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About Singapore

Singapore, the small country with the illustrious name. Although Singapore might ring a bell with most, only a fraction of people would be able to pinpoint it on a map.  No surprise, because the city-state isn’t particularly big. But don’t let that deter you: it is one of the most culturally diverse, economically developed and most fascinating countries in the region!

Singapore had been part of the British Empire since 1813, when Thomas Stamford Raffles (whose name is ubiquitous in the streets downtown) set foot on the small island at the southmost point of the Malaysian peninsula. Together with Malaysia, its main economic hinterland, it declared independence in 1963, but two years later Singapore was expelled from Malaysia. Contrary to prior expectations, the city-state’s independence has yielded huge economic development over the past 50 years, making Singapore one of the richest countries in the world.

With its geographical ties to Malaysia, Chinese-migrant origin , British colonial history and high demand for foreign labor, Singapore is truly a melting pot of different cultures from all over the world. Singapore’s native population can be divided into three ethnicities: Chinese, Malay and Indian (primarily Tamil). In addition, there are about 1.5 million expats in Singapore from all corners of the world. Each group has contributed something to Singapore’s identity, making it the archetypal ‘bridge between East and West’ (if such dichotomies still mean anything).

Singapore possesses the biggest harbor in the region (together with Hong Kong) and is an important knowledge center and financial hub. Highly-skilled labor is therefore in demand and incomes are proportionate: after Qatar and Luxemburg, Singapore has the highest per-capita income in the world. Nevertheless, the migrant origin of the city has also left its marks, making Singapore’s streets a fascinating blend between luxury and labor. Besides information on working and studying in Singapore, this section of StudentOrient will give you information on how to make the most out of the unique opportunities Singapore has to offer. 

Being a country on the equator, Singapore knows only two seasons: warm and humid, and wet, warm and humid.  You’ll find an average temperature of about 30 degrees Celsius year round, with the occasional tropical rain in the wet season (September-February). The only reason to bring a sweater is the air-conditioning that you’ll find in every building; for the rest, flip-flops and shorts suffice (except for formal occasions, of course).

Interesting facts

  • Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world, especially for foreigners.
  • Singaporeans are very proud of the diverse origins and the zero-to-hero development of their country. Ask them about it and they’ll love to tell you more.
  • Singapore is widely known for its draconian punishments and fines. Laugh all you want about the ban on chewing gum (actually, you are only not allowed to sell chewing gum in Singapore), but do NOT carry drugs with you! Drug traffickers are executed without pardon.

Studying in Singapore

Because the nation’s wealth is wholly dependent on its labor force, and in particular the highly educated majority, the government of Singapore holds education in high esteem. The nation’s top universities are only accessible to the country’s best students. These are admitted after a stringent selection process that basically goes back to primary school. Combined with its roots in the competitive British system and the demanding Chinese work ethos, Singapore’s educational system is hard work. Do not let this deter you from studying in Singapore, though! The universities offer a great wealth (both literally and intellectually) of education, and there are plenty of opportunities for fascinating research available.

The educational system of Singapore is quite different from the Dutch system. Classes are set-up in a more hierarchical fashion, where the teacher lectures and students rarely interrupt but rather ask their questions after class. Nevertheless, teachers will find it interesting to receive your (constructive) input in class, provided it is given politely, understandingly and maybe a little less directly than you would have done in the Netherlands.

Contrary to the Netherlands, grades are assigned relative to the score of the whole class (‘grading to the curve’), so that by definition 10% of the students fail (and 10% gets an A). As a result, the Singaporean system is very competitive towards students aiming for the highest marks but remarkably lenient if you only aim for a passing grade. Also (and at the risk of making a rash generalization) students are expected to reproduce knowledge more compared to the Netherlands.

Singapore sports six universities, two of which are top-50 universities in the world. The biggest and most well known is the National University of Singapore (NUS), followed by Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The remaining four are (in decreasing size) Singapore Management University (SMU), SIM University, Singapore University of Technology and Design, and Singapore Institute of Technology. All classes are taught in English, although some traces of the local dialect, ‘Singlish’ (a mixture of English, Malay and various Chinese dialects) might be found in classrooms. All universities are very open towards foreign students. NUS, for instance, welcomes over 1000 exchange students and even more fulltime students per semester.

Practical matters

For a short-period stay, e.g. one or two semesters, your best option is to arrange an exchange together with you Dutch home university. For a fulltime program, it is best to apply directly to the university of your choice. You can find the undergraduate admission requirements for NUS, NTU and SMU below:

All courses are taught in English, one of the official languages of Singapore. The admission offices will require a sufficiently high TOEFL score for you to be considered admissible.

If you’re going on exchange, it is important to check whether your home university recognizes your credits. Also, foreign certificates may be treated differently. You can check this here

Working in Singapore

As in most countries in the world, the office culture in Singapore is different than in the Netherlands. Singaporean office culture resembles the Chinese in the sense that hierarchy is quite strict. It is seldom appreciated to directly criticize a coworker, let alone a superior. Tied into this is the loss of ‘face’: publicly jeopardizing someone’s integrity, resulting in (severe) humiliation. If you disagree with or need to convince someone, take the conversation behind closed doors. Furthermore, there is a strong tendency for group-centeredness. That is, group efforts are the primary way in which company goals are achieved, and putting your individual performance and wants first is not appreciated.

Finally, what makes Singaporean office culture unique is the presence of many different cultures on the work floor. To avoid culture shock, it is best to keep some rules of thumb in mind. Most ethnically Chinese coworkers will value respect of seniority, for instance when introducing people, and a respectful way of being addressed, such as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’. In general, the ethnically Malay you meet will be Muslims and will value their time for prayer while disapproving of close contact with the opposite sex or consumption of non-halal products in their company.

As a reference to the above, please consult this website.

Facts about Singapore

Population      5,567,301
Size    697 km²
Time zoneUTC+8
Language English, Mandarin
Tamil, Malay
GDP per capita  $62,400

This page is not updated anymore. To learn more about studying in Singapore and to search for study programmes in Asia, Europe and North America, visit BachelorsPortal, MastersPortal, PhDPortal or ScholarshipPortal.