Singaporeans Weigh in on What it’s Like to Study in America

There’s a great discussion happening on Quora between a group of Singaporeans discussing what it’s like to study in the U.S.

A lot of what they talk about we’ve discussed before, such as trying to fit in but maintain your home culture, or being in a minority ethnic group for the first time.  But these two stood out to me as things we haven’t really touched on:

1) Transitioning to American English

Hongwan Liu writes:

Singaporean English is so completely different from American English that using what we think of as ‘English’ would be an insurmountable communication barrier to Americans, yet we know no other way of speaking English. The need to learn a new way of speaking doesn’t really occur to you till you actually arrive in the US, and when it finally hits you, it suddenly becomes a struggle to speak what is technically your first language. I must say the American accent is really unnatural to me: it took me the better part of 3 years to achieve an accent that is not really American, but at least not placeable as being clearly foreign.

[This reminded me of a video we posted a while back – “Closing the Communication Gap“]

And Serene Lee adds:

I didn’t realize how fast Singaporeans speak relative to the Americans until my college freshman advisor complained that I spoke way too fast for him to understand. Even if you avoid Singlish altogether and enunciate every word properly, speaking at the normal Singaporean pace won’t help the Americans understand you any better.

2) Approach to academics

Frank Chen writes:

In general, the Singaporean education system will have prepared you well for the American college experience, especially if you studied in a JC. The lecture / tutorial system is almost exactly the same in JC (junior college – the equivalent of the last 2 years of high school in the United States) as it is in university so you would have had a lot of time to get used to the style of education (studying methods, etc…).

You will also generally do fairly well in terms of GPA and courses, but that would obviously depend on your major and the amount of preparation and background with the material that you major in. You may be able to skip introductory courses if you have prior exposure to your major (i.e. biology, chemistry, computer science) but this will depend on the school.

You are also likely to overload classes (i.e. taking more than is recommended for a typical college student) but you will usually be able to manage the courseload.

Serene Lee adds:

Americans will think you’re crazy because you’ll whine about not having a perfect GPA…

And in some cases… about not getting an A+…

Many Singaporeans have tiger moms, or “scarier-than-tiger” moms. And the primary/secondary/junior college systems induce far more stress than the American school system. For many Singaporeans studying abroad, an A- is often considered a “catastrophe.”