An NUS Confession by a Lonely Chinese Student and a Reply by Another International Student

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The below sharing, on NUS Confessions, was by a Chinese student. He spoke of his loneliness in a foreign environment.

An NUS Confession on 9th May 2013.
All images are from NUS Confessions.
"I am an international student. I am a guy from China, which sounds not attractive as American or European countries. Don’t blame me for my bad English. I have a few words to say. Frankly speaking, I didn't quite enjoy life here. Chinese students form the largest group of international students here, but what I have experienced is that, our existence is marginalized.

Being foreign to this country and enjoying scholarships paid by taxpayers of this country, we are enjoying the privilege that many people here are unsatisfied with. Unfortunately because of a few rich Chinese immigrants’ misconduct, it seems many people here have gotten the impression we are receiving money without any gratitude. But can a few people represent a whole group? Moreover, it may not be reasonable to compare those uneducated people with university students.

When it comes to the word ‘educated’, I always think of the clean streets here, well regulated traffic, the cars which give way to me when I am crossing the road…Almost everything here, under the guidance of educated Singapore people, operates well. At daytime it’s like that, while at night, the dark side appears.

The westernized and open county fosters young people who are so energetic that other people like me from a long suppressed country feel unable to understand. The loud music, symphony or pop, at 1am, is noise to me. And I believe, put in any country, it would also be annoying.

Speaking and shouting loudly at 2am, are what happen usually in hall among Singaporean students. As we are the minority, we have no way but to understand and stand. Yesterday my neighbour finished all his papers and watched comedies at late night to celebrate. It was nothing wrong but it drove your neighbour crazy when you brought your buddies and kept laughing. I felt so blessed I also finished my last paper yesterday, but what if I had one more today?

I love Singapore and love the dynamic way of your life. I tried hard to incorporate myself in your group in the first semester. I participated in every hall and block event to familiarize myself with the people in hall, standing close to them to listen, and talking as I could. After self-introduction, they immediately formed into their own groups and ignoring me. Just like now, I greet to every Singaporean student I know in our hall with a smile when I meet him/her, and ironically 1 second later we pass by each other. That was acceptable at the beginning because it always takes time to know each other. But finally I gave up, with recognition of the great difference and indifference.

Language is not a barrier, which is true, but wrong for us. We spoke the worst English among all international students. Although most Singaporeans speak Chinese fluently, English has become the dominant language, so has the western-oriented culture. Really, before I came here, I thought the people here with same roots would kindly treat their ‘relatives’ from China. It turns out that there is a great gap and I anticipate the gap would become even greater in later generations.

I am not appealing to remind you of your roots. I am just talking about the gap. I wonder how come you show apathy to a newcomer, from a country you actually know little, with a background that you never experienced. I wonder why you are compelling us to be phantoms, unable to enjoy your recreational activities, so have more time to study then rob you of your dean’s list and push you to the other slope of the bell curve. I wonder what the impressions of Chinese people and Chinese students in your eyes are, and wonder whether you wonder about the impression of you in our eyes.

Lastly, I should acknowledge that all the words above are based on my personal experience and personal opinion. This is neither a complaint about exams nor a sex anecdote. Pardon me if you feel you waste your 2 minutes on my terrible English."
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I wonder who this person is, if he's anyone I know. I wonder if he has close friends from China and the reasons for his solitude. Is he homesick? Does he have anyone he could chat with and confide to? I also wonder why he didn't encounter any welcoming Singaporean.

Many Chinese friends have reassured me that Singaporean students are, in general, quite friendly. But is this still the case, given the souring sentiments towards foreigners? And are Singaporeans really against foreigners or against the pro-immigrant policies? Surely, there must be a difference. Do younger Singaporeans, around this particular student, even care about such political issues which have yet to dramatically influence their lives? Is this student coming up with unjust reasons for his isolation?

Such issues are complex; there can be no easy generalisations. Without knowing who he is and what he has been through, it's impossible to form an accurate opinion. So, I could only keep wondering.

I hope that this Chinese student is able to find the companionship he seeks, that he doesn't stop trying to make friends and local students respond to his gestures. I hope too that his friends from China are able to offer him support. Take care, man.

One day later, another foreign student shares his perspectives:
An NUS Confession on 10th May 2013.
Doubtless the issue of foreigners is a bone of contention in Singapore.

As a foreigner on a scholarship to study here at NUS, I've got something to say:

1. As a foreigner, I felt and still feel that the onus is on the foreigner to adapt to Singapore, not the other way round - we don't see a conch shell changing such that the hermit crab can fit in; the hermit crab has to endure the discomfort and tries its best to fit in.

2. Which is why, before I came, I read to familiarize myself with the tiny red dot. I finished the two volumes of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs - though some locals seem to dislike Mr Lee, what better way is there for a foreigner to preliminarily understand a country's psyche than read the first hand account of the very statesman who has built up the island? While on campus, I read more: the late Mr Goh Keng Swee's biography, et cetera.

3. I also read as much as I possibly on Singaporean linguistics and culture - two most important aspects that I deem are key for integration. I confess that I'm a Grammar Nazi and have little penchant towards mangled versions of English. But compromise must be made as I'm the hermit that needs to fit in the conch shell. By now I've got used to using Singlish fluently. And I was surprised that a tutor in the School of Computing, presumably an international PhD student, had had no idea of Singlish whatsoever until I told him that; I mean, how can a trout be that oblivious to the fact it lives in river water and not sea water?

4. Personal hygiene is also a problem. How you smell speaks volume of your hygiene. Sometimes, while queuing in the canteen, I doubt whether someone with the latest Paris ensemble of dung ball accessories dangling at their waist and shirts that hadn't been changed for weeks, who had mistaken a concoction of rotting materials as perfume and sprayed it on themselves - whether someone like that had just walked past me. It is not that difficult to bath and keep yourselves olfactorily acceptable, is it?

5. Lastly, some foreigners have bad manners. Firstly, I've heard some conversing unashamedly in interesting conversations full of vulgarity in your native tongue . I'm not being sanctimonious - who doesn't swear at times? But to treat vulgarity as the norm is, I suppose, not good. Secondly, being acoustically disturbing certainly is not something we foreigners should do. Even back in your own country, you won't speak loud in a library or a study room, will you?

6. I also wish to take this chance to thank Singaporean taxpayers for giving me the scholarship. I know some may accuse me of obsequiousness and of kowtowing to Singaporeans, but, if you have a mother who got diagnosed with depression over her guilt of being unable to fund her son's studies, you know, no, this is not kowtowing, this is a little gesture of gratitude. A sincere one. To utter deprecations of Singaporeans who fund your scholarship is monstrously unacceptable.

7. Note that I've not singled out any nationality; there are black sheep from all nationalities and to generalize is foolish.

8. Note also that I ain't alluding that foreigners ought to be subservient to Singaporeans, nor Singaporeans to foreigners; respect and dignity should be the order of the day for all.

9. Thanks for reading.
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These differences in viewpoints are illuminating. The former student shares his difficulty in adjusting to a new environment while the latter seems more empowered to adapt.

In life, most of us have ultimate control over how we choose to understand and react to the circumstances around us. It's comforting to know that we have such powers, yup.

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