Pathway to university: moving from Singapore to Stockton

Gwen Sim is a pre-university foundation year law student at the Durham University International Student Centre. She will be blogging her experiences once a month for Times Higher Education Student

January 17 2018
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My name is Gwen and I was born in Singapore but I lived in Japan for a few years too. Although I graduated from an Australian high school, I have also experienced the Singaporean and US school systems.

After high school, I spent a year at the International Christian University in Japan as an undergraduate student. Although I had a fantastic time there and met the most wonderful people, I decided that I would like to pursue a law degree in the UK. After doing some research, I applied to Durham International Study Centre’s (DUISC) law foundation year programme via their website. It was a simple process, however, I did have to take the IELTS as part of the application. I am now in my second term of the foundation year course, aiming to progress to the LLB programme at Durham University.

I chose to do a foundation year programme with Durham University because of the institution’s amazing reputation, especially in regard to their law programme. Another big reason for my choice is that, in order to be admitted to the Singapore bar, students must graduate from a law school approved by our Ministry of Law, and Durham University is part of that exclusive list.

My experiences will be quite unique to most international students as I am spending my foundation year in the small, quaint town of Stockton-on-Tees, which is where the DUISC is located. Upon successful completion of my foundation year, I will be moving to the main Durham University campus in Durham City. As for now, Durham City is a free one-hour bus ride away from Stockton.


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Prior to moving to Stockton, I had never set foot in a European country. My main source of information about England was from TV shows and Enid Blyton books. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I arrived in the town but I knew that it wasn’t going to be like London, which made me a little nervous. I am very much a city girl, having lived my whole life in dense and crowded areas with sky-high buildings and shops that close at 10pm.

Obviously, I soon came to realise that Stockton isn’t like the cities I grew up in. But that’s okay – it's even a good thing. Even though I was nervous about it, a huge part of me is glad to be living in a completely different environment to what I’m used to, because that’s what studying abroad is about – trying new things and learning from them.

I’ve spent just over three months here now and I can honestly say that I’ve developed a fondness for this charming town and small campus. The DUISC staff and the Stockton-on-Tees local council collaborated to welcome us in our first week. I appreciated how they went the extra mile to make us feel more at home as many of us were a long way from home for the first time. They organised events and trips for us to get to know the campus and town better, which definitely made settling in a lot easier. When I started classes, something that stood out to me was how much the tutors wanted to help us progress towards Durham University as much as they could.

Still, even with the support provided, settling in wasn’t a walk in the park – I had to battle with homesickness and get used to new classes, all the while figuring out a routine to maintain my long-distance relationship with my boyfriend in the US. I eventually settled in with the help of my tutors at the ISC and the friends I have made.

But having just returned from visiting Singapore in my Christmas break, where I was reunited with my family, friends and boyfriend, I’m trying to get used to my life in England again.

I’m currently getting back into my routine of walking to the supermarket for a late-night snack and arguing with my friends over which Indian restaurant to get take-out from but I’m excited to see what this term will hold for me and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with other prospective or current study-abroad students. 

Gwen Sim is foundation year law student at the Durham University International Study Centre. She will be blogging her experiences once a month for Times Higher Education Student.

Read more: How international students use social media to choose a UK university

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