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Singapore Study Abroad

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I am a college-age student and will be spending a semester abroad in Singapore. I am looking for advice on what types of clothing to bring with me. I am a female and am unsure about what is appropriate for both the culture and the climate. I am planning on traveling in the region, so any advice on surrounding countries would also be helpful. I will be in the region from January through May. Thanks in advance for your help.

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    Singapore is quite secular and multicultural and does not have any real restrictions on dress. The dress is quite casual for the most part, even businessmen rarely wear a jacket, and Singapore is one of the few (if not only) places in Asia that has instituted casual-wear offices and Casual Fridays.

    I would say that people are somewhat conservative, but with that in mind young people pretty much wear what they like. I have not been on the campus of Singapore National University (where I am assuming you will be) in some years, so can’t say if students there dress in exactly the same relaxed manner as US college students. My guess is that they dress a bit more conservatively and less casually, given the general respect in Asia for education, teachers and elders. I have a feeling that shorts are not that frequently worn to class (at least by women), and very skimpy tops are probably quite rare (at least in class), but other than that I think that anything would be fine. You might want to confirm this with actual students by finding a website or blog with SNU students. You also will have a smattering of Malay and Indian students who will be wearing (more conservative) traditional dress. I believe most classes are air conditioned, and in my experience this can be freezing, so bring a sweater. I find jeans to be quite hot for the climate, but lots of people wear them.

    Singapore has a hot and humid climate all year, it is rainier and a bit cooler in the winter months, but you may not notice this if you aren’t used to heat and humidity. It is generally in the low 80s F to low 90s F during the day, every day. See and other weather websites for temps and rainfall. Relative humidity, which is not usually listed on websites, is about 80% most days, so yes it is humid. So bring clothes for a hot, damp climate (unless you plan to visit places which are cold in winter months like Beijing in February).

    Virtually everything indoors is air conditioned, as is public transport, so it is not really difficult to live there, although you may sweat a lot when first getting used to it, and when walking around town. Bring a small umbrella to have with you for the odd rain shower. A rain coat is too hot and is unnecessary. Casual shoes that you can take off when entering people’s homes and that can get wet are a good thing to have as well (flip flops, Tevas, etc). As I mentioned above, things like restaurants and even the subway can be freezing with the air con (at least in my opinion) so a light sweater is actually welcome.

    When traveling in other countries, the main thing to bear in mind is when you are visiting temples and mosques, where you generally would not be allowed to wear shorts (esp. Thailand at places like the Grand Palace). I would avoid low cut blouses and opt for covered upper arms and conservative pants/skirts/capris when visiting any religious site. This is more out of respect than necessity, although shorts are generally not permitted in any event (even on men in many temples in Thailand). Other than that, you really can wear whatever you want when out and about as a tourist. (Going topless on beaches is not done, however.) The form of Islam practiced in SE Asia is quite moderate, and while the locals will dress more conservatively, this is tradition and is not enforced by law and visitors are not expected to comply.

    Singapore is a great place to live (I lived there for 5 years) and I think you will have a fantastic time. Great food, a very interesting mix of culture/people and an easy base to travel for weekends and holidays. I love the hot and humid climate (not everyone does) hopefully you will like that aspect as well. Lots of fun restaurants and pubs/bars. Excellent museums, some good shopping. Good opportunity to do water sports as well. It’s interesting to observe the whole political dynamic going on there. And tell your parents is it is quite safe, there is virtually no crime there. Certainly safe than any US university or really any town/city.

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    Singapore is always hot, and it can rain at any time of year - thunderstorms generally, not all day showers. Most Singaporean ladies seem to wear sleeveless blouses and mid-length skirts or pants. However, if you're studying in university, you may wish to check with the school on any dress codes. Most schools and universities in Asia have a "uniform" that's required.

    Singapore is a little less conservative that it's neighbors, so you may wish to bring some short-sleeved blouses and longer skirts for visits. The weather is hot everywhere.

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    My daughter did study abroad last spring at NUS. As per the school's info and our knowledge of SE Asia, she took fairly conservative clothing- no tube tops, no jeans, no spaghetti straps, then got there and found that pretty much anything goes, especially on campus or out at night. She and her friends got turned away from everywhere on her first evening out though, as they were wearing (nice) flip flop style shoes- the clubs are somewhat dressy. The main thing is that it will be hot, and NUS dorms are not AC, so cool clothing is a must. She mostly wore sandals, sneakers, capris or long shorts, tank tops, tee shirts, or summery dresses. Jeans were too hot. She had a very lightweight pashmina shawl to cover up when in more modest areas or for cool buildings, and had a nice hoodie for hiking in cooler areas like Borneo or the Cameron Highlands.

    I met her in Singapore at the end of her semester, and thought the kids dressed just like American college students.

    One thing you'll want to take is a backpack or bag in addition to any regular luggage. She didn't have classes on Mondays, so she and friends did a lot of weekend trips- to Malaysia, Thailand, and Borneo. Some of her favorites were Tioman island, the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, and Sipidan, and Kota Kinabaru in Borneo. They tended to stay in little guesthouses or hostels and mostly took the bus, so she ended up buying a pack and a cable lock after her first excursion. She also bought snorkel gear, and at one point got scuba certified, as she traveled with a bunch of Swedish boys who all were divers. I liked that she was in a group and that the boys were very big!!

    NUS is a very prestigious school. It is also pretty rigorous, and the classes meet much less frequently than in American Universities. She was surprised that some classes only had a couple of exams, and your grades were based very strictly on those few tests. Professors are not readily available outside the class either. Luckily she is a really good student and was able to take all electives while there.

    Many of the Singaporean kids are under a lot of pressure to do well there, and also have all attended the same prep schools. Because of this, she ended up hanging out with a lot of the other foreign students. She had a couple of good friends from S'pore. One invited her home with her for New Year's and another holiday, so that was really nice, but by and large the locals wereexpected to study or come home on weekends, not go traveling.

    My daughter did her exchange from BU...It was the first year BU worked with NUS, so we both felt it was very unorganized. they couldn't choose classes till they got there, and she didn't even know if she'd be met at the airport until she arrived (at 1 am) and saw a girl with a sign. In the end, though, Singapore was a very safe and easy city to settle in or use as a base for other trips. My daughter loved her semester there, and is looking into going back if she can get a job there.

    Good luck. Let me know if you have any other questions, as my daughter is home for the summer and I can ask her.

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