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By Taylor Garland

Today marks one week since I’ve been home from Singapore and honestly, it’s incredibly bittersweet to watch the city I’ve grown to love from afar. For fun, I finally sat down to watch Crazy Rich Asians, the box office hit that was monumental in its representation of Asian characters, and its efforts to plunge Singapore on the world stage. Though there can (and has been!) lengthy debate on its depictions of Singaporean culture, of the country’s diversity despite the ethnically Chinese majority, my heart felt so light watching the characters move through the streets I did, and I felt a kind of pride in knowing that I had my own memories in the same places the characters did.

I’m not sure how to advise or best report the feeling of longing for somewhere you barely had time to get accustomed to. Four or five months pales in comparison to the rest of my life, and the times I’ve spent living in any other place. Maybe it’s because I’d invested so much emotional energy into “making it” while I was studying abroad – I sought local friends, a true cultural and social immersion, and wanted authentic experiences outside of what a “visitor” might – but it was so hard to say goodbye. It was hard to part with my routines, my friends, my room, and the city. It was hard to say goodbye to the food, the hawker centers, the aunties and uncles, the SINGLISH, the architecture, the intersection of Chinese, Malay, Indian and the West.

For anyone considering going abroad, I’d say do it. Even if it seems impossible, make it a reality. There are things I’ve done while abroad, in countries I’ve never even considered going to, that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

By Fatima Zahra Kassidi

As my semester abroad comes to an end, I write this last blog post with a heavy heart and a great load of wonderful memories. Reminiscing on my first post, I realize my identity has not changed much but it definitely grew stronger and by that I mean that my pride in it has multiplied. Experiencing such a diverse and welcoming scene where people from all over Asia and many European natives, now expats, have built an environment of respect and discipline and have proven that this cohabitation is not as difficult to achieve as other areas of the world have portrayed. I have realized that my identity as a global citizen has deepened and affirmed further than ever before thanks to my several opportunities to travel, explore and familiarize with such different cultures. I have been around so many nationalities and languages such as regional Malay, Mandarin, Bahasa, Tagalog... Moreover, I have had the incredible honor of visiting some areas of Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Australia and Thailand. This thirst for discovery and wanderlust has grown insatiable as I constantly battled between classes and expanding my array of foreign visits and cultural knowledge to learn from. The hardest part about returning home would definitely be leaving this City-State hub called Singapore—connecting you to so many other amazing places, a literal door for travel lovers as myself. Another hard reality is putting an enormous distance between friends that you developed special bonds with but will become dispersed all over the world. The good side is that I now have a global network of friends and we can visit each other. Indeed, plans and dates have already been reserved for reunions in the coming future. I have also shared contact information with my professors to keep in touch with. Although I have had an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, I’m happy to find the comfort of home in Morocco for a few weeks before heading back to GW and finding a certain stability for one last semester where my weekends will look like Gelman library dates and not Singapore Changi airport meetings en route for yet another adventure.

By Taylor Garland

I’m reporting live, dear readers, from the other side of the semester. My final submission was last week, and I have to say that I’ve never felt like I’ve worked harder on anything else – and all the grades are pass fail!!!

To refresh, I’m a Marketing Major, with a Fine Arts/Art History dual minor. I’ve completed the majority of my business degree, with the rest of the classes required to be completed in my next, final semester. For this fall semester, I planned on completing my minor, so four out of the five courses I’ve taken here in Singapore have been either studio courses or art history…and let me tell you…I suffered for my work.

In my weekly schedule, my first class was Applied Drawing. I found it to be like an elevated foundation drawing class – for people who were familiar with drawing techniques to hone in on their artistic voice and methods. This was a bit above my technical level, but I tried my best to keep up, and ended up producing a lot of artwork that I’m generally quite pleased with!

The next class was my one business course, Social Marketing. It was about creating marketing strategies for social issues, which differs to traditional product marketing. I enjoyed conversations about ethics, learning more about the Singaporean social fabric, and getting a look at how different expectations are for business school students here versus in the states.

Next class was History of Photography. A delightful (and manageable) dive into the mechanics of the evolution of photography, as well as the people and art movements that were important to this timeline.

After this, one of the most interesting and intellectually challenging classes I’ve ever taken – The Expanded Field of Art: Public Spaces. This class was intended to interrogate the construction of “space” in the Singaporean art scene, as well as identify actors and relationships relevant to Singapore’s struggle with its identity and the art its people produces. The readings were, in my opinion, unnecessarily dense and required academic context that I definitely didn’t have. However, after several passes through the readings, and hours of discussion with my group mates (who became two of my closest local friends) there was a ridiculous 3am intellectual breakthrough, and we were able to piece together a new, cohesive argument, drawing on the texts and our experiences within the class. Our final presentation (and accompanying essay) is one of my proudest achievements this semester!

