January 26

I’m from Singapore and studied at the University of Nottingham. Here’s why.

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Here’s a secret confession before I begin.

I had no idea where Nottingham was until it came time for me to buy my bus tickets to the university from Heathrow Airport in September 2016.

I knew where Manchester was, but not Nottingham
I knew where Manchester was, but not Nottingham

You might be reading this article because you want to know:

  1. Is the University of Nottingham any good?
  2. Should you pay close to $160k over 3 years for a course there, given that you’re traveling there all the way from Singapore?

Too long, didn’t read?

If you want the TLDR (too long, didn’t read) version, the answer is yes, yes.

Nottingham changed my life.

And here’s why it might change yours too.

Experiences like public speaking changed my life.
Experiences like public speaking changed my life.

Before I went to Nottingham…

In April 2016, I applied for a scholarship. As I sat by the pool listening to the scholarship secretariat explain about the upcoming interview, she happened to ask,

By the way, are you thinking of applying overseas?

I thought to myself,

Well, why not?

There’s no harm trying.

3 days later, when I got awarded with an overseas scholarship to read social work abroad, I thought to myself,

oh no.

I don’t even have a place anywhere.

That was 16 April 2016. If you are familiar with application timelines for UCAS, you would know that this is extremely late.

I applied for Nottingham amongst a list of other universities, not knowing what was good at Nottingham, beyond the fact that it seemed to rank within the top 10 for social work.

Then I got a place. The only place that offered me was Nottingham.

So I really, had no other choice.

But looking back, it was perhaps fortuitous that I got a place there.

Because Nottingham became the best place I lived, worked, studied, and played.

With a Chilean friend at a Chilean Society meeting in Nottingham
With a Chilean friend at a Chilean Society meeting in Nottingham

And here’s why it might be for you, too.

The misconception of the big name schools

Many people talk about the holy trinity of schools in the U.K. being Cambridge, Oxford, and the London schools.

But I often think they are wrong. Take yourself there, and you will no doubt find yourself filled with academic prestige, but having an experience that’s probably no different from studying at Hwa Chong, Raffles, or any of the elite schools in Singapore.

Because you will find yourself surrounded by Singaporeans there.

Nothing against them, but I found myself choked during the first 2 days I spent in London.

Everywhere I sat in the hostel (of my friend), I saw Singaporeans. And more Singaporeans.

And slowly, I saw all the Singaporeans congregating together, which begged the question,

Why did you pay a $160k to spend more time with Singaporeans?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with Singaporeans.

But there is a place for knowing more of them, in Singapore.

Abroad, I think there’s a better perspective you would get from learning other viewpoints.

One of my better friends came from Romania, during a conference.
One of my better friends came from Romania, during a conference.

Like Russians?

She bites the apple.

And proceeds to finish the core, too.

I never knew you could eat the core. Now I knew you wouldn’t die.

Katya, my Russian friend in the first year, was probably singlehandedly responsible for changing my viewpoint towards friendships, and life.

My Russian friend and I
My Russian friend and I

I met her in a queue whilst we were waiting to register for orientation. Seeing how tall she was, I said hi, and was promptly swept away by her sky blue eyes.

Over the year, she became the person I spent the most time with, as we went for road trips, grocery shopping, and many other trips together.

But her perspective also showed me a different way to look at the world.

Often when we move abroad, the biggest reason people cite is the ‘International perspective’ you will learn from others.

But we don’t get that if we are mixing with more and more Singaporeans. And that’s why Nottingham was so important for me. Because it forced me out of my comfort zone. There, it was big enough to avoid Singaporeans.

But it also offered a balance of quiet that allowed you to nurture these new found relationships.

The suburban life and the space for rest

I don’t think you should underestimate what a suburban life can do to you.

Whilst Nottingham is not a large city, with a population of 330,000, it is convenient enough to have the things you need like:

  1. Cinemas
  2. Shopping mall in the town centre
  3. Arcades

One common refrain I hear stopping people from taking an offer at Nottingham is the worry that a smaller city will be boring.

That’s true. It won’t have the diversity of things you can do in a place like Singapore, where you can shop 30 different malls, or go from a cinema to a museum, or have a big network of opportunities you can attend from day to day.

It can be why people prefer a place like London.

I don’t deny it, especially after moving back to Singapore. I’ve personally seen how important Singapore is in terms of its density of opportunities.

You might not have a big density of opportunities, but you’d have fun. Like building a Santa with an ironing board.
You might not have a big density of opportunities, but you’d have fun. Like building a Santa with an ironing board.

A restful season from Singapore

But I think you shouldn’t underestimate the ability of suburban Nottingham to give you a restful break from the time growing up in Singapore.

After all, it’s only three years.

A delightful change in emotional scenery

I stroll through the snow, the ice scrunching beneath the heavy boots I’m wearing. One of my favourite things to do whilst in Nottingham was taking a walk with the friends that I made.

Trips like these offered a good emotional break.
Trips like these offered a good emotional break.

I’m not sure if it was just having more time on my hands, but I had the delightful opportunity to make many British friends in Nottingham. They welcomed me into their homes, and gave me a taste of British hospitality.

From front to back - French, British and Singaporeans celebrating New Year’s.
From front to back – French, British and Singaporeans celebrating New Year’s.

For example, part of the work to welcome international students came from Friends International, a charity that served international students with weekly cafes, events, and trips to different towns.

It was a really welcome change for me.

Being a small fish in a big pond

At Nottingham, I got the chance to:

  1. Become the project manager of Nottingham University’s Welcome Week, leading a team of 10 to welcome 9000 freshmen
  2. Sit on the board of Trustees of the Students’ Union, which was a $14m charity, and therefore looking over the financial statements, setting the strategy, and deciding how best to move the charity forward
  3. Teach a yearlong university module on Public Speaking
There was even the chance to teach public speaking!
There was even the chance to teach public speaking!

There were also the other academic achievements that I gained from being at Nottingham, such as:

  1. Winning a first-class honours degree
  2. Having the Nottingham Advantage Award
  3. Being shortlisted as the Global Graduate of the Year
  4. Being shortlisted for the Nottingham Advantage Award Module of the Year

This was a differing change from studying at an elite school like Hwa Chong, where I felt deeply inadequate compared to the other students I was seeing.

In Hwa Chong, I was a small fish in a big pond, but in Nottingham, I suddenly became a big fish in a small pond.

Together with the class on the final day of term.
Together with the class on the final day of term.

It’s not to say that the people in Nottingham were less hardworking. But it’s to say that they had differing priorities compared to me, and there were less competitive Asians and Southeast Asians to compete for those places.

It was simply a numbers game.

Academic rigour is still high

For anyone who says that academic rigour is less at the University of Nottingham, I would say that’s nonsense.

Pure nonsense.

Nottingham is a Russell Group university, an affiliation of research-focused universities.

At Nottingham, with more time on my hands, I had the time to attend lectures across different disciplines, and learn from the best of researchers in the field.

Go to Nottingham, for the change

Honestly, you have your whole life ahead of you to compete.

I know that people who have spoken to me about their desires to study abroad often talk about their desires to study at the brand name universities.

I’m sure that’s a good experience, but it may be much difference from what you’d get elsewhere in Singapore.

Being on placement in the U.K. gave me an insight into how to work with a different context.
Being on placement in the U.K. gave me an insight into how to work with a different context.

But go to a place like Nottingham, and there’s really a distinct flavour that would be hard to match elsewhere.

Primarily because of how far away it is from your traditional ‘holy trinity’, and how there’s more time to spend with yourself.

It built me for the future.

It will for you too, if you allow it.

 


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