International Students Share: Living and Studying in Singapore

In our many articles about residential life, we have seen how living and studying on campus could bring about a myriad of interesting experiences. In NUS, there are more than 80 nationalities of students living on campus. For international students, their lives on campus are ever worth exploring – arriving at a new country, adapting to a foreign environment, and living there for an extended period of time must not come easy. How do they do it then? Curious about their stories, we have invited four international students who come from vastly different backgrounds to share about their respective journeys in coming to study in Singapore. Read on, and join us in getting to know them better!


Michael Gonathan

Hi everyone! I’m Michael, a Y1 studying Chemical Engineering, and I currently reside at PGPH (Pioneer House). 

Before coming to Singapore, I spent my schooling years in Indonesia. I had only recently arrived in Singapore around 28th July, right before the semester started!

Personally, I chose to come to Singapore because I was awarded a scholarship, and I felt that Singapore was an overall better option in terms of education, safety, and job prospects.

While I would say that I’ve adapted fairly well in terms of lifestyle, I admit that I’m still struggling to adjust to the academic rigour of NUS. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, oftentimes testing the limits of your capabilities.  In my opinion, this is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it shapes you to become a smarter and more disciplined student; but at the same time, high levels of stress come with it. It has taken a toll on my mental health, and I’ve felt it worsen in the recent period of deadlines and exams.

Michael in the midst of doing an assignment for the general design module, DTK1234

While life on campus can get lonely, I feel that taking the initiative to hang out with friends can help alleviate this feeling. As such, I sometimes destress through playing games with my friends! If I have more time to spare, I would enjoy a solo casual walk around Singapore as well. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to spend some solo time outdoors! 

My advice for international students, and for local students as well, is this: If you feel like you’re the most lacking person in the room or cohort – do not fret, for you’re not alone. Although competition may be fierce, always look for the silver lining. While others may be better in some aspects, you have something to offer too. Instead of feeling discouraged, seek out learning points from those who are performing well, in areas that you find yourself struggling with. With this mindset, you can grow to be a better and happier person!


Advaith Karthikeyan

Hello! I’m Advaith, a Y1 Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) student staying in Cinnamon College, under NUS College (NUSC). 

I’m from South India, more specifically, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. For me, NUS and Singapore just made the most sense out of all the other options I was considering. There were plenty of reasons for why this was the case.

Firstly, I felt enticed by the promise of a high standard of education that would come with a top-rated university like NUS. Secondly, Singapore’s proximity to home meant that I can pop in and out of India with ease. Thirdly, I know that Singapore is an economic hub for various sectors and industries. It is a very “happening” place, which I looked forward to living in. I was also keen on gaining greater exposure to the melting pot of Asian culture, which the multicultural society of Singapore would offer. At the same time, Singapore is known as a generally safe country, which provided me with great assurance. Furthermore, I found it useful that Singapore’s weather is similar to India, for I would have little trouble adjusting! Last but not least, I liked that things would be generally accessible in Singapore. Apart from these apparent merits, one of the top motivating factors was the scholarship that I received!

I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t hard for me to adjust to life in Singapore. I faced a lot of difficulties when I first landed here, and I still encounter a variety of challenges, even after three months of being here. 

Singlish has been the bane of my existence. Its distinct staccato and colloquial idioms are hard to master, causing me to constantly have issues with understanding a lot of what people say to me. While they are usually happy to repeat anything that I might not have understood, it does eventually get tedious for them (and for me) after a certain point. 

Another problem I have faced is the lack of vegetarian food options on campus. While they definitely exist, they usually aren’t great when compared to the non-vegetarian ones! I would even go as far as saying that Singapore is still not very vegetarian-friendly – I can back this claim up with the fact that I know a lot of vegetarian students who ate exclusively at Subway for all of their meals during the start of the semester, especially since they were unaware about the vegetarian stalls/restaurants available on/off campus. 

I find that, while it is hard for students to adapt to cultures that they hadn’t previously experienced, it is important to keep an open-mind. It is really important to be culturally fluid. 

