Living abroad is something most local uni-undergrads would die for! Other than your run-off the mill summer and winter exchange programmes, the National University of Singapore (NUS), offers a one-of a kind opportunity—NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC).
Isn’t that the same as an exchange programme? Not at all! NOC is a year long programme that links students up with up and coming startups in tech hubs all over the world. From concrete jungle New York to bustling Beijing, students attend part-time classes at prestigious universities in these cities, all while interning at tech start-up firms.
We’ve recently interviewed three NOC alumni on their thoughts, tips and experiences on their spectacular journey. So if you’re interested in hopping on the NOC entrepreneurial experience train, check out what they have to say below:
Who is NOC for?
If you have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, then this programme will be a perfect place for you to spread your wings. Glen Nicholas Lim, who worked at the Marketing department of Workato was certain that he wanted to be a part of this program since his National Service days.
“I first heard of NOC during army where my friends and seniors who had been on the program before and were always sharing with me how going onto NOC is one of the best decisions made in school. I was intrigued by their stories and really wanted to experience it for myself,” he said.
On the other hand, alumni Jolyn Moh credits her desire to be placed in a rigorous and stimulating environment as her primary reason for applying for the programme. The intern at Swedish App Scene also said, “the dynamic pace of the programme keeps me intrigued and is aligned to my goal of learning as much as I can.”
Gunning to get out of the structured comforts of Singapore? NOC challenges students to challenge themselves in areas they may not have known about and to discover their hidden potential.
How to make that year count at NOC
There’s a whole lot of mishaps that could happen during your year abroad, especially in a fast-paced competitive start-up culture. Don’t fret, here are some Do’s and Don’ts from the alumni team on how you can milk as much out of the NOC programme as possible!
Here are the NOC Do’s
You’re in a whole new world, anything could happen! Even though you might be buried under a mountain of work, or tired from the daily commute to and fro school to your company, let live! Saying YES to all kinds of activities might be extremely scary, but those are the memories you won’t regret. There’s no time to beat around the bush, as alumni Regine Lim recounts:
“I felt like a kid in a candy shop when I first arrived here, there’s just so much to do and see. I’ve been up the mountains and in the oceans. I took part in competitions ranging from hackathons to crayfish eating competitions. It’s scary, it’s exhilarating but I’ve never felt more alive”
So yes, go climb a mountain or climb on a horse, and jam-pack your year with a flurry of experiences. There are so many things to do and see, and throwing caution to the wind is your best way to live through it all!
Keep an OPEN MIND
Being in a new environment and as a minority amongst majority can be extremely daunting. Instead of taking every criticism as a partial failure like most of us do in Singapore, change your perspective and look at it from the lens of ‘glass half-full’.
As Glen surmises, “Compared to Singapore where everyone is generally very negative when hearing out new ideas (think: cannot one la, someone else is already doing it, someone else failed, no market etc), the people here will first listen to your idea, then offer suggestions on how you can improve on your idea or make it work.” Although an overseas environment can cause some heebie- jeebies for fresh blood, keeping an open mind will surely help you grow exponentially in your time there.
Learn to ADAPT as the waves come crashing
As a small fry in the big startup industry, you’ll be pushed around by the waves for sure. The tenacity to challenge yourself and pick yourself up after every fall is a vital lesson learnt by all three alumni.
In particular, Regine says,” I remember my first weeks here – struggling to juggle my new job, learning coding and the business as fast as I can, getting to know my batch mates, to stay in contact with loved ones back at home and dealing with school work. It was a difficult time, but it made me see that entrepreneurship isn’t about being a founder and having your own business.”
There are bound to be ups and downs on this journey, but you can either learn to swim or sink through them all. A dynamic start-up environment means that everyone’s ideas count, and everyone has a part to play in the company. Moving to an unfamiliar location will bring along several tests. Even the weather.
“With only one third of sunlight from what we are accustomed to in Singapore, I almost can’t function. The sun sets around 2-3pm during winter, and when that happened, I go into this zombie-like trance. My productivity dipped so low that I didn’t even know what I did not manage to complete. All I wanted to do is to be a polar bear and hibernate!” says Jolyn.
… And the NOC Don’ts
DON’T COWER IN A CORNER
Be it in classes or at your desk, dare to try new things. Staying at home all day or refusing to talk to classmates are pitfalls in your NOC experience. In cities where there are such diverse cultures, seek comfort in the unfamiliar. Talk to your bosses, superiors and colleagues from your company. According to Glen, stepping out of your comfort zone is the golden rule while you’re on NOC.
“Intentionally partner with the local students when attending classes here. You’ll surprise yourself with the conversations you have with them.”
Glen’s right! Keeping to your own circles isn’t going to help you immerse yourself fully in the experience. NOC is the best time to step up of your shell, so go out there and unleash your inner social butterfly.
DON’T STRIKE OUT A COUNTRY BECAUSE OF CULTURAL ISSUES
China? Huh, what if my Chinese capabilities are only limited to ordering food? Your preconceived notions about a certain country should not stop you from giving the opportunity a chance! Regine surmises her initial doubt about her offer to NOC Shanghai, but after the programme, she explains:
“Don’t count China out as one of your choices. I’ve been there – living in a culturally Westernised Singapore had made me feel that it will be difficult to adapt to the Chinese environment, but I’m going to ask you to hold that thought before you experience Shanghai. Experience the convenience and the speed of things here, and the vibrancy of events, both international and local.”
In fact, embrace the culture! Jolyn herself made the leap into Swedish culture, participating in Swedish traditions such as hopping from an a 87 degree sauna into a -20 degree one.
“Apart from making steady progress at work and enjoying the camaraderie we have in our company, one of my other unique experiences is joining a choir here in Sweden. The bond we cultivated during singing also helped me to cope better with winter depression, so I really appreciate this community.”
DON’T LEAVE BEFORE SETTING GOALS
Whether it’s learning a new language, or a new skill, knowing what you hope to achieve from this experience will give you a sense of direction while you hustle on during the programme. Setting small milestones can help greatly as you take in your new environment. Being completely independent on this one-year trip means knowing yourself well is essential.
NOC-alumni Jolyn says, “You are mostly independent in this period, which also means that you have to make a lot of decisions on your own. Know what you what and you don’t want, what are the sacrifices you are willing to make, up to the very detail on how much you want to spend in this period. If you know this beforehand, you get to reduce a lot of cognitive friction and it will really help in your decision making later on.”
So, don’t be fixated on what you’re used to. Growth is all about change, and making that change happen within yourself!
The world is your oyster
The moment you decide to apply for NOC is already the first step you take into the unknown. No matter what seniors and alumni have to say about the experience, your journey will be wholly your own. One thing’s for sure: Change will be inevitable. You’re bound to be exposed to many things, whether they matter or not. And hopefully along the way, you’ll forge friendships, learn till you’re stuffed, see sights that make you tear up, and make memories of a lifetime. So what are you waiting for?
For more information, do visit NUS NOC #notanad.