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‘Great moments’: What it’s like studying industrial design at a top Asian uni

Joshua Cirjak, who once took part of the Industrial Design Programme in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Source: Study International

We got in touch with Joshua Cirjak, a 21-year old Croatian who is now a design major in Vancouver, so he could recount his memories as an exchange student in Singapore. Croatia, home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world is a completely different scene than that of the Lion City. “My time at NTU started off with uncertainty and doubt, and ended with tears of happiness,” he says.

Presently, at 21 years of age, he remembers some of the best things about taking part in the Industrial Design Programme at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Find out what he has to say about The Little Red Dot below:

Tell us some of your favourite memories studying and living in Singapore.

Words cannot describe how perfect of an experience studying in a foreign country across the world was. I had no idea what to expect going to Singapore. Being in an unknown environment by myself helped me grow and find myself. 

Everything frustrated me at the beginning. Having a roommate, having to share a shower, not having any supplies to do my projects, and basically anything out of the norm for me led me to being frustrated. Nevertheless, being in these situations, you start to adapt and find new ways to do things.  

Some of the things I miss from NTU is the boiling hot sun outside paired with the freezing cold AC indoors. As well as seeing all my friends at Canteen #2 and eating economy rice everyday, I also miss kaya toast. After the first week of classes, I knew it would be the best semester of my life. 

To add to that, I miss booking last-minute trips across Asia with friends, hanging out with random people on top of the art and design building, playing soccer with the boys and spontaneous nights out at Clarke Quay. 

All great moments come to an end, but it’s important to realise that there are so many more amazing moments yet to come. Singapore will always have a place in my heart, and I can’t wait to visit again. 

Why did you choose Nanyang Technological University, and what were the best aspects of studying there?

NTU was actually second on my list of exchange schools to attend, a close shave after Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Israel. Though I had choices, I am extremely glad I got accepted to NTU in Singapore. 

Looking back at my experience, when choosing an exchange programme, I aimed to go somewhere as far as possible, and Singapore probably won on my list by miles. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and experience life in a country that seems exotic to me, and far away from home. 

Being in a country where they still speak English, made me feel a lot safer living half-way across the world from my family. Another determining factor for Singapore was its close proximity to a number of other countries. Travelling was something I had with several of my friends who were exchange students like me and chose NTU because of this.

Additionally, I chose NTU because of its stellar reputation, it’s a top design school in all of Asia and ranks 13th top university in the world, according to QS rankings. One of the many unbelievable aspects of studying at NTU were the professors, they were cool and filled with experience. For example, my robotics teacher designed a rover that is currently in the international space station!

Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Source: Joshua Cirjak

Besides, the school itself is another cool aspect. The community at NTU is very strong, and the exchange students blend in seamlessly with the local students. In and out of school, everyone got along!

To boot, the facilities were on another level. There is so much to do at NTU, from playing soccer, going to the gym, swimming and the choice of eating at 12 different canteens. You will never be bored. The buildings at school are incredible, that even international photographers flock to NTU to take photos of its unique architecture. 

How did your experience at Nanyang Technological University prepare you for the future?

NTU taught me many things, not only useful things but also interesting. Although I am a design major now, my home school in Vancouver allowed me to take a few electives that had nothing to do with design. 

Some of my courses included 360 Degree Video & Virtual Reality, Robotics, Digital Compositing, Product Design, and so on. One main thing for me was learning to adjust fast.  Being thrown in an environment where you don’t have basic supplies and having to do the same courses and projects back home prepared me for that. NTU helped me think creatively and differently in order to adapt.

The beautiful interior of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Source: Joshua Cirjak

Adapting to new situations is what really prepared me for my career. When you’re not used to everything, thinking out-of-the-box with minimal supplies and resources really helped. 

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently as an international student?

If I could do it all over again, I would just live in the moment more and soak everything in. I would have spent more time getting to know people, taking part of other activities outside of school. Some of the different options for extra-curricular activities included outdoor movie nights, barbeques and concerts in NTU’s halls, which is something to balance all the school work with!

What is your advice for international students looking to study in Singapore?

DO IT! Studying in Singapore was definitely a big highlight of my life. From the academic side, to my everyday life immersed in a different culture than my own. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being there, but when you are suddenly in an unknown situation, you only have space to grow. 

My advice would be to make yourself uncomfortable, do things that you never would have before. You only live once, and those are the things you will remember when you return from your exchange programme. 

Remembering the time when I first moved to Singapore, I hated many things that included having a roommate, not having my own bathroom, not having a fridge, being in the heat and so on. However, now looking back, these are the things I miss the most!

Try and make as many memories as you can, while you can. Focus on school, but don’t get your head too stuck in the books. Gathered in the main auditorium on the first day of school at NTU, I remember being in awe that there were so many different and unique people and I wanted to meet all of them. 

The cool part of being an exchange student is that you feel connected with other exchange students. Being together in a foreign country kind of brings you all together and makes you feel like you’re part of this big family. 

Joshua poses outside of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, one of the most prettiest academic institutions there. Source: Joshua Cirjak

At the end, they showed us a graph of our emotions and how it fluctuated from sad because we were missing home, to happy when we were adjusting in this new country, back to being sad during our exams and then to being happy when we lived through the peak of our exchange programme. Then came the time to go home, the chart showed us being sad again. 

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