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More travel than school

14 Oct

Thanks to Singapore’s paranoia of a pandemic, I spent twice as many days in September traveling than I did in class. NUS has an annual e-learning week to practice watching lectures online and having tutorials on a discussion forum in case of something happening like a disease outbreak that would keep us from coming  to campus. Without having to be physically present, most of the exchange students took that as an opportunity to travel! I spent the week (plus the weekends around it) in Bali with four friends I traveled with to Tioman Island in Malaysia two weeks earlier.

Bali was beautiful, filled with terraced rice fields, volcanoes, forests, and Hindu temples. Ubud is the cultural capital and from there we discovered gorgeous rice paddies, saw dozens of the ubiquitous temples, and had some fantastic Indonesian food. Two temples we visited were water temples, which contain pools people can cleanse themselves in. We also stopped by a small small plantation where they produce kopi luwak, or civet coffee, which is made from coffee beans eaten, digested, and excreted by a civet cat. The cup I tried was delicious, and much cheaper than abroad, though I’m not versed enough in coffee to really tell a difference. In Amed on Bali’s northeast coast, two of us took the exciting opportunity to learn how to scuba dive. We did five dives over two days and also did readings and watched videos. After focusing on skills the first day, the second day we dove at the shipwreck of the USAT Liberty. It was very exciting to swim around the remains of a WWII ship now covered in coral. I saw clownfish in anemones, trumpetfish, a garden of eels sticking out of the sand, a stingray, an enormous pufferfish, and countless other fish and reeflife. Our last couple days were spent in Kuta; it’s the awful developed part of Bali overrun by Australian vacationers and touts, but the beach was nice and I got to try out surfing. It was tough at first and I swallowed a bunch of seawater, but I was able to get up a few times and ride the waves.

After getting back early Monday morning I had to face the reality that I was behind in a couple classes, with readings and a paper due for my Middle East Politics class, homework problems for chemical engineering, and some practice for Chinese, plus I had to prepare for my next trip!

For that I was going with two friends from Denmark to Borneo, the world’s third largest island. On the way out Changi proved once again that it’s the best airport in the world as I used one of the free leg and foot massagers throughout the terminal. When we arrived in Brunei, a small wealthy country ruled by a hereditary sultan, the first thing I noticed was the flags everywhere. They are very patriotic, though a lot of it also seemed to be government-encouraged nationalism. The capital city Bandar Seri Begawan is quite small, but its two main mosques are stunning, and there’s a fascinating water village on stilts with over 20,000 residents. The Royal Regalia Museum shows the cult of personality around the sultan, as well as his incredible wealth, exhibiting his early life and education, coronation, silver jubilee, and gifts given by foreign leaders.

Sunday we took a ferry to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, and along the way I saw Pulau Tiga, the site of the first season of Survivor. KK is a small city that mostly serves as the gateway to the rest of the state, but we enjoyed our three days there. We made friends with some of the other backpackers in the hostel and went with them to Mount Kinabalu Park around Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain to hike in the surrounding forest. One of my highlights of the trip was scuba diving at the marine park near the city. I was so excited to see two cuttlefish on the second and third dives. Despite never having seen one in person before cuttlefish have been my favorite animal for several years, and these two did not let me down. They were about two feet long, a bigger species than I expected, and had amazing coloration. When I came near one of them, he immediately changed from camouflaged white to black before changing back again. I loved how they just floated there in the water watching me with their arms raised. During the dive and snorkeling later I also saw pufferfish, triggerfish, barracuda, a small blacktip reef shark, a sting ray, and plenty of other fish.

In Kuching, Sarawak,

Now I need to get back to the study part of study abroad

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Thailand and the first week of school

20 Aug

Friday I finished my first week of classes at the National University of Singapore. The biggest difference is that most classes meet once a week for a two-hour block (105 minutes of lecture), rather than multiple times for a shorter length, plus a one- or two-hour tutorial (recitation). I have a hard enough time staying concentrated at Purdue, so some classes may be a challenge. Course registration for exchange students was a bit of a pain: in our initial application we could apply for up to ten modules, but several of the ones I wanted were rejected because the number of exchange students in each class is limited. We could make more requests a week before classes started and again the first day of classes, but some weren’t responded to until the end of this week. Then if someone still didn’t get a needed class, he would have to go to the department in person for approval. After the two adding rounds I’m happy with my modules, but we still have to register in person for the tutorial sections, resulting in an unfavorable time slot. The local students, though, have a bidding system where there’s essentially a silent auction for classes! I hear it’s stressful and complicated, but I suppose it’s better than a mad rush when MyPurdue opens.

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Morgan 3

Morgan 1

I’m taking two chemical engineering classes, Fluid Dynamics and Process Safety; Chinese 1; Politics of the Middle East; and Clean Energy and Storage. I’m a little worried about the difficulty of the ChemE classes, with the final exam worth over half the grade and it being graded on a secret bell curve! I’m jealous of the many exchange students who get to take all their classes pass/fail – I’m doing it for Chinese.

