Brandeis Alumni, Family and Friends
“The Lion City is a Boiling Broth of Different Cultures”: A Study Abroad Travelogue
Khushee Nanavati ’19 recalls a semester in Singapore in 2018, as part of a series marking the 60th anniversary of Study Abroad at Brandeis.
Since I was an international student, everyone at Brandeis would always ask me, “Why are you studying abroad? You’re already abroad!” But how, tell me honestly, could I let go of this unique opportunity to dive into a whole new culture? To meet new people who grew up on the other side of the globe? To escape from the piercing cold in Boston? Not to mention the excuse of traveling four times each semester? (Sorry, Dad.)
After months of researching programs and scrolling through colorful pictures of different cities, I landed on Singapore. I was there for a total of four months, but it still felt like I hadn’t seen everything the city had to offer. You’re probably wondering how it can take so long to see the 278.6 square-mile area of an island.
During the day, the streets were bustling with elegantly dressed locals scurrying to work, and tourist buses overflowing with tanned visitors trying to capture the magnificence of this city on their tiny iPhones. Even though this city-country merely covers 719.9 square kilometers, there are enough sights for you to ride the MRT subway) to for a minimum of 10 days. Each corner of Singapore has something to boast: Marina Bay Sands; Gardens by the Bay and their daily gorgeous light show; the Merlion; Botanical Gardens; Sentosa Island, of course; Marina Barrage; Tree Top Walk; Universal Studios; Night Safari; Clarke Quay; and a variety of impressive museums. It’s no surprise that this city is ranked number one for traveling!
I found myself in awe of the city’s extraordinary balance between the developing western nations while maintaining its Asian authenticity and traditions. On the same street, you’d find stunning engravings on the walls of magnificent temples, directly contrasted by the shiny skyscrapers waving to the clouds. While I have you on the topic of contrasts, please let me rant to you about the misleading weather in Singapore. Your innocent self might think it’s a “regular” day in Singapore with a temperature of 95 degrees—yes, this is “regular” for Singapore—and the sun violently shining and blinding you through your shades. Next thing you know, it’s raining cats and dogs and you are standing there under a bus stop praying the clouds to spare you and your new shoes. Obviously, the weather forecast is just a formality here. But this confusing weather doesn’t stop Singapore from becoming one of Asia’s hit destinations.
The Lion City is a boiling broth of different cultures and thus, languages. It possesses a unique fusion of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, which explains why their national languages are Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English -- my saving grace!. However, Google forgets to mention their “almost” national language, “Singlish,” an English-based Creole language. After befriending a couple of locals, I learned the important words: “Jalan,” food; “kopi,” coffee; “choping,” reserving a seat, which really came in handy in the library). I’m proud to say that I got as far as, “Kopi C peng please,” for ordering iced coffee with condensed milk.
My experience in the Lion City was surreal, and reflecting back, I continually think of how this experience impacted my life and my future. It not only taught me how to work hard and play hard, but also how to live harmoniously amongst those from other cultures and backgrounds. Many moving parts making one big system, and adapting to new environments is only hard if you resist change. These learnings are going to make the journey of my life less bumpy, and these memories are going to make my heart warm and fuzzy.