Welcome to the third part of my blog series “GEM Trailblazer Summer in Singapore’s NTU”! If you haven’t read the previous parts, you can find them here and here. In this post I will talk about developing cultural intelligence, campus life in NTU, my visit to Sentosa Island and my participation in the “Prata Journey” cultural activity. This post will be a mixture of educational, touristic and cultural occurrences. Hope you enjoy it!
Second week of lessons: Developing Cultural Intelligence
Doing a module on cultural intelligence (CQ) may be the best unplanned decision I ever made. Not only because I’m learning new things that will power my career, but because I’m learning more about myself. On my first week of lessons I was asked to complete an online survey to get self-reports on my learning style, my personal cultural values and my cultural intelligence. I obtained the results the following week. Some were more surprising than others.
For my learning style (preferred ways to learn about cultures) I scored 67/100 for concrete experience (trying new experiences guided by my feelings) and for reflective observation (observing others interact, reflecting on my beliefs and assumptions), 45/100 for abstract conceptualisation (coming up with my own theories and concepts to understand things better) and 56/100 for active experimentation (testing understanding through practical actions). The most effective way to learn is by improving the 4 styles, still there is always one in which you are stronger. I’m not a brainy person, so I’m not surprised that abstract conceptualisation is my lowest style. I will try to improve it during the course.
When comes to personal cultural values I received scores on eight: collectivism (1/100, I’m 99% individualistic), power distance (18/100, I expect equal rights and I question authority), uncertainty avoidance (100/100, I prefer rules and structures, I’m uncomfortable with unpredictable situations), masculinity (51/100, I have a slightly more femininity orientation than masculinity), long-short term orientation (51/100, I focus on the present rather than on the future), context orientation (34/100, I’m in the middle between being explicit/direct and being implicit/indirect) and being-doing orientation (73/100, I care about actions, proactive behaviour and results more than reflections, quality of life and relationships). I would say that all results are quite accurate although I’m not sure how I scored so low for collectivism when my political beliefs are leftist. Yet, it makes sense because I’m don’t like to work in groups, I don’t have many strong relationship ties and I don’t have a sense of belonging to any community.
Lastly are the results about my CQ. CQ is measured by four factors:
- CQ Drive: “the energy and confidence to do things”. It helps to make efforts and persist when things get difficult. There are three components: self-efficacy (confidence), extrinsic motivation (benefits) and intrinsic motivation (satisfaction).
- CQ Knowledge: “understanding how cultures are similar and different”. It has two components: culture general (involves being aware of different social structures and value systems in the world) and culturally intelligent leadership (how to motivate and lead a multicultural team).
- CQ Strategy: “the capability to perceive yourself, the situation and dynamically adjust your response as the situation unfolds”. It has three components: planning (based on previous knowledge), awareness (paying attention to the present without judgement) and checking (reviewing assumptions and adjusting knowledge).
- CQ Action: “being flexible with your behaviour so you can adapt to different cultures”. There are three components to be adapted: non-verbal behaviour (e.g. gestures), verbal behaviour (e.g. tone) and speech acts (e.g. apologising).
Overall, my CQ is an average of 61. I have to improve a lot my culturally intelligent leadership, my planning and all the components of my CQ Action. I can do this while carrying out my curiosity conversations whilst in Singapore. Here is my full CQ report:
Campus Life: Living in NTU
While I sometimes miss Sussex (my university) and my room on campus, I got used to live in NTU’s campus quite quickly. In fact, there are aspects of it which I wish Sussex had, although there are others which I’m glad Sussex doesn’t have.
On the one hand, food here is much better. Singapore is a melting pot for cuisines from all over Asia, so it is unsurprising the cuisine variety you can find in NTU. For every two halls (more or less), there is a canteen. All the canteens have various stalls from which you can order food. I’m lucky that my hall has a canteen close to my room. In it, there are 6 stalls, one for drinks and snacks, and the rest for food. Two are Chinese food stalls, one is an Indian food stall, one is a Noodles stall and the last one is a Western food stall. When I eat in this canteen, I normally order from one of the Chinese food stalls, asking always for fried rice, either chicken based or vegetable based (one of my favourite dishes in Singapore). I also order normally lemon iced tea from the drink stall (one of my favourite drinks in Singapore).
