Upon first years of work experience in the German administration, it was time for me to return to (grad) school to deepen my expertise in public policy – luckily funded through a DAAD scholarship. Soon after settling in, my academic adviser talked me into going on exchange. I am academically as well as personally interested in Asia and remembered one of my professors, a luminary in his field of sustainable growth, saying, that if we want to see the late 21st century, we should go to Singapore now. So when I looked at academic rankings to order my choices, I learnt the best exchange partners are here and in Washington DC. It felt like being thrown into a time machine that could teleport me both ways – and I did warm to the idea of traveling forward to the Asian century.
So I arrived in Singapore this August (2018) with nineteen weeks ahead of me in which I not only wanted to succeed at Lee Kuan Yew School, but also looked forward to make friends from all over Asia and beyond, to try their dishes, immerse myself in their cultures and learn what worries, drives and makes them happy. I planned to visit every neighborhood, go to as many different restaurants and hawker centers as possible and build lasting relations with people from different backgrounds and walks of life.
First steps – exploring the sightseeing pearls of our new home (second from right)
Soon enough, both the workload at university and the cost of living in the Pisa-winning Switzerland of the East made me qualify my goals towards more realistic ends. Well into my semester, I am assured that “university first, life second” works quite well. I’ve maintained a work-life balance through the midterms, was able to travel East Asia extensively during our break and explored a lot of different corners of the island with many different people.
At first very excited and overly happy to be able to immerse myself in this city, which serves many a model, I still see many advantages of a highly-capable public administration, able to streamline and innovate continuously. There are so many occasions where I wish things were run similarly competent at home. Public transport, ERP or the university campus, to name a few. But all in all, I quickly came to the conclusion, that I value my home country for the many imperfection it allows its people. Even though they often lead to sub-optimal societal outcomes, they also give us a colorful plurality of individuals and life trajectories.
Hiking MacRitchie with my fellow exchange students (second from left)
Nonetheless, I do not miss home but am grateful for being on this adventure. My host university is an excellent choice, where highly relevant issues are taught by top professors, often with a refreshing spin for someone from the West, where one gets to meet smart people from all over the region and where I hope to find friends for life. College Green, the university residence of Bukit Timah campus, is older than the country itself and has quite a colonial feel. Like a small village in the centre of the country, it offers us tranquillity for our studies and the proximity of interesting fellow students of law and public policy. There’s even a rooster which wakes you in the morning. Its old-fashioned layout however makes one wonder how much longer it will survive in this city of skyscrapers, before this piece of high-value piece of land is put to more efficient use.
Although this is my third university exchange and my sixth university, I am learning quite a lot this semester, including about myself. Being surrounded by a diversity of experienced young Asians is quite an enriching experience, which I hope enhances my worldview and my understanding of politics and public policy by many refreshingly angles and perspectives.
Getting away from it all over the weekend (S’pore on the horizon)
So far, this has been a wonderful and dense adventure. I got to experience Singapore’s cultures, competencies and challenges, make friends and improve my abilities to collaborate with and benefit from new and different perspectives. I will finish my studies at home soon, and who knows, maybe I’ll be back next year. Singapore hosts a considerable German business community and many firms that work on my major. It is a place I will seriously consider as a starting point for more serious professional ventures in Eastern Asia. The ease of living, its central location in Asia, the great choice of food and the incredible hospitality I received from many people over the last weeks make this a memorable and hopefully repeatable sojourn.