As time passed, I have grown more accustomed to the quirky and peculiar differences, with a lot of effort!  Through experiencing and dealing with all of the cultural differences, I grew to be a more open-minded person – a global citizen, if you will, just by being here. Being able to appreciate various ideologies and perspectives has influenced my way of thinking. Hence, I feel that coming to Singapore has truly been a transformative experience!

Staying on campus allowed me to experience everything that NUS has to offer, both big and small. It has checked off many boxes in my ideal college experience: from getting a better sense of campus life by engaging with the NUS community on a daily basis, forming close bonds with peers, to widening my skill set through the firehose of opportunities available here. 

Apart from the ones I had previously mentioned, there are plenty more perks to staying on campus as well, and I would like to share some of them. 

Having access to everything that I could potentially need on campus (libraries, supermarkets, food courts, labs, sports facilities, etc.) has made my life a lot easier than expected, and it has helped me settle down much quicker. Furthermore, the close proximity to all of my classes meant that I did not have to wake up early to commute (just have to get that extra 10 minutes of sleep). 

Living in a residential college (RC), I have never felt lonely. I am always surrounded by interesting people doing interesting things! This really did help with initial homesickness.

Advaith with his RC friends at Homecoming Night

Ultimately, staying on campus is truly a great experience that I recommend for everyone, no matter what goals you want to achieve during your time at NUS. 


Abel Chin

Hey everyone, I’m Abel Chin, a Y1 Computer Engineering student staying in Cinnamon College, under NUSC!

I’m from Malaysia, studying there up until my third year of Secondary School. I arrived in Singapore towards the end of 2017. At that time, I was trying to decide between the United States (U.S.) and Singapore for my Upper Secondary studies. I soon received an ASEAN Scholarship offer from the Ministry of Education in Singapore, before I had the chance to complete my applications for any U.S. High Schools. There was a tight timeline for acceptance of the offer, and I eventually decided to accept it. But I didn’t mind, as Singapore is known for being a really safe country, and that was a priority factor in my decision-making. Thereafter, I began my life in Singapore. 

Personally, adjusting to SG as an international student was easy for me – Malaysia and Singapore have many cultural similarities!

However, education-wise, it’s more rigorous in SG. Academic grading is stringent, and the curriculum pushes you to achieve a firm grounding in the subjects you study. Furthermore, the content can get highly overwhelming, causing life as a student to be rather stressful. There is a whirlwind of deadlines to work towards, and work to catch up on. As such, I have pulled an all-nighter virtually every week or so, and assignments just keep piling up. Yet, I think that we should give credit to the faculty for being supportive and committed to pushing us to grasp each module’s content well. I think of the high workload as a holistic package for us to filter and adapt to, according to our own progress and study needs. My advice is, don’t push yourself too hard if you can’t complete that one question; just try your best in everything you do. Nevertheless, I really appreciate such academic rigour as it helped me develop a keen interest in the subjects taught, even shaping my overall character and mindset to become more adaptable to future stressful environments!

Abel (bottom left) and his Understanding the Social World class at NUSC

Currently, life is great. I am leading a fulfilling life at University, exploring knowledge areas that I’m interested in, and pursuing my hobbies at my desired place of study. I am a fingerstyle guitarist, and am part of NUS Fingerstyle – a CCA under the Cultural Activities Club. We play the guitar as if it’s a band on its own, combining various elements such as melody, accompaniment, percussion, and bass, all at once. I also frequent the gym at UTown, or go for runs on campus!

Abel (bottom, second from the right) at the Fingerstyle CCA Showcase

Over time, I’ve changed a fair bit; that’s for sure. Being thrust into a foreign environment as a teenager, I have been exposed to multiple challenges with regards to social interactions, self-care, and simply making life decisions. For instance, I used to be rather ‘kiasu’ (a fear-of-losing-out attitude), and arrogant towards my peers. However, my time here has truly been a humbling experience. I have gradually, and subtly, stripped away my arrogant persona, and have learnt to be more personable.