Apart from the one in my hall, I also eat in other canteens: one close to the building where my lessons take place and one close to the supermarket near my hall. When I eat in any of those canteens, I normally order lemon chicken rice, which is my ultimate favourite meal here and costs around the same price as fried chicken rice. Two whole meals for just $3.60-$3.90 (£2.13) each! In Sussex, food is more expensive (meals are above +£4.50 without the drink) and there is not that much variety at all (the few bars serve the same junk food, while the two central restaurants serve various meals, yet not as many as the various canteens with various stalls in NTU!). NTU also has a big indoors plaza, North Spine, where you can get food from known outlets such as Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks etc. In it there is also a supermarket, a library, a hairdresser, a bank, a printing station and other services available. Yet, I rarely go there, and I rather eat proper meals while I can, before leaving back to England and getting not-so-excellent food again!
On the other hand, while I think NTU is a beautiful green campus, it is hard to move around without using the campus bus. This makes it difficult for me to get to my lessons on time since controlling the buses is hard and walking is a tricky option due to the distances and hot-humid weather. Sometimes I wish my classroom’s building was closer to my hall. Another inconvenience is that I have to share room. Don’t get me wrong: my flatmate is a very nice person and I like her a lot. But I’m not a sharing-room type of person: I did it a lot while I was young and now I want to have my own personal space. I value my privacy and I’m a person who needs to be left alone sometimes because of my mood swing issues. In addition, my room doesn’t have Wi-Fi, you can only get Internet using a cable for your laptop. I was lucky to be told by my roommate that I could create a Wi-Fi hotspot from my laptop to use internet on my phone! Still, the hotspot comes and go. I miss having constant access to the Internet from my phone whilst on campus. And the last issue is that there are no fully equipped kitchens in my hall. There is a pantry room with a microwave, hot water, cold water and a small induction cook. I used to cook my own meals in Sussex, and while I love food here, it would be nice to have at least a fridge to store milk and yoghurt for my breakfast/snacks.
A regular lesson day for me in NTU (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) elapses like this: waking up at 8 am, getting ready by 8:30, taking the bus to The Hive (my classroom’s building) and arriving by 8:50-9, having CQ lessons till 12:30 (with a 20 minutes break and a 5 minutes break in between), going to a canteen to eat with my classmates, getting back to my room around 14:00, resting because of tiredness, writing/studying, having dinner at 18-19 (I used to go out for this, but at some point I bought various cup noodles from the supermarket and had that for dinner in my room), having a shower, and going to bed between 22:00 and 24:00. During non-regular days (Tuesdays, Thursday and Weekends) I go out to explore Singapore, I join group outings with my pals or I participate in cultural activities.
Discovering Singapore: Sentosa Island
On Thursday the 14th of July I spent the day in Sentosa, a popular resort island in Singapore. You can get to it by taking a 5 minutes train from the MRT Station Harbour Front, it is an easy and short journey. While I travelled there with a group of students from NTU, including some of my pals, I decided to explore the Island while they went to Universal Studios (I didn’t want to spend the day in a theme park, I don’t find them that exciting). I alighted from the Sentosa express train in Beach Station, the last stop, and stepped out to have a good day sightseeing the island.
The first place I visited was Siloso beach. It looked like a tropical beach, yet sadly, the weather wasn’t good, it was actually drizzling, so I couldn’t stop much there. I took some pictures and went to a stall near it to order a snack: coconut ice cream with coconut water.
After eating, I walked down the beach to get to Fort Siloso, the only restored coastal fort in Singapore. To get there you need to go through a skywalk: you can walk upstairs or take the elevator (the beginning of the trail is on the top of a high tower, it is better to take the elevator). From the skywalk you get amazing views of Sentosa.