My final class was called Wearable Technology: Fashion and Design. While the Public Spaces class was the most intellectually challenging, Wearable Tech was the most time consuming and labor intensive. This class was essentially a three-hour studio in preparation for a end-of-semester fashion show, where we would design and create an outfit that featured some kind of technology in its context and execution. I spent a cumulative of about 200 hours (I wish I was kidding) designing, creating, breaking and then remaking my garment. The technical aspect, the sewing (which took the most of the time due to the design which in hindsight, was WAY too ambitious), and the research and coordination for the class’ show consumed my time deep into the night. Definitely a challenging course as an exchange student, but I had a lot of fun creating and discussing and spending long hours with my professor, who was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

In all, this semester was full of challenges and setbacks, as well as break throughs, congratulations, and moments of genuine pride when reflecting on my work that I’ve never felt before in any other college class (save for my African-American Art History course with Bibiana Obler, which I would highly recommend to any GW student thinking of studying art history!). I’m super happy with my work and the memories I made with those who were working around me.

By Taylor Garland

Learning languages has always really interested me, particularly learning each language’s slang. Since I’m only really fluent in English, I’ve had a wealth of different countries with English slang, but never did I think I’d love Singlish so much.

Singlish, Singaporean English, is easily one of my favorite things about this little island. It’s a mixture of primarily English and Hokkien Chinese (with a few Malay and Indian terms, so I’ve been told).

Here are some of my favorite terms:

  • Bo Jio (v) – to not invite ex. (when you see an Instagram post from your friend’s party that you didn’t know was happening) -in comment section- “Bo jio :/”
  • Shiok (adj) – great (has many different meanings, can be used as an exclamation or as an adjective) ex. Ooh-la-la. Wowie. Shiok. Jazzy, man. Beaut.
  • Chio (n) – pretty girl ex. She chio lah.
  • Smoking (v) – making things up on the fly, bluffing ex. Rose had no idea what she was talking about during her business presentation, she was smoking the whole time lah
  • Shag bawls (adj) – tiring ex. Have to listen to my friend complain about breaking up with her boyfriend….. wah shag bawls
  • Sien (adj) – annoying (because x has become a burden) ex. I’ve been studying for this exam all month, this is so sien.
  • Tabao (v) – to take away, food to go ex. I don’t have time to eat in canteen, so I have to tabao my lunch.
  • Can (v) – to be able to (similar in English, but different in sentence placement) ex. Can pay by nets? “Can, can”
  • Jialat (adj) – nothing is going your way ex. Wah jialat liao, look like it’s going to rain!
  • Aiyo (adj) – quick response to something bad or unpleasant ex. (cup of kopi is spilled on table) Aiyo, spill!

By Taylor Garland

Being so far away from home for an extended amount of time brings on a multitude of challenges – how will you go through your daily life the same (hint: you won’t)? You start to cultivate what it means to live somewhere entirely new, you learn new languages, eat new foods, maybe wake up earlier (or later!) or joined an activity you would never have back home. All of this is done with so much excitement, but that doesn’t mean you forget about the people back home.

In my first semester in Shanghai, I was super bummed out that no one could visit me. Flights were expensive, the timing wasn’t ideal, and visas were kinda hard to work out on short notice. Of course, I understood that and didn’t hold it against anyone for not visiting – I was just sad I never got to share such an amazing city with anyone back home.

Then, when I was in Milan, I felt like every other weekend was filled with people I knew from school or home. My mom visited twice, once with my sister, I traveled Europe to visit friends from school who were also abroad, hosted a handful of Americans for an extended amount of time, and that almost felt like too much. Everyone around me had a common background – how was I supposed to learn how to live authentically here?

Now in Singapore, my mom has come to visit once at the end of my semesters. So, I’ve effectively been on my own for the full three and a half months of schooling. What I’ve learned about that, about missing the people back home, is that sometimes it’s best to miss them. They’ll be there when you return. But you must work hard to make and cherish the new relationships right in front of you, because those will be the ones you miss in the long run. And now I’ve spent enough time here to introduce my mom to spoonfuls of my Singaporean life in a way that feels real, and not repetitive.

