Bear Abroad Brian in Singapore

Brian Xieu

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology- Immunology, Infectious Diseases
Program: National Univ. of Singapore (NUS)
Country of Study: Singapore
Term: Fall 2019

“The biggest challenge of studying abroad was finding the time to visit everywhere that I wanted to see.”


What led you to study abroad? Why did you choose your country/program?

I've never had the opportunity to go to visit another country before studying abroad. I heard of people going abroad, to visit family or just for fun, all the time. I wanted to see how life was in another country – how the neighborhoods were, markets, schools, homes, everything. I chose to go to Singapore because I wanted to live in a southeast Asian country for awhile. Plus, it was one of the few summer programs that dealt with Biology.    

What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?

The most interesting cultural experience I had abroad was the hawker food centers scattered everywhere. Hawker centers are conglomerations of many food stalls and seating. It just seems like an ideal, optimized setup to sell cheap and good food. It might sound chaotic and messy, but it's actually well organized and cleaned frequently. Side note, napkins are not provided, people always carry their own so I guess that minimizes napkin waste.     

What was the biggest challenge/concern of your study abroad experience? How did you respond?

The biggest challenge of studying abroad was finding the time to visit everywhere that I wanted to see. Classes took up most of the weekday and unlike Berkeley, many places close after 7 or so. We dealt with this by using all the weekend time we had, as effectively as we could, to do all that we could. It can be a packed schedule, but that just makes it more fun.       

Describe a typical day for you abroad.

Weekdays, we began the day with our 9 a.m. language class. We had lunch in the afternoon at the nearby science hawker center, and then our Biodiversity class until the early evening. There's a few hours before malls close, so I would often take the train and explore the different areas. The academic schedule sometimes lets us have the entire afternoon off and sometimes leave us only a few hours. On the weekends, we would plan out entire days to visit neighboring island right off of Singapore, travel to Malaysia for the weekend, or explore the renowned landmarks.      

What coursework did you take while abroad? How did courses abroad compare with Berkeley classes?

I took Field Studies in Biodiversity, which is the focus of the program, and I chose Mandarin for my language. I can't compare the language class to ones in Berkeley since I've never taken any at Berkeley, but I would say that the Biodiversity class is more chill than any science class I've ever taken at Berkeley. The material and exam doesn't move very fast nor is it super detailed. It's only that science papers need to be read and a project proposal within your 7-8 person group and that could take up some time, but I wouldn't say that it's conceptually difficult. Lastly, there's a ~10 page science paper (with figures and diagrams) due at the end of the program for the project, which is most all of the difficulty in my opinion.    

What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?

The most memorable and meaningful part of my time abroad was what I would've guess it would it be – I won't forget the lifestyles I've seen in Singapore and Malaysia. By lifestyle, I mean the super malls people shop at, the luxurious houses in some neighborhoods, the high rises crammed with apartments, the endless streets of shops carrying foreign brands, the quick and effective hawker centers, the pristinely kept active temples, the cleanliness of everything everywhere. Malaysia, I see as a poorer reflection of Singapore, where money is as widespread and laws are not as strict.     

What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country/program?

I would definitely recommend that they should go beyond the well known landmarks. Yes, see the great Merlion that is packed with tourists posing for pictures, but also see the outskirts of the financial area. See the residential areas where locals would walk with their dogs. Go to the residential shops and restaurants and see the difference. Go to that island that you've never seen on an advertisement.

What impact did studying abroad have on you personally?

Studying abroad, in a way, has given me another set of eyes. I've seen how another country lives. It's a side of life I've had the opportunity to sample in which everything is different. I didn't noticed the smaller things here in the US until I saw how they were different in Singapore. Being from San Francisco and now going to Berkeley, I've always been in a diverse environment. Diverse how? I would've just said in race, cultural, you know. After going abroad, I'd say we're diverse in area, in that you can walk two miles in the Bay Area and you would be in a completely different environment. Looking for something? You'd have to go to Chinatown. Or the Mission. Or the Tenderloin. We have so many different ways of living in our small area.