I would definitely recommend international students to come to Singapore. Firstly, it is safe – don’t underestimate how much of a relief it can be, knowing that you can go for a run late at night and it is completely safe to do so. I can also go to public places without getting ostracised. This is because Singapore is very welcoming towards foreigners – as a Malaysian, I could blend into the Singaporean society with even greater ease. Secondly, the education is world-class, if what you seek is a certain level of prestige. Singaporean universities, notably NUS and NTU (Nanyang Technological University), have done increasingly well in the world University rankings. Apart from that, University life is also fulfilling and wholesome. At NUS, there are a host of events, programmes, clubs, and so on. I’m confident that you’ll find something that interests you, and that you’ll get to meet like-minded people! 


Cee Lee

Hi, my name is Cee and I’m a Y1 Life Science major living in Cinnamon College! I’m from Kuala Lumpur, and only came to Singapore to study in NUS. Prior to coming here, I have lived all my life in Malaysia, and have studied there since kindergarten. 

Living and studying abroad has always been a dream of mine. Everyone around me knew that I was bound to leave home to further my studies. Besides the fact that Singapore is so conveniently near home, it is also a country that provides notably good welfare to students, as well as generous scholarships – this was the final deciding factor for me to come to Singapore alone. Learning to be independent was very tough for me in the beginning. To be fair, it is tough living away from home, no matter where you are. Considering the fact that Malaysia and Singapore have similar cultures, my struggle as an international student might already not be the most unbearable one out there. 

The most prominent instances when I felt especially like an international student, and had a hard time being alone in this new country, was at the beginning of the semester. While everyone was busy making friends, picking modules, and choosing what CCAs to join, I was busy sorting out my student visa, figuring out my SIM card situation, getting used to the currency, and growing to be independent; while others were enhancing and kick-starting their university life, I was still stuck figuring out the basics, building the foundation for me to live in Singapore, focusing on survival more than anything.

It has been almost four months since my parents first dropped me off at the entrance of Cinnamon College, and to sum it up, the semester has been amazing. I love how living on campus with your friends forces you to interact with your peers and learn to live communally, in the best way possible. As a social creature, I really, truly love the fact that my friends are just an elevator ride away. As someone who left their comfort zone and comfort-people, being constantly surrounded by humans with good vibes and wholesome energy really compensates for the discomfort of distance, and the loneliness of living independently. Life on campus has been amazing to me – the people I’ve met; the events I’ve attended; the sports I’ve played; the connections I’ve built; the memories I’ve created; the conversations I’ve engaged in; the places I’ve visited; the food I’ve tried; the days I’ve lived; the midnights I’ve stayed up; the heart-to-heart-talks I’ve initiated; the growth I’ve achieved; the lessons I’ve learnt – the list is endless, but one obvious thing is that: I love it here.

The view from Cee’s little dorm room 

I have little to complain about, but let’s be real – constantly being surrounded by your peers also means that you’re constantly being surrounded by intelligent, amazing, and talented people. Oftentimes, you feel pressured by their presence, or you might experience peer pressure. Being away from home, I have no escape from this feeling. Unlike local students who may be able to escape school by going home on the weekends, I am stuck in my little room, which I call my home, away from home. I have absolutely zero escape, physically. Days where I struggle with peer pressure or homesickness, I dread being here. I want to go home. I struggled with living in Cinnamon College the most when I contracted Covid-19 – I experienced hands down one of the worst episodes of homesickness, and struggled strongly with the I-want-to-get-out-of-here feeling. I cried so many times in the isolation suite due to my reality of being sick, being away from family, and not being able to see my friends, my support system, for a whole week, all in addition to my Covid-19 symptoms. It was honestly very depressing. Nonetheless, those were days that I pushed through and here I am, happier than ever, grateful for the life I get to live on campus.

Through these stories, we hope that you have gained insight into the experiences of fellow international students living on campus.  Moving to a foreign place to live and study is an arduous process for anyone.  Having to adapt to cultural differences and a pressure-cooker academic environment on top of it, can push us to our very limits.  Hence, let us endeavour to look out for one another, no matter where we come from, and embrace each other wholeheartedly in our communities and culture, and into our social fabric. As this article has evidenced, everyone has a rich life story to tell, if you let them.

If you have any stories about your friendships with international students, or if you have a story to share as an international student yourself, do post them on Instagram and tag us @nusresidentiallife, we would love to hear it. You might be our next feature!


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