Upon stepping off the plane in Singapore, I was consumed by a wall of humid, perfumed air. After being trapped in a stiflingly small metal tube with nothing but my fears and doubts for the past 17 hours, entering the terminal felt like stepping into a dream. One week into my exchange, it still doesn’t feel like the dream has ended.
Singapore is equal parts tropical rainforest and city, giving the impression that its skyscrapers and shopping centers sprung from the ground as naturally as the surrounding palm trees and ginger bushes. This air of free-flowing, ordered symbiosis is prominent everywhere in the city. Service workers are polite, I haven’t seen a single piece of trash on the street since I got here, and the sound of police sirens is virtually non-existent. Days here are long and heavy due to the humid air. They are frequently interrupted by enormous claps of thunder, bright flashes of lightening, and torrential rain. This, partnered with unbelievable red sunrises and sunsets over the sea, gives the whole environment a sense of drama and heightened reality.
UWCSEA, the school I’m attending, has been compared to a miniature town within the city. Spread over many miles and multiple campuses and teaming with thousands of uniformed students ages 5 to 19, the school has a very different feeling than Athenian, though no less welcoming. After just a week, I’ve been introduced to everyone in my grade and many more people throughout the school, all of whom have been extremely friendly and eager to learn about California. The student body is incredibly diverse. It seems that everyone has a story to tell (in an accent I’ve never heard before) about their nationality and how they came to live in Singapore.
School days are similar to what the Athenian schedule promises to be next year, beginning at 8:10 with four classes to a day, but that’s where the resemblance stops. One class will be in a different room every time we meet, and some aren’t even taught by one teacher. Classrooms are spread about the school in identical multi-story “blocks.” I’ve often gotten lost on the way to class and just had to stand there looking helpless until another grade 10 takes pity on me and shows me the way. Despite the confusion, I like the constant change in routine and the possibility of finding a new path every day.
My host family is a perfect fit. My host sisters, one of whom has already lived with me back in February, are friendly and outgoing. We all share a similar sense of humor, so we never run out of things to talk and laugh about. The host parents are both kind, welcoming people who have no shortage of interesting stories to tell me about their pasts.
Although I miss America at times, I feel very at home where I am and I know these next three weeks will fly by.