Going to Fort Siloso was a very interesting experience. While walking around the tunnels, chambers and guard recreations I learnt about Singaporean history I didn’t know about, mainly the Japanese invasion in the country during World War II. Singapore was a British colony back then, it served British strategical interests. Following the Battle of Singapore in February of 1942, when the Japanese started bombing and invading Singapore, the British colony admitted defeat. The Japanese occupation of Singapore ended in 1945 after Japan was bombed by USA with nuclear weapons. Singapore went back to British rule till 1965 when the country obtained independence.
Following my visit to Fort Siloso, I took a bus to Imbiah lookout and from there I walked down to The Merlion, a 37 metre concrete statue that represents the icon of Singapore with the same name. I bought a ticket to go inside the statue and I learnt about the story of the Merlion as a national symbol. It is believed a prince discovered the island (Singapore) from far away while exploring in Bintan (an Indonesian island close to Singapore) and travelled by sea to the place. When him and his crew arrived, he reportedly saw a beast he identified as a lion (although lions aren’t native to this part of the world, hence some believe this isn’t true). Because of that occurrence, he named the island Singapura, which means “Lion city” in Malay. The Merlion is actually a half-lion and half-fish creature and it is known as the guardian of prosperity in Singapore.
Next, I took the train and alighted in Waterfront station. There wasn’t much to explore or see there: it is mainly a shopping and eating area, some attractions such as Universal Studios are located there. I just walked around the place for a few minutes and then went to have lunch to the Malaysian Food Streets, an indoors food court. I order Nasi Lemak, a Malay dish normally eaten for breakfast and one of the signature dishes in Singapore. It was delicious although a bit spicy for my palate.
Afterwards, I headed back to Beach station again and decided to walk around one of the other beaches in Sentosa, Palawan beach. It was similar to Siloso even though the weather around that time was much better and there were people in it playing around. From there I went to the Southernmost Point of Asia, a very small island attached to Sentosa by a suspension bridge. It takes just a few minutes to get there walking and there are two tall wooden stands from which you can enjoy amazing views of the beaches in Sentosa and of the sea.
Later, I took the train and went back to Waterfront to have dinner. I was craving pancakes and fortunately I found a place: Slappy Cakes. It wasn’t just a usual restaurant where they serve pancakes: you ordered the dough and toppings you wanted, and then made the pancakes by yourself! At the beginning, I didn’t really know how it worked so I ended up ordering too much. Still, it was a delicious dinner.
By the time I finished my dinner, the group of students with whom I travelled to Sentosa were leaving Universal Studios. I met with them and accompanied them while they had dinner in the Malaysian Food Street. Then, we took the train back to mainland Singapore and our day trip was done!
Cultural activity: Prata Journey
On Saturday the 16th I took part in a cultural activity organised by NTU: Prata Journey, learning about Roti Prata, a signature Indian dish in Singapore. A bus took me and other participants to a café called Big Street where the workshop took place. Roti Prata is a flat bread made up of fat (butter/oil), egg white, wheat flour, water, salt, sugar and condensed milk. It can have additional ingredients added to it, from fruit to egg and cheese. Prata has its origins in Chennai, India. There are others versions of it in the South Asian country: Paratha (North India) and Parotta (South India). There is also a Malaysian version known as Canai. It is believed it was brought to Singapore in 1819 when the founder of British Singapore, Stamford Raffles, arrived to the island with Indian troops, laundrymen, milkmen, traders and political prisoners. Early Indian immigrants in Singapore settled in what today is known as Chinatown.
During the workshop we saw how a chef made Prata dough and flipped it. Then, we tried to learn to flip the dough using fake dough. I didn’t manage to do it, but it was an interesting and fun experience! Afterwards, we were given plain Prata and chocolate prata to eat, accompanied by teh tarik, a hot milk tea commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore. Its name comes from the process of making the beverage, which involves pulling. Overall, I enjoyed the activity a lot and I left with a good taste in my mouth!
(Waitress making teh tarik)
(Chef flipping fake Prata dough)
(For more pictures of my time in Singapore, click here)