciplined. While the Western influence has made individualism prevalent in Singapore, the people here still maintain a culture of collectivism. The result is a marriage between Western and Eastern values. While Singapore is increasingly gaining the reputation of being a materialistic culture (notorious for a high priority on the 5 C’s: car, condo, country club, credit card and cash), the locals manage to balance out the superficial impression by revering authority, seniority, and practicing respectful Asian social norms.

English (And More) Spoken Here. 

While Malay is the national language, English is the more widely used medium in the country. For English speakers studying abroad in Singapore, communication is not much of a challenge. Foreigners must learn to decode Singlish, though. This is the local patois that developed from the Singaporeans’ mixing of English with terms borrowed from the Malay, Chinese and Tamil languages. Be prepared to listen to people speaking what seem to be incomplete sentences, devoid of prepositions, spoken rapidly with a distinctive Singaporean accent and with indiscernible syllables (that are actually local expressions) like ‘leh’, ‘meh’, ‘ah’, ‘lor’, ‘lah’, etc. Locals tend to say ‘can’ when they mean ‘yes.’ Be careful when trying to emulate the local Singlish — what you may consider humorous and harmless can be interpreted by the locals as insulting or patronizing.

Most young Singaporeans are quite proficient in English. Nationwide language education campaigns and the government’s “Speak Good English Movement” try to spread proper English among its citizens. English is a mandatory medium of instruction in schools (except for language subjects like Mandarin or Tamil). Official documents in the country use the English language.

Tamil and Mandarin Chinese are also official languages in Singapore. Most Indians in the country speak Tamil, while the Singaporean Chinese speak Mandarin.

Sunny Singapore. 

Studying abroad in Singapore feels like experiencing summer year-round. Rain falls almost daily, but it’s usually not too long until the sun is back out. The driest months are May to July while the wettest are November to January. Singaporeans battle humidity with air-conditioned office buildings, metros, homes, and shopping malls connected to each other by underground tunnels. Because of this, it’s possible to stay cool and comfortable all day long in Singapore even during the hottest and most humid days.

Ideal clothing in Singapore are those that fit the tropical climate. Think natural fibers and lightweight clothing, with light jackets (as it can get cold inside air-conditioned buildings). Clothing styles tend to be more conservative. Check the dress code before going to a restaurant, as some establishments require a collar and tie. Steer clear of shorts or too much exposed skin when visiting mosques and temples.

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

Photo by Ashley Houston

A Shopper’s Paradise. 

Singapore offers a great hub for shopping. With the country’s booming economy and increasing disposable income comes a rapid surge in the retail sector. Both consumer durables and luxury brands are catching up with the trend, and the world’s most famous retailers can all be found in Singapore.

Impressive Gastronomy. 

A country where eating out is considered a national pastime, Singapore is a foodie haven. You can never run out of tasty options, with exotic street-food stalls and restaurants that range from affordable fast foods, to specialized gourmet delis, to upscale six-star settings offering Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Peranakan, Korean, Japanese and Thai cuisines.

Memorable Adventures. 

Singapore’s beach scene is one of its most attractive features. The year-long summer in Singapore has international students wakeboarding and windsurfing to their hearts’ content. Check out the East Coast Park, the most popular beach in Singapore, which boasts a nightlife that hums with exciting clubs and beach bars. If you seek cultural recreation, the art and music scene in Singapore will not fail you. Art galleries abound, and the National Museum of Singapore offers a glimpse of history and contemporary culture graced with fabulous events and festivals.