I think the thing you forget about study abroad is the ‘study’ bit… most exchangies are not working hard as their year is just pass/ fail but unfortunately mine counts. It does only contribute for 1/7th of my degree but it could be the difference between grades so I can’t afford to ignore the work. This means that my weeks are generally filled like any other uni student’s, I go to lecture, tutorials and study in the library for a few hours most days. The main entertainment in my week is the societies I joined.
It is so easy to stick to other exchange students and take solace in the fact you are both there for the same reason and experiencing similar things. However that blocks you out from the local students and the real culture! So, to overcome the block between exchange students and locals I joined a couple of the societies at uni and in both WSC (welfare services club) and Lifeguard Corps I am the token westerner.
Every weekend has to filled with entertainment to make up for being locked up doing work during the weeks, and after being in Malacca, Bintan and KL the past 3 weekends it was Singapore’s turn! I spent 2 days on Kusu Island, a 25 minute ferry south of Singapore from Marina South Pier as a volunteer lifeguard with the Lifeguard Corps!
When I say life guarding we spent most of the time helping all the “Aunties and Uncles” (a respectful way of referring to adults) off the ferry to the island so that they could visit the temples on Kusu (Tortoise Island) .Kusu is a beautiful little island with two beaches, a ferry jetty and temple which is visited annually in a Pilgrimage for the month of October. It is visited by hundreds of people during this pilgrimage who pray to the God of Prosperity and Goddess of Mercy for wealth and to bear sons. The sound of people chanting can be heard all over this tiny island and the smell of incense is never far away!
The legend of the island is that a tortoise turned itself into an island to save two drowning sailors, and so the island has a tortoise sanctuary and countless statues. But it is also beautiful and despite spending Saturday night sleeping outside on a concrete floor in just a sheet without a pillow, I had an awesome weekend with this bunch!
Being the only Caucasian all the visitors and ferry men were confused but also so friendly towards me! The visitors often asked if I would like to get on the ferry first, thinking that I was a tourist on holiday and one of the ferry men gave me a bag of pastries and asked if I was coming back next week. I’m constantly flattered by how kind everyone is towards me, even if they can’t quite understand why I would be volunteering and not on holiday.
So yet again another very lovely weekend with more great views and great people! The weekends are worth the hard work during the week and the opportunity to be part of the local community a little bit more gave me a priceless experience. Honestly if you are on exchange you shouldn’t forget about making yourself part of the university community to the fullest extent because you make some amazing friends and get a view of the country you wouldn’t have a chance at if you were a tourist!
Until next weekend.