Student experience - Mikayla Schwarz
Mikayla Schwarz is currently studying her final semester of a Bachelor of Science (Wildlife Conservation Biology). Mikayla recently completed an exchange to the National University of Singapore, and in this article tells us about campus life and what she took away from her experience.
What drove you to apply for an overseas program?
I recently went on a study tour with the University of Adelaide and that further drove me to apply for a semester abroad. I wanted to experience a new culture and learn about science in another country.
Have you travelled before?
Yes, I highly enjoy travelling for academic purposes. I have participated in a high school exchange to Germany, an intensive language school in Germany in my university holidays, and a study tour in Germany and France.
Compared to my past travel experiences, the staff at Study Overseas provided helpful advice and assistance when organising my study overseas experience. If I was ever in doubt, Study Overseas was always ready to assist. Especially doing the COVID-19 situation while in Singapore, I was receiving helpful information to ensure that I was taking the right steps.
What did you like about your overseas study destination?
I was surprised that many students did not walk long distances around campus. This is because it is so hot in Singapore, so the free air-conditioned buses are the more popular option by far. University is taken very seriously and competitively in Singapore, which was another surprise. They also have the bell curve grading system which I was not used to.
There were many things I loved about the National University of Singapore (NUS). There were a variety of food options (around six food courts!) in close proximity from my accommodation. Although the university has a very large campus, it was always very easy to get around with the campus buses. The study areas and libraries were very pleasant to study in. In the accommodation where I stayed called U-Town, there was even an infinity swimming pool for students to use. This was always my go-to after my lectures.
NUS was different from the University of Adelaide because most students ate food in the food court areas, rather than bringing your own. The free campus buses were the biggest difference to Adelaide in my opinion.
How did you find navigating day-to-day life in your host country?
Finding classes in the first week was quite tough because NUS has such a large campus! I was the only international student in my classes so I was able to make local friends quite quickly who were able to help me navigate my way around.
Singapore’s public transport is amazing and getting around the city was very simple and easy to navigate. The best modes of transportation were the MRT train services, buses, and Grab (similar to our Uber).
Is there anything you struggled with while settling in to your overseas experience?
Since I was a victim of the Cudlee Creek bushfires in late 2019, I found it quite tough adjusting to life in Singapore during a traumatic time for my family and community because I flew to Singapore one week afterwards. However this is more of a personal issue that happened.
From previous overseas experiences I have become adjusted to settling into new environments, so I was mostly okay. However it was my first time in Asia so that in itself was quite the culture shock!
Did you notice any changes in yourself since completing your overseas experience?
My study overseas experience in Singapore has shaped me as a global citizen and has resulted in me having a new appreciation for Asia and its culture. I certainly have become more open-minded and adventurous to even take my future career to Asia once I graduate. I am naturally a curious and adventurous person, however my study overseas experience in Singapore has taken this to the next level! My studies in Singapore have certainly enhanced my critical thinking skills, which is highly valuable in the science field.
Were you a member of any clubs at your host university?
I was excited to join a foundation committee for a Women in STEM group at The National University of Singapore, since the university did not yet have a club like this. Part of our preparation involved meetings with both undergraduate and graduate students as well as researchers to bring forward the proposal to other university authorities. Unfortunately further activities for the committee have been postponed due to COVID-19.
Tell us your thoughts on the benefits of completing an overseas program to your destination.
I would highly recommend studying in Asia, particularly Singapore, to anyone. Australia and Singapore have a close relationship both economically and culturally, and I believe that having done a study abroad experience in Singapore will look very appealing to my future employers upon my graduation. I am very grateful to have received an Endeavour Leadership Program Cheung Kong Exchange Scholarship as well as a grant from my local Rotary club which assisted with costs and allowed me to experience Singapore to the full potential.
What is your aspiring career path?
I plan to take my career internationally as an environmental scientist and humanitarian. My study overseas experience has inspired me to do a masters degree overseas once I graduate from The University of Adelaide.
Since I am in the field of environmental science, doing a semester abroad in Singapore has allowed me to gain knowledge in the tropical regions field, which is a whole new ball game to the desert/dry forest knowledge I have here from Adelaide. Many of my lecturers in Singapore have done post-doctoral studies in Australia, so it was nice to make connections as an Australian. In the future, I would like to take my career to Singapore and I believe that having done my semester abroad there will help me achieve this goal.
What do you want to accomplish in the next six months?
I am in my final semester of university here in Adelaide so that is my main focus for the next few months. I am currently taking an extra-curricular advanced German class where I plan to take an exam to obtain a certificate of my level at the end of this year. I am beginning Spanish and just received a Professional Certificate in Basic Spanish from the University of Valencia. I am highly involved in various community groups so a big focus is being part of the bushfire recovery community events team to make plans for end of year activities.
Where would you like to visit next?
I was planning to visit more of Asia after my exchange, including South Korea and Japan. However due to COVID-19 this could not go ahead. My next destination at this point in time will be Germany for postgraduate studies towards the end of next year.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you had known before undertaking your exchange?
Be open-minded to everything! Just because you eat certain foods in Australia does not mean you should limit yourself. Try everything you feel comfortable with-even if that is Singapore’s chilli crab- and you will surprise yourself!