Background

As a gamedev student at the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences (KUAS), I have the opportunity to go on exchange studies two times during the course of my studies. As someone with an ambition to make an international career, I consider this a privilege and chose to embrace it. In the end of last year, I spent three months as an exchange student at the Trident College of Information Technology in Nagoya, Japan.

In Japan, I worked together with Singaporean students from the School of Interactive and Digital Media (SIDM), which is part of Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). NYP is also in partnership with KUAS and Trident, which encouraged me to apply there for an exchange. Shortly after arriving in Japan, I got a notice that I was accepted on the new exchange program in Singapore during the next summer. The NYP students were a little surprised but promised to show me around in Singapore!

After half a year abroad, I returned to Finland in the end of December. I also got a part-time remote work as a Software Developer at Lieke Suunnittelu, which is company back in Kajaani that works in the field of electrical engineering. My exchange in Singapore was to start in June. In the interim, I juggled between school, work, exercise, several projects, and a personal life. As a result, I remember the spring 2019 as the most stressful but also the most productive part of my life.

Arriving at Nanyang Polytechnic

Air travel at my stature is challenging due to the limited leg space, so this time I paid 100 EUR for extra leg space. Well worth the money. The straight Finnair flight from HEL to SIN took around 11.5 hours, and we arrived at the Changi Airport late in the afternoon. The cab ride from the airport to the NYP campus in Ang Mo Kio took around half an hour for 20 SGD (around 13 EUR). During the ride, I had a first look at the scenery in Singapore, dominated by the numerous HDB buildings.

School campuses in Singapore are relatively large due to high population density. According to my layman’s measurements on Google Maps, the length of the school building is three-quarters of a kilometre. It houses half-a-dozen food canteens with a multitude of stalls, the food options varying from various ethnic dishes to Subway food! Students can participate in many activities in and outside of school hours, including various sports, dancing, archery, etc.

Our dorm building (there were a total of three blocks) was located inside the campus area, so the daily commute to school took us around 3 minutes per direction. The dorm had a well-equipped kitchen, but since the canteens at the campus were open from breakfast until supper, and also until lunch on Saturdays, I usually ate outside. Sometimes I used the Grab app, which is headquartered in Singapore and popular in Asia, to order food from local restaurants straight to the dorm.

Making games at SIDM

In Finland, the producers at KUAS usually produce one game at a time. Even working as the producer and the designer is considered a hazard. And usually for a good reason, since the workload and stress can be overbearing. However, after arriving at NYP, I was assigned to produce three game projects simultaneously. After the initial whammy, the workload eventually levelled to a humane degree, and I had the chance to also work on sounds and 3D graphics.

My personal observations about the NYP students include them working in a strict work culture and showing advanced technical skills. However, many of the students expressed concern about the limited presence of large game companies in Singapore, which again showed in some pessimism about future employment opportunities. Some of the students planned on continuing their studies in a university and/or showed interest in other areas of software development.

Our game projects, which lasted for two months, included a puzzle platformer for Android mobile using artificial reality, a zombie shooter game for PlayStation 4 using virtual reality, and a mecha-themed third-person shooter for PC. The exchange at NYP ended in the International Game Concept Challenge 2019 (IGCC), during which we had less than a week to complete a mobile game concept. We also visited the offices of local game companies gumi Asia and IGG.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

In and around Singapore

The surface area of Singapore is only a little over 720 kilometres. However, with over 5,6 million people cramped inside this small area, the population density is very high. The surface area has been increased by reclaiming land from the sea. Many Singaporeans live in state-built HDB buildings, which is affordable public housing. When talking to Singaporeans about the “city centre”, referring to the downtown area, I was corrected that the whole island is one city with multiple local centres.

The main tourist areas like Downtown Core, Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa, Orchard, and East Coast Park were usually crowded, especially on weekends. While I toured them pretty fast and early on during my stay, I was brought back by events like Singapore Food Festival and Singapore Night Festival. I also revisited places to get some Instagram-worthy pictures, went to the movies, rented eScooters, hunted new food places and revisited old favourites like the Lau Pa Sat food court.

Singapore has numerous cosy parks spread throughout the island. My favourite pick is Marina Barrage at Gardens by the Bay, where you can sit on the grass and catch a nice view of the Marina Bay area with the Marina Bay Sands in the foreground. On the way back, you can follow the shore to the Marina South Pier MRT station, sit on the breakwater and watch the ocean. Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is also a nice place and has benches where you can lay down and relax.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Outside urban areas

While Singapore is undoubtedly a highly urbanised city-state, it’s still possible to retreat from the concrete jungle once in a while to take a hike while being surrounded by real jungle. In July, I spent a half-a-day hiking by following the MacRitchie Trail to TreetopWalk and all the way back, sometimes following trails, sometimes boardwalks, but always guided by regular signboards. On the trail were also monkeys that were trying to bamboozle food from tourists.

