• Janie Chiu

COVID-19: My Study Abroad Experience

A small diary of my experience studying abroad in Singapore during the beginning times of Covid-19, how I coped, the precautions I took when travelling around the country and Southeast Asia, and the overall experience school experience.


Pre-departure


I travelled from YVR to Singapore Changi Airport and arrived on New Year's Day. The entire semester prior to actually being in Singapore, I was stressed because there was a lot of communication discrepancies and delays that got me very anxious as I got closer to flying out. At one point I had no idea where I was going to live in Singapore because the dorms I wanted was already taken. For someone who likes to have things figured out, I DID NOT HAVE IT FIGURED OUT! Also, a day before my departure I had a fever, probably from lack of sleep during the exam period and then having to pack and travel, so I went to the hospital for a shot and to do some check-ups to make sure I was well enough to depart.


Adjusting to a New Environment


“This is a new environment and I will have fun exploring the it.”

I was lucky to find a really nice and convenient living space called Lyf. It is a modern and chic co-living space at a mall nearby my university and right in downtown as well. It was perfect for millennials who are here for a short period because they had weekly gatherings and the interior was so creative and beautiful.


Singapore was hot, like I mean scorching hot, all year round. I don't even know why I was shocked because it was expected, but still when I arrived, I was shocked because every time I walked outside, within five minutes, I was soaked. But hey, I would rather sweat 24/7 than be stuck in Toronto winters.

Lyf-Ascott-Co-living-Singapore-Southeast-Asia
Lyf by Ascott is a modern co-living space in Funan Mall, situated in the heart of downtown Singapore perfect for millennials with unique facilities and a cozy home-style housing interior

The start of school was nerve-wracking. On one hand I was so excited to be here and explore but on the other hand, so much anxiety was boiling inside because I felt like I was entering my first year of university again, you know, the whole meeting new classmates, navigating through new buildings again, but this time, with an added twist, learning all of that in a whole new culture. I took some program prerequisites, because it was pass or fail (I suggest you do that too if you know you have upcoming tough courses!). However, if you really want to relax, take all elective courses.


As someone who hates change but cannot settle in one place (I know a living oxymoron), I had no idea what to expect in terms of studying in Asia. It's the most awkward thing going into a class not knowing anyone. There were classes where I was the only exchange student and then classes that were full of exchange students. I think the biggest thing that calmed my nerves and made me really enjoy studying in Singapore was the pass or fail for courses during the exchange. Most likely because throughout university I always placed a great amount of pressure on myself to do well and to work extra hard because I knew I wasn't built for business courses and I never really had a break during my studies (my U of T friends can relate to) because I went to school every semester. So this was truly a "break" for me. Class and learning was actually so enjoyable because classes were small, the professors tried really hard to make sure you understood the content and they were just so nice.


Then Covid-19 Hit...

I always knew that Covid-19 was growing in China and other Asian countries so I kept tabs on the number of cases. I got a bit paranoid during January and February because that was when cases were most increasing exponentially in Asia. Even one of my university's housing buildings were used as a quarantine location. I kept sanitizing my hands and wore a mask everywhere even though it was mostly me, I knew I had to be safe because I was one of the more likely to catch the virus due to my pre-existing health conditions. Even when people thought I was being too careful with the mask, I just ignored it because I'd rather be safe whenever I can, than be vulnerable by choice. I wasn't too scared though, because Singapore was doing a phenomenal job in tracking down cases and making sure people quarantined and isolated. However, hearing about different tourist attractions being affected got me nervous and upset because I was also a tourist trying to visit these places but had to avoid it until it was clear. Regardless of the situation, I still managed travel to really amazing local destinations and explored the city as much as I can because coming here for exchange is a one time experience, I couldn't just waste it being scared.


There were definitely moments of anxiety during my time here because I was alone and lived away from my other friends who were staying at other dorms. I think the pandemic added more to my anxiety because I had to keep myself physically healthy and mentally healthy in order to boost my immune system.


Singapore - Where History meets Contemporary


Singapore is a small country. Like I mean it is only takes about 45 minutes for you to travel from east to west. It's small but full of wonders. I will never ever stop telling my friends how beautiful and amazing this country is. I know maybe many locals will object and tell me otherwise, but I truly believe this country is inspiring. The idea of mixing modern with history doesn't seem to work, but Singapore proves you wrong. If you walk by any street you will notice how wonderfully the old restored buildings look standing beside a contemporary tall residential area. There are Hawker stands beside 4-star hotels, run down buildings beside state-of-the-art office buildings. Seriously, it works! I was thankful for the heat and how close each destination was because walking and exploring became my favourite form of exercise.


I picked a lot of unique cafés, different Hawker stands, parks and hipster streets to explore because these are places you could never find elsewhere and it felt the most Singaporean. Haji Lane and Clarke Quay was my absolute favourite destinations to eat, drink and shop at because there were live bands at night time where the old and young gathered and spent their nights. It was incredible to see the way night life differed so much from the one I was used to. However, I must say, alcohol here is EXTREMELY. OVERPRICED! This was probably the most shocking thing to me, coming to Singapore. I always expected drinks to be inexpensive in Asia because I was used to seeing $1 sojus in Korea and really cheap drinks in Hong Kong. I can't believe Singaporeans have to pay more than $15 for a cocktail and beer. I thought Canadian drinks were expensive, but Singapore wins. On top of that, being a guy and going clubbing is a very big disadvantage because you not only have to pay a large entrance fee, you pay for the expensive drinks too.


Want to know where to visit the best restaurants and Hawker stands are in Singapore? Click here.


Travelling + Covid-19 = PARANOID

What was it like travelling amidst a global pandemic? Honestly, some of my other friends braved it out more than I did and went to so many more destinations and I was absolutely impressed. I guess I took extra precautions because I just felt that it was better to be safe than sorry because even though going on exchange is a once in a lifetime opportunity, there will always be another opportunity to travel even if not now. I followed the news very closely in the travel destinations I was going to visit and made sure there wouldn't be any issues entering and leaving both Singapore and the destination due to heightened travel restrictions.During the flight were were those people who wiped down the seats and wore face masks the whole entire time. Luckily travelling within Asia is quite quick, none of the flights were more than 5 hours. I think that the tables have definitely turned - Asia had the highest number of cases and now that I am back home, North America has the most.


Although I had to cancel travelling plans, although my exchange term got cut short and I had to fly back to Canada a month early, this was definitely the most memorable experience of my life. I mean, really, how many of you can say you studied and travelled during the spike of a global pandemic? I had the privilege to meet so many new friends who were from Canada and Europe and I was able to relate to them a lot during our exchange experience and keep in touch even now. Then the local friends who I was so happy to meet because they made me feel so welcomed and loved. I didn't feel lonely at all at school. I literally keep saying I wish I was back in Singapore after returning to Canada for half a year.



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