The British Way

Besides being the home of the Beatles and the ubiquitous fish and chips, the UK also has a thriving and well-respected education system. Two Singaporean students share their experiences with us on what is it like to be a student in the UK.

By Farhan Shah

Since young, Geneve Yeo had always felt a certain affinity towards music. She constantly pestered her parents for music lessons and would grab any opportunity to perform live, such as in school and even at weddings.

“I always found my music assignments the most enjoyable to complete too!” the 20-year-old quips.

The perfect environment

Naturally, when it was time to select the field she wanted to major in, Geneve chose to read Music. The only question was where.

After doing her research, Geneve decided that the United Kingdom (UK) was the perfect place for her to further her Music education.

“The UK has a blossoming Arts environment and is a vibrant country for both the performer and the audience. I also heard many good testimonies from people who’ve studied Music there before too,” Geneve rationalises.

When choosing her university, the former Dunman High School student took into account the university’s reputation as well as its focus and niche areas. It is extremely important because the quality of the home department and its facilities will affect her learning for the next few years.

Another factor she took into consideration was the type of setting she wanted to study in, deciding between a scenic, sprawling campus, one that is set in a buzzing metropolitan area, or somewhere in between the two.

She also looked at the accommodation and immigration advice for international students from the university as she feels it is a reflection of how welcoming the university is towards foreigners.

After weighing the pros and cons of each university and with assistance from the British Council, Geneve decided that the University of Birmingham was the institute for her.

However, there was much to prepare before she could board the plane.

Preparations

As the British Council is a reliable guide on studying in the UK, Geneve could count on it as a one-stop centre for all her queries.

She attended pre-departure talks and exhibitions on UK universities and also met overseas alumni support groups and anxious students who were in the same boat as her, making the entire process less nerve-wracking than it already was.

Different way of life

Geneve joined the Singapore Society (which should be found in many UK universities) to keep in touch with her roots (Singlish and good food!).

At the same time, she is excited about immersing and absorbing British culture – making new friends and interacting with the locals makes the whole overseas studying experience even more meaningful.

She also pointed out the distinct difference between the UK education system and the one in Singapore.

“The UK education system is more interactive and the process of learning is just as important as the outcome. The overall learning climate in the country was something I felt would suit my learning style better, being more discussion-based, independent, with assessments done over time, rather than through a single examination. The learning process is much more independent as the lecturers are there to guide, rather than spoon-feed,” she says.

Contemplating on a teaching career herself, Geneve explains further, “The faculty members are highly knowledgeable and are always forthcoming with sharing what they know with students, while not disregarding our views. We are able to exchange and discuss ideas on the same plane, which is what university education is traditionally set out to be.”

Finding independence

Geneve is not the only fan of the British education system. Hany Soh is also another Singaporean who has grown to love the British academic culture.

A Law student in the University of Liverpool, Hany describes the education system in the country as a unique blend of independent research, reading materials as well as close interaction and debates with peers and faculty.

One difference Hany highlights is the emphasis that is placed squarely on self-study.

While the words “independent self-study” might ring alarm bells in the heads of Singaporeans who may not be comfortable with a “hands-off” approach from their lecturers, the 23-year-old offers reassurance that the experience is enjoyable.

As it turns out, far from the “go and do everything yourself” mindset we sometimes mistakenly associate with the term “independent study”, Hany is continually impressed with the generous and genuine guidance provided by her lecturers.

“They don’t simply teach you. They guide you. Tell your lecturers where you wish to go, and they’ll provide you the tools to do so,” she says.

Self discovery

Hany’s acquisition of independence extends beyond her academic obligations.

She has picked up better time management skills, enjoying potluck sessions with fellow Singaporean students and visiting various places of interests over the weekends, while maintaining good grades.

Furthermore, this young lady, who didn’t know how to cook a bowl of rice, is now confidently whipping up expertly-prepared chilli crab dinners for her friends.

As an international student ambassador and the Vice-President of the Singapore Society at her university, Hany identifies with the new students passing through the university’s entrance, and takes pride in helping them get acclimatised to their new environment, just as her friends had done for her.

The girl who had been relying on her parents now realises her true potential as a leader, independent learner, and sociable team player.

These are the qualities she’s honed since entering this foreign land, and she humbly credits her environment, the university, and British culture for all of it.

Discovering confidence

The two confident ladies are all set to dive into the working world with the qualities that they have picked up from the British education system.

Geneve credits the UK for inculcating in her the self-confidence that is paramount for any performer to have. There are many opportunities for students to perform various genres of music and to take ownership of the programmes they put up.

“Being educated in the UK gives you the choice to either have a career overseas or bring your experiences back to Singapore. It pushes you to create your own prospects rather than wait for opportunities to fall on your lap,” Geneve says.

Her advice for the students heading to the UK is to bring something dear from home, be mentally prepared, and to embrace the new lifestyle as soon as possible.

As for Hany, she has already been offered a training contract with a firm back home, and intends to pursue her career as a lawyer in Singapore.

To her, studying in the UK has indeed been an eye opening experience and she would recommend it to anyone who is looking to be more independent.

Hany also laughingly says, “Try the traditional fish & chips. They’re fantastic.”

The duo knows their story is a testament to the advantages of a UK tertiary education, and invites like-minded individuals to undertake their own personal transformation in a land the both of them now call their second home.

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