Students will find Singapore a modern city that is much cleaner and safer than most cities in the world. In fact, it may look a lot like home for many visitors from metropolitan cities in North America and Europe. However, new visitors and students to Singapore should not let appearances be deceiving. The appearances may lull students into assuming that people probably think just as they do. This is a mistake.
Singapore is an Asian city with many cultural differences. It is a combination of at least three ancient cultures: Chinese, Malay, and Indian. Important distinctions exist within each of these cultures. There are also many religions practiced in Singapore. The four official languages of Singapore are Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English.
English use is widespread and is considered the language that unites the various ethnic groups. Past students mention difficulty in trying to understand the unique pidgin version of English called Singlish - which uses a clipped form of English mixed with Malay and Hokkien words. It will take some time to get used to, but past students have enjoyed learning it.
Be patient and make friends with local students to help. Many school campuses are of international quality and standard. The Singaporean higher education is also continually evolving, and right now is transiting away from the traditional British education system model to a more U.S. centric model.
Within Singapore, the local schools and universities are highly regarded, and whilst many students are able to perform well and find achievement so long as they are willing and able, only the most qualified students are able to truly excel and perform well in the competitive but rewarding education system. Having excelled amongst the best, these students are also likely to continue their track record of success at an international level.
In Singapore secondary education is relatively demanding and structured. Students specialize in their majors earlier. Consequently, most students are well prepared and highly disciplined in their study habits, and many students are reading and performing well in subjects that are more advanced then that of their peer group in other countries.
Students in Singapore may not study much in the first few weeks of school, but most generally crank up the intensity later in the academic term. International students new to Singapore may not be used to studying with this kind of intensity.
New students should therefore begin their studies early and consistently and never be too complacent. International students must be realistic and not let the excitement of a new academic environment lure them into taking courses that are beyond their abilities. New international students need to remember that they are dealing with a different educational system that is highly demanding but at the same time recognizes hard work and achievement.
For new international students in Singapore to be totally integrated into the local student population, socially, academically, and culturally, it is important for that they make friends and participate in their school activities. Participation in sport and other socio-cultural activities are highly regarded, and the friendships that develop on the playing field spill into the academic work in the form of study groups. Students often travel in groups to other Asian countries between semesters or during academic holidays.
Many international students are also invited to homes of fellow students. Past students have been treated with great hospitality by local Singaporeans. However, it is fair to say that Singaporeans do not wear their friendship on their sleeves. Their generosity is reserved for close friends and families. It takes a little effort and time to break through the social barrier with local Singaporeans, but once you do, you are very likely to be greeted with incredible warmth and hospitality.