Justine Lim Chia Qing
Recipient of NUSBSA Student Bursary Fund
Exchange University: Tilburg University, Netherlands
Exchange Period: Winter 2022
My name is Justine, and I'm currently in my third year (2023) at NUS Business School. I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Student Exchange Program at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
During my time in Tilburg, I stayed at the school accommodations, alongside 16 other exchange students who became my roommates on the same floor. It was a diverse and enriching experience as I made friends from various countries, including Brazil, the US, Australia, Mongolia, Slovakia, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and many more. We often gathered at the common cooking area for meals, chit-chats, and occasional floor meetings. Living with them allowed me to understand and appreciate the different ways of living across cultures. I even got to learn from them on how to cook one of the best Bolognese pasta in my life. The picture below shows all my floor mates posing with the pasta at our shared kitchen! I was not in the picture as I was the one taking the photo.
Among the fascinating discoveries during our shared living experience was the fact that some of my peers didn't remove their shoes before entering their bedrooms. It was a huge contrast to what I had grown up accustomed to. I had to explain to them that they must never wear their shoes into my room, while they insisted that I had to wear shoes into their rooms.
As part of the Netherlands' culture, we rented bicycles during our stay. It surprised us that the bicycles there didn't have hand brakes; instead, we had to back-pedal to brake. It took us just a 10-minute cycle to reach the university from our accommodations.
Attending classes in the Netherlands was a real eye-opener. Fortunately, the COVID situation had improved, so we could attend classes in person without masks. The class structure was similar to NUS, with lectures, labs, and tutorial sessions. The 1 hour and 45 minutes lectures with a 10-minute break in between proved to be an effective way to keep students engaged.
Living independently away from home made me realize how much I had taken for granted in Singapore. Certain conveniences, like 24-hour convenience stores, were not common in Europe. Shops often closed early, and some supermarkets even closed on Sundays. This meant that we had to plan our meals in advance, or we might end up with limited options, as I learned the hard way when I had to eat the instant noodles I brought from home.
Affordable healthcare was another aspect that struck me. In Singapore, accessing medical care is relatively easy, but in the Netherlands, we found that there was a shortage of doctors. A friend of mine had to endure a persistent cough for over two weeks because she couldn't find a doctor. Fortunately, we could purchase cough syrup from supermarkets, which helped her recover.
The transport system in the Netherlands, particularly the train intervals, was quite different from what I was used to in Singapore. Trains there came every 30 minutes, whereas in Singapore, they were available every 5 minutes. Missing a train in the Netherlands meant waiting in the cold winds for the next one.
One thing I dearly missed while abroad was my mom's home-cooked food. Despite my attempts to cook and save money on eating out, my culinary skills were no match for my mom's delicious dishes like ABC soup, chicken curry, and minced beef tofu. Those dishes would always make me drool with nostalgia.
Living and studying in a new environment was an eye-opening experience for me. The lifestyle in the Netherlands was much more laid-back and less sedentary than what I was accustomed to in Singapore. Locals often spent time chilling at restaurants, reading books, or simply enjoying the beautiful scenery. In contrast, I noticed that in Singapore, people were usually caught up in their thoughts and rushed through their meals.
The Dutch culture's strong focus on environmental care was inspiring. They used recycle bags instead of plastic bags for loose items, and purchasing a plastic bottle involved an additional payment of 25 cents, which was refunded only upon recycling the bottle. Locals preferred cycling over driving whenever possible.
Studying in an EU country also allowed me to explore more of Europe at a reasonable cost and without passport controls. One of my favourite countries to visit was Germany. With proper planning, I could travel there by train for as little as 20 euros. Germany's scenic beauty, delightful Apple Strudel, and excellent beer left lasting impressions on me. I even had the chance to experience snow for the first time at Zugspitze, the top of Germany.
Above all, this exchange program allowed me to form friendships with people from diverse backgrounds. It was an exceptional opportunity that would not have been possible without the NUS BSA bursary, which aided me in my finances overseas. This bursary truly allowed me to step out of my comfort zone to explore the other side of the world. I am truly grateful for the experiences and memories I gained from it.