FAQs – Hardik Mehta

It’s been 12 days in Singapore, and I have been asked the preliminary questions by too many people. Hence the title, Frequently Asked Questions.

Q. How is the accommodation?
A. Very awesome. I’ve been given a bedroom (a little bigger than H13 rooms) in a 4 bedroom apartment, while the other 2 guys from IITB are living in dormitories, i.e. single rooms along the corridors. I am paying more too (I didn’t have a choice as mine wasn’t funded) and it’s better than the dorm actually. There is a living room, a kitchen area, and a bathroom+toilet among 4 people. The housing is more like a hotel than student housing; we live in a 25 storey building.

Q. But what does it look like?

Awesome, ain’t it?

Q. So who are the other guys in the apartment?
A. 3 of them. One is an Indian Origin, US born graduate student, studying law. He is here for one year on exchange. One is an Indian guy from Georgia Tech, USA; he tried for the IITs twice, didn’t get through, and went to the US. The 3rd is a Chinese origin guy who has lived in Singapore before and is now at Georgia Tech as well. So the flatmates are somewhat from a similar background as me, but yet culturally very different. It is an experience, to live with random people from random nations, having to put up with an accent even while in the apartment.

Marina Bay Sands

Q. How cool is Singapore?
A. This place is obsessed with technology – I acquired 5 different cards in the first week itself. I use card 1 to access my apartment building, my apartment, the laundry, common areas, and everything else inside my building. Card 2 is my student id card, which I can swipe to access various academic facilities inside the institute, like libraries, etc. I use card 3 to travel in buses, trains, and take printouts in the library and pay for food(yes, the same card). Card 4 is my student visa. Card 5 is an ATM card. I can’t survive here without any of them.
Air Conditioning is everywhere. Too ‘cool’ public transport, no traffic issues. The taxis are all Honda-City(s), and they get you to your destination faster than trains (when traffic is low). Everyone here has an Iphone-4 and an Ipad each. You can catch full network in the underground metro as well.

Q. How is Singapore, culturally?
A. This is the most culturally messed up place I have seen(yes, despite being form India, this is something you will notice. Indian cultures seem very closely related compared to the ones you see here). So you travel in a train, and four consecutive stations have announcements in 4 different languages (With English, of course). The different cultures in Singapore are also extremely different – Tamils, Chinese, Malays and Westerners. But the amount of mutual respect between cultures just bowls you over, which is the key reason why such different populations don’t just coexist, but live in harmony, with something of a national identity – something a city-state the size of Mumbai cannot easily boast of.

Exchange students at NUS

Q. How many people did you meet?

A. The point of the exchange program is to meet different people from different backgrounds. What surprised me was the diversity in the culture of all the students; I met a Muslim guy from Germany, whose mother was Malay (a race from Malaysia) and father was originally from India (with a Gujarati connection!)

There is no native accent in Singapore. And when you are on exchange, you meet people from 50 different countries. So you don’t know what accent to pick up. But you still need to put on an accent, to make conversation easy. So I’ll develop a very random accent by the end of 4 months. Japanese and Chinese people are the most difficult to understand, and Europeans have the most difficulty understanding us. Till now I’ve traveled with people from Philippines, US, Korea, Holland, UK, China, Ukraine, Belgium, Canada, Poland; and it is great fun. And it is insane when you talk to a foreigner on the phone. Since you can’t even attempt to lip-read them, the conversations are hilarious.
But after Americans and Canadians, Indians speak better English, grammatically, than most other nationalities here. When you talk to a Korean/Japanese, they’ll have their dictionary on their Iphone open while they speak to you. If they can’t find a word, they’ll quickly use the dictionary and complete the sentence (some of which are very common words).

Q. What were the new things that I did?
A. There are many firsts – cooking for yourself (not full time, but occasionally), doing laundry (automatic washing machines are confusing to operate), buying grocery, new bank account; you get to do all the things that you would do if you were taking admission into a university, with all the university registration processes involved. It is also, partly, like being a freshie again, with so many orientations to attend 😉  It can be overwhelming at first, culturally and academically. But once you cope up, it’s cool.

My next post will talk a bit about academics and the campus, since classes just started.