Here are some of my recommendations for when people visit you abroad:

  • You don’t have to do tourist-y things just because that’s what tourists do. Bring people to where you spend time, introduce them to the people you spend time with. Let them see your new home through your lens.
  • It’s ok to indulge, if you can. Is there a bar you’ve been meaning to go to but the drinks are a bit more expensive than you like? If there a day trip, a ticketed experience, something almost too far by transit that you were really meaning to go to? Try now! Experience something new together with someone that knows you well.
  • Be real about your time. Don’t build up where you are and then feel like you’re lying about what you enjoyed and what you struggled with. If hanging laundry for three days because they’re never fully dry with the humidity and rain sucks, then say it sucks. If you really like food at a certain canteen, or if you really liked some dive bar you went to twice, just say it. This all contributes to letting who is with you see where you are through your lens.
  • Have fun. You aren’t responsible for covering the most ground, spending the most money or having the most “efficient” trip. You’re there as a host, to someone who probably missed you, and it’s ok to take time and move slow if that’s what you enjoy more than a jam-packed schedule. Do what you think is best for the both (or all!) of you, and I’m sure whoever has come to visit will have a good time.

Here are some pictures of me and my mom:


By Taylor Garland

It’s been roughly 4 months since I’ve gotten to Singapore, and I’ve just begun the end of my stay. Having experiencing this “ending” twice before, you’d think I’d have a handle on how to say goodbye BUT…this sucks.

This was the first place I’d gone completely alone, knowing absolutely no one and absolutely nothing about Singapore (to be honest, if you had asked me to point it out on a map it would have taken quite some time and quite some guesses). It was a challenge to understand, to feel like I was doing it “right” (ie. not sweating every time I went outside), and to feel like I was making the right friends for the right reasons. I wanted meaningful, genuine relationships, and it was about a month ago when I realized I’d made just that.

I threw myself into Singapore with few resources to keep afloat, only knowing that I wanted local friends to leave behind, with the promise of a return in the future.

I was on the rugby team, I went to local art events, I went to screenings of movies with my friends and traveled and went dancing and got ice cream after class and dim sum at midnight. I rode bikes under the moon along the beach, went to concerts where I was on a first name basis with the band members, discovered the superior messaging app Telegram, and made myself a little space in a way I hadn’t in Shanghai or Milan.

I hadn’t been to anywhere tourists were until this week, on my way to a show I saw the Merlion. Weird how I can exist on such a small island for so long and just never come into contact to the Singapore that it presents itself to be. I feel like a local.

I wasn’t sure which pictures to include in this post, so here’s just a couple of what my life has looked like in the past few months:

By Taylor Garland

Thinking of coming to this tropical belt for a semester, but not sure what to bring? Here’s a guide on what, after two previous semesters abroad, I packed, and my thoughts on it after being in Singapore for 3 months (one and a half left!).

So to start, my personal wardrobe is very minimal – most of my clothes are monochromatic, and therefore can fit in a variety of outfits. Even my workout clothes double as pajamas or subtle outfit pieces (black shorts, black leggings, etc).

When selecting my wardrobe for this semester, I took into consideration travel, my personal interest in activities (hiking, swimming, etc), and the weather in all of the places I plan to go. I knew Singapore is hot and humid all year long, but a lot of academic buildings have aircon.

To organize my clothes, I used a set of packing cubes I bought on Amazon. I put my jackets, dresses, and some pants in the largest cubes, shirts together, underwear together, etc. I ended up bringing:

  • 5 Dresses/Jumpsuits
  • 11 Bottoms (shorts + pants)
  • 11 Tops (long + short sleeve)
  • 1 raincoat
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 10 pairs of underwear (+6 bras)
  • 4 hats (go dragons!)

For shoes, I tried to pick one pair for each “function”. So in order from left to right starting with the top row: shower, casual slippers for the lazy days, casual, exercise, casual sandals for extra hot days, “going out” heels.

For toiletries and miscellaneous things, I organized them by function, then into bags.

Here I have: makeup + skincare, extra bag (for clothes I might make dirty during transit), earrings + hair accessories, pencils/pens/scissors/calculator, and toiletries + extra toothbrush.

I also brought a few loose bags (2 totes, one “shopping” bag, and a mesh bag for my laundry)

While most of the packing cubes and shoes + related things went into my check-in luggage, here’s a picture of my carry-on with a few extra things I wanted to bring including: my cameras, some books, my neck pillow, a rolling brush, a mirror, and an extra change of clothes (pulled from the packing cubes!)

I ended up having this small carry on, a backpack, and a large luggage to check in (which had room for more things in the event I buy clothes through my travels!)

In all, I know I could have packed even less if I wanted to, and I probably would have gone for a smaller check-in luggage.

Thanks for reading!

