Growing up in Singapore, I’ve always felt comfortable living in the city. Squeezing into the train, experiencing rush hour, taking an Uber, going out for a meal late at night – these are things I associate with the city. Even on holidays, I love traveling to cities because I enjoy breathing their subcultures and experience living like a local. It was to my horror that I was “posted” to a university town (Gottingen) for my exchange program instead of a big city.
Being that my high school education came from an online high school, my perception of university was slightly off. My perception of a university town before exchange was that of a small town. 1-2 bars everyone goes to, a handful of decent restaurants, and not many events to join (I really love watching concerts and I knew that no band would tour through my place). My friends who went on exchange told me it was very quiet and it can get quite lonely. I was quite worried as I was the only Singaporean going to Gottingen for exchange.
When I first arrived, I was greeted by a local student who brought me to my accommodation (if you ever have a chance to sign up for this, I suggest you do. It is really helpful and good to make friends). I was super fortunate as my buddy invited me to a bar with his friends at night. Initially, I was worried about this new environment but I convinced myself that I should try something new. From there, I met one of my closest friends on exchange.
“My Italian Amicos”
I managed to join an Erasmus group in the following weeks. Erasmus is basically a group of exchangers who are from around Europe. They were very friendly and spontaneous. There were good group dynamics but would there be enough things for us to do in this small town? I was super surprised.
I can parallel a university town as a larger scale version of the National University of Singapore (NUS). Back in Singapore, I was living in a student accommodation and I hardly joined university level events. Here, because I stepped out of my comfort zone and mingled with other people, I discovered that there were many things to do. What I enjoyed the most was that many of these activities were student-led, but supported by the university. For example, there was a party in the school where the entire main building was turned into a club, and alcohol was even permitted on campus which is something that is unheard of in Singapore. Unlike a city where things are marketed heavily, the town focused on word of mouth and the occasional flyer at the traffic light. Fortunately, with Whatsapp, everything is nearly readily available. There were days when I was travelling around Europe and actually FOMOed at the events back in school.
“Free flow Wine event, there for the wine more than anything else”
My perception of food also changed. I loved watching Youtube videos like Worth It or Eaters and always envisioned myself travelling to different cities trying out the food that they ate. I was very disheartened that I could not find places to eat good food at first. However, this led to me having a greater interest in cooking. It’s funny how the situations that we are in help dictate what we do. Due to this, I have been experimenting with recipes to cook food that I love. Furthermore, who says that you need to go to a restaurant to eat good food? I have been very fortunate to meet a lot of students who cook well, and I have tried food from all over the world.
“Taco party, everything was made from scratch by my Mexican friend”
In terms of convenience, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I do not need an Uber to get from place to place. I used to walk from hall to class every day but would need to take an Uber if I wanted to go out. Now I get the chance to walk everywhere with bars, shops, schools and groceries all being very near. It feels good getting some fresh air after a long night out instead of worrying about taxi surcharges. Some of my friends even got bicycles!
This is still an ongoing adventure but I feel that it’s definitely important to share it with everyone now as people begin to choose their exchange places. I am generally an outgoing person who likes to meet new people. If that’s you, maybe you can consider a university town and have a great experience too!
If you have any questions about Gottingen or exchange in general, DM me on Instagram @tonickathong!