File Photo: Two Malaysian students manning the booth at the NUSSU IRC’s International Students' Day.
17 September 2021
Culture difference, Singlish and homesickness are some of the challenges faced by International students. What does it feel like to be in a new environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic? First year international students give their experiences adapting to Singapore and NUS.
A Virtual Era of Learning
Being in a new environment amid the ongoing pandemic means that students need to be more adaptive and resilient in facing new challenges.
For some of the international students who are able to find accommodation in one of the housing options in NUS, they needed to serve their Stay-Home Notice (SHN) and Leave of Absence (LOA) upon arrival in Singapore.
In addition, as many of the lectures are being held online, some of them are finding it more difficult to meet new friends physically. Devansh Shah from India noted that it has been challenging for him to meet his course mates as most of his lectures are held online. However, he was grateful for the opportunity to meet his friends in Prince George’s Park Residences (PGPR) regularly. Evidently, residential communities play important roles in enriching the lives of international students who are staying in Singapore. Yu Peng, an international student from China says, “I am very grateful towards my peer mentors in my block, as they really help the freshmen to get familiar with the environment by having quite a few of online sharing sessions. They organised online events to allow us to socialise.”
International students look forward to connecting with peers outside of online classrooms doing sports or recreational activities
Ha Zhe Li, a Malaysian, expressed that she found it confusing to navigate around Singapore upon her arrival. She recalled, “In Malaysia, I mostly drove so I could rely on Waze. However, in Singapore, I have to get everywhere with public transport. I am a horrible navigator and thus get lost very easily.” Fortunately, with the help of her seniors, she was able to find her way around NUS. She added, “they showed me around and gave me directions whenever I got lost, not just in NUS but off-campus as well. I am immensely grateful toward all my seniors who had helped me acclimatise myself to life in NUS.’
For some who are still unable to travel to Singapore, the challenge has been to get to know Singapore from afar.
"Even though most activities have been made online, there are still some activities that require physical participation. Sometimes, I find it hard to believe that my university study has started, since it doesn't seem all that different when I'm sitting at home. I've also been yearning for change. On another note, I'm very grateful to everyone at NUS for doing their best to make things better for me, and others like me who are stuck overseas. My professors have been very understanding, and many seniors as well as my peers have helped me fit in and feel a part of NUS, even though I'm so far away,” noted Lavanya Mishra, who is currently attending online lessons from India.
Evidently, despite all the challenges, our international students are grateful for the support that they have received be it from their seniors, fellow friends and even teaching staffs in helping them get acclimatised to NUS and its culture.
Maximising the University Experience
While this is the second year in which COVID-19 has affected student life in NUS, international students are not allowing this to dampen their spirits in trying to maximise the university experience. Our international freshmen took this opportunity to join as many orientation programmes and student organisations to enrich their student lives. Some of the programmes that they participated in include freshmen orientation camps by their respective halls and faculties, Student Life Fair organised by NUS Student Union, OSA Live Show as well as iCARE week.
The OSA Live Show for Undergraduate International Freshmen and Exchange Students took place on 19 July
In the meantime, they have also joined various hall interest groups such as RV Café and RV Running Buddies as well as basketball, netball and football interest groups in their respective halls. For Devansh Shah, he has enrolled in the Study Buddy programme organised by NUS Community Service Club where he teaches secondary school students every Saturday. He also looks forward to joining a computing-related club in the future.
Through their participation in these programmes, international students were not only able to familiarise themselves with the NUS way of life, but also build bonds and friendships with other students in the same organization and interest groups. At a time like this, socialising and networking is more important than ever for them. As noted by Huang Hongyi, “Socialising is even more essential when all my lectures and tutorials are conducted online. I consider it as a mean to maintain mental health as well as a source of information about news in NUS, possible career pathways and academic advice.”
Chan Zhi Ying with two of her friends collecting shirts for their orientation programme