One of my best decisions was to buy a tent from Decathlon for around 60 SGD (40 EUR) and go camping on the less-urban Pulau Ubin Island. Without a tent cooler, however, the tent quickly turned into a sauna, so we had to sleep with the tent flaps open. On Pulau Ubin, a camping permit was not necessary like at certain parks on the main island. For me, the most interesting place on Pulau Ubin was the Chek Jawa Wetlands, where I saw picturesque mangroves alongside the boardwalk.

Overall, and this applies to any large city, when leaving the more populated and touristy areas, taking interest in smaller things is a good skill to have. Also, having good company is also important; it can turn even the dullest park with benches without back supports the best place in the world. One of my most memorable discoveries, after wandering hungrily on the dark streets of a residential area, was a local food court on the bottom floor of a HDB block.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Visiting Malaysia and Indonesia

During my my first trip to Malaysia, I made a day trip to Johor Bahru, which is a city north of Singapore, just across the Johore Strait. However, since I made the mistake of going to the Woodlands checkpoint on Saturday at noon, it meant a queuing time of over three hours in a sea of people. Johor Bahru as a city proved to be quite unremarkable, with most places I had pinned on Google Maps being closed. The Daily Night Market sold various goods but felt overall quite touristy.

On my second visit to Malaysia, we made a three night trip to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Because the bus trip to KL took us three times longer (15 hours) than what was promised, we spend the first half of the next day just sleeping at the hotel. On the second day, we went to see the Petronas Towers and splurged on seafood at the Jalan Alor Night Food Court. On the third, we went to see the Batu Caves north of KL and ascended to the Genting Highlands on a cable car.

One hour ferry ride south of Singapore lies Batam, which is an island belonging to Indonesia. The local standard of living was far below that of Singapore but this also meant cheaper prices. We booked a hotel near Nagoya Hill Mall, which is the biggest mall on the island and a nice way to spend an afternoon. One of the most memorable things that we did was eating at Barelang Seafood Restaurant with the picturesque Barelang Bridge in the background.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Cultural observations

It took me a little while to follow the quickly-spoken Singaporean English, or Singlish, as it’s called. Occasionally, I observed some well-masked frustration by locals when listening to my more slow-paced English. Some discourage the use of Singlish, and the government, according to Wikipedia anyways, has created a “Speak Good English Movement” to “encourage Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that is universally understood”, which I find a little humorous.

Singapore is a great place to go on a food splurge since the variety of different ethnic cuisines is difficult to match. Hawker centres are open-air food places with dozens of stalls, each specialising in various cuisines, and they are spread throughout the island with similar indoor food courts. Besides eating local foods like Hainanese chicken rice, I also tried various ethnic foods from Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, China, and India.

I am a man of routines and tend to default to the same food option once I find something that I like. At the NYP campus, I found a stall that served some delicious omurice (omelette rice) with chicken katsu and curry. After a while, I could just walk to the stall and order my regular dish without saying a word! I also enjoyed roti prata, which is an Indian style flour-based pancake served with curry. In the morning, I usually had the traditional breakfast of Kaya-toast and soft-cooked eggs.

Final thoughts

Looking at the current upheaval in Hong Kong and contrasting the cultural and societal differences of Finland and all the places I have been to, including Singapore, has made me to look at the world through a new lens. While earlier, I had the naïve attitude of looking for a “cool” place to settle down in the future, I now know that there are also many other things to take into consideration. For example, how does the local culture align with of my own values?

I spent three amazing months in Singapore from early June until September. During my stay, not only had I the chance to participate at NYP in four different game projects and put them in my CV, I also made new friendships, explored Singapore and the neighbouring countries, and got new perspective on both my professional career and personal life. My next stop will be Lisbon, Portugal, where I will soon start an internship in a video game company.

Sometimes I feel that that building a professional career is like a platformer game where you have to keep on the move lest you’ll get crushed by a big boulder. Whether interning in Hong Kong or exchanging in Japan or Singapore, I have spent a great deal of time by polishing my CV and applying for jobs, sending emails and doing Skype meetings, working on remote projects, preparing for my next trips, and more. Then again, gotta strike while the iron is hot!