By Fatima Zahra Kassidi

The real big identity speech I had from my family did not take place before me heading to Singapore for study abroad but actually when I first embarked in my college journey. Indeed, Singapore wasn’t my first real relatively long term adventure away from home but going to the US for higher education after graduating high school in Morocco was. My whole community was encouraging me to make a choice of staying closer to home where most graduating teenagers from Morocco went: France. In that way, they wanted me to remember where I came from and be able to come back home to a certain comfort and safety as often as possible. However, I made the decision to cut ties and fly away to the destination that had the education and life I thought I would flourish the most in. The thought of being independent and learning to make myself safe without the shadows of my community was vital. However my family did not understand this aspect at first as I was leaving to a deemed very far place compared to the average high school graduates. The first support I had from my family when they started to be more understanding of my decision as I was preparing to leave across the ocean was my mother and grand parents filling a whole luggage of Moroccan food and sweets to store when I arrive so that a piece of the culture would stay with me as I settled in the new foreign environment, an idea that I thought was very important to sustain. I remember having a conversation on the phone with my mom about a month after moving in my campus dorm and starting my first semester of freshman year—she reminded me that even though I saw people doing things I was in no way obligated to do the same things just to try to fit in. In that same conversation she also made sure to remind me that people are raised with different values whether they are cultural or religious and in some cases that meant you won’t feel the same excitement about doing some things. And most importantly she told me that this didn’t mean that I couldn’t fit in, quite the contrary, differences make people more interesting and are an incredible way to keep an open mind and learn about each other but only when respect and tolerance are strong foundations. This speech still resonates with me today every time I travel some place new in the world for whatever purpose. The respect of diversity has been such an important thought to me ever since and it helped me build and maintain life long relationships throughout the past few years shaping my current identity. I learned to be able to stand up for my beliefs and never feel constrained to act in some ways for the simple satisfaction of feeling like I belong somewhere. If anything is meant to happen then it will find a way to see life and anything feeling forced shouldn’t be entertained. That is the main thing that I was taught by my community every time I went away and that shaped who I am today and how I engage with both the world and people. I always felt like my identity is constantly changing but it was never really challenged until I crossed national borders and was left to grow on my own and adapt in unfamiliar settings while still remembering and being proud of my original sources.

By Fatima Zahra Kassidi

1- The first set of photos was taken in Hajji Lane—a colorful place full of great ambiance, charming coffee shops, bars, vintage boutiques and arts on the street walls. A great sense of Singapore community can be felt there and one of my favorite spots.


2- This picture however is Arab Street. There are lots of delicious Arab food specialties for you to try. In the back you can see the mosque where muslims come for prayers. In some way I feel a sense of home as there is a Moroccan restaurant I can go to when feeling homesick.

3- This last picture was taken in Little India. If you like Indian food and culture, it’s the place to be. It is a very vibrant community in Singapore with lots of colors and culturally inspired art.

By Taylor Garland

I used to go to house shows in high school where teenagers would just wail on their guitars and lament about our problems – small towns, parents who don’t understand, gender and sexuality. In early college I went to see my musician friends play sets and talk about their latest emotional crises and play some familiar baseline. Now nearing the end of my college career, in my last study abroad, it baffles me to stumble upon a group of people in Singapore, one of the farthest places geographically from where I grew up, and hear a familiar sound. See people in the same styles my friends dress in.

It’s weird to know that globalism has popped the lid of of music subcultures. If Spotify was around in the 70’s, would punk rock be as closely aligned with London as we know it to be? Or 90’s indie rock with New York?

I used to thing this brand of lofi dream pop was unique to my teenager-dom. But these beach-ey guitar riffs and tasteful feedback are sounds I share with millions of people around the world. And I always find these pockets of the same crusty subculture the same way – “hey my friend is producing a show, you should come!” Thank god for friends of friends.

My first few weeks in Singapore have been challenging socially. I was worried I wouldn’t find anyone that was like me, or would like me. What if my sense of humor is too weird? Who’s going to actually laugh at my jokes because they think I’m funny, not because they feel like they have to. What if no one wants to travel where I do, listen to the same music, dress the same, have the same thoughts and beliefs and fears? The fear of not finding like-minded people makes me feel anxious and isolated before I even got here.

This weekend, I went to an album release for a local band called Subsonic Eye, and it was a testament that I’m not alone, and I’m not unique (which is a more comforting notion than anything else). There are people around the world that share my likes and interest, think the same things are funny as I do, and listen to the same music. Leaving my home doesn’t mean stepping away from things I care about. I don’t have to construct an alternative identity that I think would fit better here.