Anteater Abroad in Singapore

When I first told people I was going to study abroad in Singapore, most people laughed. It’s not the typical choice. Many of my friends were going to Europe. It ended up being the perfect place to live for a semester and the best experience of my life.

While all my friends studying in Europe were traveling together, I was on my own, the only UC Irvine student going to Singapore. I was so nervous about leaving my comfortable little bubble and I had never even been to Asia.

Singapore is really different, but it’s really Westernized too. Everything’s high-tech and shiny. Singapore is infamous for being clean and having really strict laws about everything. There’s a rumor that chewing gum is illegal in Singapore. It’s not, but selling it, buying it or spitting it out on the street is. So people have to smuggle it in.

Singapore’s culture is extremely strict and socially conservative. Ironically, their Wednesday night traditions at the clubs said otherwise with an unlimited free alcohol supply for girls. I have no doubt that all the best Wednesdays of my life were in Singapore.

I instantly made friends with American and Canadian foreign students and learned how completely different the Europeans and the Asians were from us — a good different. My favorite time in Singapore was always 5 a.m. when it wasn’t too hot and we could sneak onto the roof of a skyscraper and talk about life.

School was really different in Singapore too. All the students were really competitive for grades and each class always assigned a huge group project. Group projects were awesome because I got to hang out with locals, but they also sucked. A lot. Compared to Singaporeans, I am the laziest person on earth. All my classmates wanted to  do was meet for hours every single week, just to plan and reread the assignment. They all seemed so much smarter than me. And it’s not that Singaporeans don’t have a sense of humor, but when working on schoolwork, my jokes sometimes would go right over their heads. They were so serious. They were really nice though and were always interested to hear about the U.S.

I got to travel all around Southeast Asia, and so many of the places I went to were so different from Singapore.

One of the reasons I picked Singapore was because it’s near Thailand, and my dad had lived there for 10 years. Visiting Thailand was the most surreal thing ever. All the Thai ornamental things my dad has around the house were everywhere in Bangkok, and I finally understood why my dad was so critical of Thai restaurants in the U.S. that weren’t “authentic” enough. Thailand is so beautiful. I will never forget snorkeling in Thailand, or crashing a motor bike on this tiny island right after witnessing the most beautiful beach sunset of my life.

Every place I went was a bit different. Indonesia had some of the friendliest people I have ever met with the combination of some of the sketchiest little streets. I climbed a mountain in Bali and kayaked through caves in Vietnam. I got lost for hours in Hong Kong in a random industrial neighborhood, and I did karaoke in Malaysia for eight hours straight.

Coming back to Singapore after traveling always felt nice. Singapore is one of the safest and cleanest places in the world, and everything about it felt very comfortable, though I never felt completely clean.

Southeast Asia has a tropical, humid climate that takes some getting used to. Even when you step out of the shower, you feel sticky and sweaty almost instantly. At times, there’s a thunderstorm every single day just for an hour, and it’s always unpredictable so you have to be ready to run through the warm rain. Singapore has great rain forests to hike through as well.

Coming home was bittersweet. I was eager to get back into the swing of things and I was craving a California burrito with all my heart. But it wasn’t long after being back that I really started to miss it. I had a good group of friends there and a routine. Leaving Singapore felt like leaving home in the same way that leaving Irvine did.