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Friday, March 27, 2009

When the frog’s out of the well

Studying overseas

Letter from Lydea Gn Wei En

I refer to "Stress and the foreign student" (March 14-15).

As a Singaporean studying overseas, I am able to empathise with the challenges faced by international students in Singapore.

Many such students feel homesick, especially if the host country is vastly different from theirs. Imagine not having a familiar face by your side and having to adjust to the demands of a tertiary education.

The price of your favourite chicken rice is double that at home, and you may have to travel an hour to get it, only to find it tastes nothing like what you have in Singapore. Regardless of how much you may like other types of food, going for months without the comfort of local food can be depressing. The feeling of isolation is exacerbated if the locals do not speak a language you are fluent in.

Most students like me learn for the first time how to look after themselves when overseas.

Independence is a double-edged sword — it means being away from the watchful eyes of parents as well as being responsible for cooking, grocery shopping and budgeting, things we never had to worry about at home. The lack of parental supervision may sound like a dream, but it also means no one is there to stop us from going onto the wrong track.

One of the greatest joys for me as an international student in Australia is not only getting to know locals and their culture, but also other nationalities including Japanese and Pacific Islanders. It is an eye-opening experience but one does not have to study overseas for it. You can do so in Singapore by befriending an international student.

Having interacted with the local Australians, I also come to understand their point of view. Some of them do not know how to approach international students. A number have never travelled outside Australia and are afraid of offending us.

Cliques occur everywhere and are not limited to schools in Singapore. It takes a considerable amount of effort to get to know and develop relationships with others from different backgrounds. University life is hectic, which makes it unsurprising that many choose the easier path of hanging out with their own countrymen.

There is nothing wrong with that, as cultural preferences (for example, the pub culture in Australia is not my cup of tea) make it difficult for those of different backgrounds to develop close bonds. Assimilation and integration is a two-way process. Both local and foreign students have to be willing to broaden their horizons and have the eagerness to learn and accept each other's differences.

Being culturally exclusive is similar to being a frog in a well that refuses to accept the existence of a world beyond that well.


From TODAY, Voices
Friday, 27-March-2009