A Semester in Singapore
I’m currently spending the spring semester as an exchange student at the National University of Singapore. Halfway through my time here, I will share some of my experiences with you to offer insight into what it’s like to study law on the other side of the globe.
Singapore is a city, a country, and an island. In many ways it is the center of the Southeast Asian legal community, as many international law firms operating in the region base themselves here. Culturally, Singapore boasts a unique blend of Chinese, Indian, and Malay influences. The national language is English, although it might be more accurate to say it is Singlish, an interesting local slang that I am still trying to fully grasp. (For beginners, just add “la” at the end of a few sentences, and you’ll get by just fine.)
Courses at NUS are known as “modules,” and as an exchange student I am to fulfill 16 NUS credits in order to receive 12 NYU credits. The four four-credit modules in which I am registered are not too different from typical offerings at NYU; I am enrolled in Mergers & Acquisitions, Entertainment Law, International Commercial Arbitration, and Foreign Direct Investment in Asia. Nonetheless, my classroom experience has been rather unique in comparison with what I’ve come to know at NYU.
I am the only American in any of my modules
I attend lectures alongside Singaporean undergraduate students, international exchange students, and graduate LL.M. students. In keeping with the broad diversity of the class rosters, many of my courses take a comparative approach to legal analysis. We review casework from a variety of jurisdictions, including both common law and civil law systems, although the majority of the cases and legislation that we study come from the U.S., the U.K., or Singapore.
As the “token American,” I am often called upon to offer an American perspective on whatever discussion may be occurring. Sometimes the questions are strictly academic, such as explaining the U.S. style of footnoting or assisting my baffled classmates in understanding why two corporations would want to perform a reverse triangular merger.
But other questions have been more… off-the-cuff. For example, during my very first Entertainment Law lecture, which focuses on pop iconography and celebrity, I was called on several times to express my thoughts on various aspects of American culture. The highlights: describing the impact that Tiger Woods’s scandal has had on his image, explaining the significance of spam within American culture, and contemplating what “talents” have given Paris Hilton her celebrity status. You know, classic “Socratic method”-type questions.
Lectures are three hours long
Studying at NUS Law is truly testing the limits of my attention span. Although three of my four modules meet just once per week, each lecture is a thorough three-hour session. My fourth module, dubbed an “intensive,” concluded after the first three weeks of the semester, but during that time we met three times per week, three hours each time. After enduring a few Hurricane Sandy-lengthened lectures at NYU at the end of last semester, I thought I might be prepared for the adjustment to longer sessions. I was wrong. At times I feel as if there’s not enough powdered instant Nescafé in all of Singapore to keep me alert for the duration of each lecture. But sleepiness aside, the long classes do allow us to cover a remarkable amount of material, and it is not unusual for professors to address over 100 pages of reading in a single class.
In every class that I’ve taken so far at NYU, the final grade that I received has been based entirely on my performance on one culminating assessment, whether it was an in-class exam, a take-home exam, or a research paper. But at NUS, professors evaluate student performance throughout the duration of each module with various graded research papers, group projects, or simulations. Even attendance and classroom participation can contribute to some percentage of a student’s overall grade. In an extreme case, my Foreign Direct Investment in Asia module involves a lengthy in-class contract negotiation, and as such attendance and classroom participation comprise 50% of the final grade.
A quick tangent: I remember about a year ago I was sitting through one of the mandatory PILC summer funding info sessions. I knew that I wanted to spend my 1L summer working abroad. One of the final slides of the PowerPoint presentation that day was a photo of a beach umbrella; the PILC counselor on stage quipped, “You can go ANYWHERE! Just don’t go sit on the beach all summer!” I think he was joking, but in a “No, really, we’re giving you this money, please don’t go sit on the beach” sort of tone. I heeded the advice and spent my summer working in Beijing, where I basked in pollution and smog rather than UV rays.
Studying in Singapore offers the opportunity to pursue a rigorous legal education… without sacrificing that beach umbrella. NUS students can take advantage of short, inexpensive flights to countless destinations across Asia; popular getaways in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are all easily accessible. University-wide holidays such as Chinese New Year, a mid-semester recess week (Singapore’s version of spring break), and an additional reading week at the conclusion of classes offer plenty of opportunities to travel. So if you’re looking to spend your free time frolicking around Southeast Asia, then Singapore has that going for it, too… which is nice.
There’s even a bit of paradise on campus. I live in an apartment-style dormitory in the massive residential area of the NUS campus known as University Town. A few weeks ago, the school opened a brand new infinity pool for students just across the lawn from my residence hall. Even when you’re not traveling, you can still take in the sunshine and gaze out over the sprawling green campus below. After you finish reading all of those documents your professor left in your locker, of course.
My unsolicited advice to any prospective students or 1Ls who may be reading this: go abroad during your time at NYU. Although there’s still a lot that I miss about Manhattan, I am thoroughly enjoying my semester as an exchange student in Singapore. The international atmosphere, cultural diversity, and array of local cuisines all present a welcome change of pace. At the very least, my time here is helping me through the post-1L malaise that seems to afflict all law students. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in an international career, or if the prospect of three years of law school in the same place just sounds monotonous to you, then consider one of NYU Law’s many exchange programs or three new study-abroad options. Don’t worry, you can thank me later.