Q uality has come to be synonymous with a British education. Graduating from a UK university paves the way for students to create their own compelling narratives in a diverse and globalised world.
At the English-speaking centre of Europe, the UK boasts a melting pot of cultures, rich historical buildings and a range of activities to satisfy all manner of interests. Just ask Benjamin Ng, Aeronautical Engineering student from Imperial College London, and Nicole Chua, currently studying Medicine at the University of St Andrews. They share about the activities that have quenched their thirst for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and expose us to student life in the UK through their lenses.
First of all, why did you choose a UK education?
Benjamin Ng: The rigorous education system in the UK is very similar to that of Singapore. This assured me that the course of my undergraduate degree, if done in the UK, would be time well spent.
Imperial College is known for its expertise in the field of engineering and was a natural choice for me. Its location in central London was also a draw factor because it feels like being in the centre of UK – even though it’s gravitated to the south – and is the English capital of Europe. I also knew it didn’t take much to get used to living in a bustling city, having grown up in cosmopolitan Singapore.
Aeronautical Engineering student at Imperial College London, UK
Nicole Chua: I wanted the experience of living independently and studying abroad – things that a local university life would not be able to offer. Having studied in an international school, I was already familiar with the British education system and found it natural to begin my tertiary education in the UK. Furthermore, the UK is renowned for its universities, and even more so for its medical schools.
Academically, the University of St Andrews is consistently ranked as the best university in Scotland as well as the third oldest university in the UK. With its rich history dating back to 1413, it has unique traditions such as the undergraduate red gowns, academic families, Raisin Weekend, and the May Dip!
What do you do outside of class?
Benjamin: I have joined a hiking club. Being part of it has taken me to different scenic parts of the UK, such as Snowdonia and the Lake District. It also gives me the opportunity to explore a different side of nature, one that you’ll never get to see in tropical Singapore.
My Singaporean peers and I also organise steamboat dinners and potluck cook-outs regularly. This allows us to showcase our ‘signature’ Singaporean dishes and enjoy a familiar Singaporean meal as a community – full of chatter, laughter and Singlish. Cooking our own meals as opposed to eating out helps to ease our finances, and is a skill most students here take home with them!
Nicole: I have been part of the Singapore Society at St Andrews, and even served as President. At present, I am also the regional director for Scotland for the United Kingdom Singapore Students’ Council (UKSSC). It was especially gratifying to help new students integrate into the community. I am particularly proud of this inclusive community that allows us to share our culture with friends from around the world. For example, our Chinese New Year dinner had an especially large turnout of non-Singaporeans as members spread the word among friends!
I have also decided to try a new sport and joined my university’s competitive cheerleading team. Through cheerleading, I’ve been able to uncover new strengths within myself and meet the most amazing and fun people.
Medicine student at University of St. Andrews, UK
Share with us about some of the memorable episodes you have had in the UK.
Benjamin: Going to a pub and watching a Liverpool football match with fellow Liverpool supporters, all of whom are a hundred times more passionate than I am, was a really memorable experience. After all, football here is almost a way of life, and being able to enjoy the sport that I love with the locals is a great feeling. Watching a mass strike protest in Westminster was also an interesting experience because it is unlike anything you’d ever experience in Singapore!
Nicole: Living in Scotland during the Scottish referendum was very insightful. The intense and well-publicised campaigns provided a fantastic opportunity to learn about and experience the complexities of the issue first-hand. The referendum introduced me to the vibrant and colourful nature of British politics. The subsequent general election in 2015 as well as the media coverage on the upcoming UK’s EU Referendum have also been eye-opening!
What advice would you have for those who are considering to study in the UK?
Benjamin: If you are looking for a university system that is similar to Singapore, a study destination that is almost like a portal to the rest of Europe and a place with a relatively large Singaporean community, the UK is probably the best place to be in. Studying overseas is really unparalleled because it gives you the opportunity to live independently and meet people of other cultures.
Nicole: My advice would be to embrace the opportunity knowing that it is a rich, eye-opening and fulfilling experience. Studying abroad can be a daunting process, but organisations such as Singapore Societies, UKSSC, the British Council and the universities themselves help to ease the challenge of settling in. Aside from being home to many of the world’s foremost universities, the UK is an amazing country to live in and experience.
I would encourage stepping out of your comfort zone and not restrict your social circles to Singaporeans or those you’d instinctively cling on to. Your undergraduate journey is an opportunity to try new and exciting things, so take up a position in a society, try a new sport and make the best of your time abroad.