Are you a freshman or foreign student still grapping with the extremely hectic NUS life? Are you already feeling overwhelmed by the insane load of assignments, essays and presentations—on top of your lectures and tutorials? And do you feel like you’re lagging behind everyone else? Have no fear, the one who’s survived it all is here!
As an exchange or international student still settling in, having to get used to the “academically rigorous” curriculum isn’t easy (Singaporeans are famed for their stressful education system after all). And if you’re an ex-poly kid or from a “non-elite” JC, your transition to uni is probably tough on you. You might even be (un)lucky enough to have forgotten how to study study, as you’re sort of expected to now that you’re an official NUS student. One year ago I was exactly in your position: I had graduated from a poly course that only required me to take one exam throughout my three years there. I was absolutely clueless about everything—from deciphering the acronyms of SEP, CORS, RBR, etc., to finding my way around campus. I wish someone had given me the following tips—learnt the hard way—so I wouldn’t have to undergo the ensuing mini-breakdowns that semester. So here I am, telling my past self and all you future selves what you ought to know lest you become an emotional wreck like yours truly in the extremely foreseeable future.
1) MAKE FRIENDS (OBVIOUSLY.)
Hopefully this is something that you’ve done already. But if you haven’t yet, do. And if you have, continue to do so! You’ve heard our much older friends reminisce about how they met their best friend/lover/you-name-it in their university days. And it’s a very real possibility that you’ll meet someone too. Just think about it: your future best friend or partner might be sitting next to you in your next lecture but you didn’t have the guts to talk to him/her! Do you want your future self to regret it?! I didn’t think so. If talking to people is a challenge for you, well, I’m afraid to say you’ve got to force yourself to, in any case. (A Chinese proverb about chopping your gangrenous toe off now in order to save your whole limb later is apt here.) It’s a pity that once people have one or two friends they stick to one another without venturing out of their comfort zone again. Imagine how many people they could’ve met had they made the effort. While you may feel comfortable just getting to know a handful of people, don’t stop there. Don’t be afraid to approach people especially if they’re alone, because chances are they’re hoping to befriend someone too. Be it in lectures, tutorials, CCAs, hall or residence, your future selves’ friends are all there. Get to know people, because that’s how friendships develop. And for foreign students, making local friends will not only be valuable in helping adjust you to your new surroundings, they can expose you to new cultures, makan (eating) places and sightseeing secrets around Singapore. Don’t be tempted to stick to the people you first came with—the hallmark of traveling to a new country is meeting new people.
2) DON’T OVERREAD YOUR READINGS
This is especially true for FASS students. Yes, there are a lot of readings. If I can italicize italics a hundredfold in order to emphasize how many ‘a lot’ is, I would. I’ve probably read more words in one semester than the past three years of my life. Unfortunately, NUS hasn’t really forgone rote-based learning so you’ll have to get out your highlighters à la secondary school/JC. But don’t go crazy with those multicolours yet! While you are going to have a lot of readings, not everything in them is important. The key is to draw out the key points your professor is trying to get through to you. The PowerPoint slides they use are essential as a general condensation of your week’s readings. So before lectures, scan through your readings, and during your revision you can sieve out what’s useful. Then again, I’m told most students don’t even bother with the readings. My business student brother took a political science module, which he only started reading the modules for during reading week (the week before exams). In the end, he got a B. It’s your call! Play around with what works for you.
3) BREATHE. YOU CAN DO THIS!
In my first month or two (OK, three), I was having some serious panic attacks. I was staying alone in hall, I hadn’t made that many friends and I didn’t know how to prepare for my modules. Basically I wasn’t following the advice I’m giving you now, and it was an awful time for me. But I came out of it stronger and smarter, and you will too! Don’t panic over your perceived inferiority to the throngs of students who seem a lot more well-adjusted or well-read, because you ought to know this: you’re on equal ground with them. Ignore what the educational culture and societal norms have pounded into you all these years. NUS has accepted you based on the same grounds and merit as all the rest, and where you came makes no difference at all. You’re by no means disadvantaged. So remember to relax. Education is not about competition but about learning. It’s about broadening your horizons, gaining new perspectives and insights, and developing certain convictions that mould you into a better person. It’s about coming out of it in three to four years, boasting not that “I beat the rest and did better than all my friends,” but about knowing that you graduated as a more mature, well-rounded and enlightened person as you were before. Trust me, I’d know. I survived an entire year, didn’t I?