The Lion City. The Garden City. Instant Asia.
Instant Asia. This modern nickname for Singapore stood out to me more than any of the others. A country smaller in size than Dallas houses a population of nearly six million people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, as well as an incredibly rich history of cultures in Asia and beyond.
My heart was instantly attached. Instant Asia! The idea of spending six whole weeks immersed not only in my own Indian culture but also the culture of others took hold of me. Knowing that I could be in a country that housed over 850,000 Muslims (with the normalization of women who looked like me, hijab and all!) captured my heart.
After 24 hours of flying, plus an immigration line that rivaled Cabo Bob’s on a Friday night, I was in Singapore for the next month and a half.
The time flew by. My weekdays kept me busy, filled with a 9-to-5 internship and always somewhere to explore after work. My weekends kept me excited, wanting more and more of what Singapore had to offer after every adventure with my new friends. But Singapore also offered me something else: being a part of the crowd.
Seeing so many women who looked like me outside of Islamic spaces, simply out and about in the world — a woman in a hijab riding a motorcycle, a woman in niqab grabbing breakfast, a woman in a jilbab shopping at the mall — brought a level of acceptance that I had never felt before.
It wasn’t that they were simply existing that brought a smile to my face; it was that they were among the many. Back home, for people who aren’t familiar with Muslims in their spaces, I am a representation of what Islam is and who Muslims are, making me forever self-conscious of everything I do and say.
Here in Singapore — Instant Asia — I not only see women in hijab daily, but I also see people of other faiths dressed in their own religious and cultural clothing. This melting pot of diverse cultures and religions coexists in a way I had never before experienced. I found myself eager to wear the two kurtas I brought along with me, comfortably put on my abaya while out in public, and explore novel and different ways of expressing my cultural and religious identity to the world, all without ever feeling like the odd one out.
The opportunity to intern in Singapore allowed me to really immerse myself in the community as though I were a regular Singaporean. When I went to the office on weekdays, I’d wake up at 7 a.m., get ready for the day, grab a pastry from a local hawker (an open-air food center) next door, and hop on the MRT (Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit system) for a 10-minute ride to my office. From there, I would spend the day working on projects, preparing presentations and running focus groups. When I worked remotely, I had the opportunity to sit in my housing’s lobby with a beautiful view of Fort Canning Park.
Weekends were a different story and packed with traveling. With my program, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Sentosa beach in Indonesia, where we sunbathed and toured the city. On my own, I made the trip to Malaysia to see the beautiful city of Kuala Lumpur, hike the historical graveyard of Bukit Brown and explore different masjids, museums, and malls.
If I could go into detail about each day and each incredible experience, this post would never end. So, I will close with this: I spent my time in Singapore learning about myself. And sure, probably everyone who studies abroad will share some level of this sentiment, but I can’t help repeating them and myself.
This was my first time in a different country by myself, and with that came new challenges I never imagined. Each obstacle brought a newfound appreciation for the opportunities provided for me: for the country I was in, and for my own ability to take on life headfirst… 9,800 miles away from home.
This post was contributed by Simoon Saiyed, a guest blogger for Fall 2022. Simoon interned abroad in Singapore in Summer 2022 and is studying international relations and global studies.