This week has been great for meeting more new friends. I was suprised to walk into my Chinese class and already know five other students there! Monday evening there was a welcome party for the exchangers, where I also met Linus, the unofficial NUS lion mascot. On Thursday and Friday I attend three club call-outs, which they call Welcome Teas but don’t actually serve tea. Two were hiking clubs, but I was sorely disappointed to learn that all their cool trips to Malaysia and other countries are only in the summer and winter breaks, something that wouldn’t really work at Purdue. The third was for Dive Club, and I’m really excited to learn how to Scuba dive and go to the reef at Pulau Dayang in the South China Sea. Saturday I went with a big group to the National Museum of Singapore, which has a fantastic exhibit about the country’s history.

Last week before classes started my parents and brother visited me here and I had a chance to show them around the place I’d lived the past two months. They were excited to see campus, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, the Botanic Gardens, and other sights of Singapore. For four nights in the middle of their trip we went to Khao Lak, Thailand, which is just north of Phuket Island. We stayed at a great resort, where the Swedish Prime Minister had actually just left! It unfortunately rained our whole first day, but we got great $8 Thai massages. The next day we went for elephant rides! My brother and I got a 12-year-old elephant named Puey, and we got to sit in both the saddle seat and on the huge neck where the mahout (trainer) usually sits. The best part of course was going to a reservoir and swimming with the elephants! It was so much fun when they stood up when we were trying to climb on but slid off instead. Thursday we took a full day trip to Phang Nga Bay National Park, which is filled with incredible karsts, limestone formations dramatically rising from the sea. We made a stop at James Bond Island, a narrow rock used in The Man with the Golden Gun, and for lunch we visited Ko Panyee, a floating village built around one of the karsts, where about 1600 people live. Afterward we went to the Sea Turtle Conservation Center, where we saw hundred of cute baby sea turtles! They raise them in tanks for several months until they’re big enough to be released.

Back to now, yesterday some friends and I went to the Istana, Singapore’s presidential palace, which is only open four times a year. The grounds and mansion were very nice, and we even got to see President Tony Tan and his wife! They just walked right past us on our tour; not something you can do so easily in the US or many other countries!

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Eight weeks in Singapore

29 Jul

sawyerIt’s hard to believe I’ve already been in Singapore for eight weeks! Now that the semester will be starting soon, it’s time to share my experiences with you Boilermakers too! I’ve been keeping a personal blog at http://www.sawyermorgan.com/ if you want to read about the first part of my time abroad.

Over the summer I took part in the SERIUS program at the National University of Singapore, where I will also be doing my exchange starting in a few weeks. For the program I did an engineering research internship, and my project in chemical engineering involves testing suspensions of cornstarch, water, and polymer for their changing viscosity when different forces are applied. It was an interesting project but very repetitive. Luckily there are lots of places to see with the other students in the program, who left last week when it ended.

I picked Singapore for my study abroad because I wanted to go somewhere new, having already been to Europe.  I’m the only Purdue student in Southeast Asia this semester, and there are very few Americans here in general. Singapore is also a great location to start from to visit the rest of Southeast Asia, and I’ve already been to Thailand and Malaysia. It’s the third-richest country per capita, though it’s not always that conspicuous. The port is the second busiest in the world, and the government is considered the least corrupt (or, perhaps, has the most transparent corruption). It’s also the only country to become independent against its own will, being expelled from Malaysia in 1965; that’s worked out pretty well for them though.  Singapore’s been called ‘Asia light’, in that it’s very developed, has an international economy, is incredibly clean, and speaks English due to the heavy British influence from the colonial era. Going to Bangkok was quite a change, with its unclean streets, terrible traffic, and general disorderliness. Kuala Lumpur was somewhere in the middle.

Tomorrow I move from Prince George’s Park Residences to UTown, a much newer and nicer residence hall. I’m very excited for that because it’s closer to the main parts of campus and doesn’t have ants, and especially because it’s where most of the exchange students live and is in a more lively area (plus an infinity pool across the green). NUS’s main campus has roughly the same area as Purdue north of State St., but more spread out, with the engineering, science, liberal arts buildings, and PGP in the four corners. Instead of each main department having its own building, those three faculties each have a big complex of about ten blocks connected to each other, and a few other buildings for business and computing. This is partially because campus is very hilly, so each block is sort of built from a different base elevation, and walking from one to another can mean going from the 3rd to 7th floor without taking any stairs, which there are a ton of. On my campus tour the guide said some students joke that NUS stands for National University of Stairs.

Saturday I’m going on a city tour with the Welcome Fest for international students. Luckily we’ll be visiting places I haven’t been yet since I’ve seen most of downtown already. I haven’t taken many pictures of campus but I’ll be sure to add some soon; check my other blog for past pictures around town, though I’ll put future ones here too. I just hope my next four months don’t go as quickly as the past two!