I’ve just turned 21 3 months ago, and the best birthday gifts I’ve gotten this 21st are:

1. Having my beloved friends chip in for the Canon 100D I’ve been dreaming of getting for over a year. It is a supremely worthwhile investment for this exchange trip. I’ve got so many lovely photos of people and places and she has impressed everyone she meets, from New York to Paris.


2. Having my exchange dream come true. I’ve always had my mind set on going for exchange from the time I entered university, against all odds. I knew my parents would object because, hell, where are they going to get the money to fund me on my extravagant travels? They are not about to go slogging their dear old lives working in Singapore while I gallivant around the world, are they? So I took it upon myself to be responsible for my entire trip, from flight tickets to phone plans and shopping.

3. A scholarship! For someone who is self-funding and for someone who is not used to being showered with accolades for excellent performances, this is ultra meaningful to me.

Being 21 confers you the title of independence. With 21 being the legal age on so many fronts, it puts you in charge of your own life, a life that your parents gradually have little control over. There is no better way to live independently than to be on your own & away from your comfort zone.

Having settled in my residence in Galois in a 15m2 square room for 2 weeks now (since 5 Jan), I have:

  • washed by hand my own clothes
  • picked up fallen hair strands in my toilet. Gosh, I never knew how much hair I dropped until now…
  • swept my floor and arranged my furniture
  • purchased my own groceries. Man, I look forward to grocery-shopping each week. I finally can buy the foods I want to indulge in (translate: baby carrots, guacamole, beer), and I can banish unhealthy foods from my room!
  • made time to run outdoors in 7 degree weather at least 2x now. You have no idea how much inertia this freezing weather can create.
  • cooked every single dinner on my own (with the wonderful company of my floor mate from Singapore)
  • the opportunity to prepare my own meals.
    2015-01-14 15.11.45
    I always get reprimanded by my folks when it comes to keeping food overnight. My food never fail to disappear the day after. That provided me with the disincentive to be responsible for what I put in my mouth back in Singapore…
  • to learn to manage my own finances, decide my own phone plan, collect my own mail, and make important decisions.

Which I must say, is not such a bad thing after all! It may be due to the novelty of being independent, but there is a certain achievement in being responsible for the life you create, a certain power in being in control.

I feel like being on exchange gives me the time for self-healing. With lesser responsibilities, I find myself not having to struggle for at least 7 hours of sleep. I do not have to multi-task that much. I do not have to scurry from my workplace to school and from school to home. It’s freeing yourself from the responsibilities of a student, a worker, a child and a friend, so that you have the chance to finally focus on yourself.

With NO shops open AFTER 7PM and most shops being CLOSED ON SUNDAYS, I am able to more diligently prepare my meals the way I like it, I am able to sleep in and focus on work better. Before I subscribed to Internet in my room (thanks to the insistence of my parents that I should), I could diligently write my journal, document every single of my expenses and read! These days I find myself searching for flights and itineraries 80% of the time online.

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Isabel Leong

Isabel Leong

An explorer at heart, the world is Isabel's playground. She enjoys seizing every moment exploring every hideout and doing the unimaginable, like bungee jumping in Phuket and couchsurfing in Europe. If she had wings, she’d definitely be soaring right now. Also a fitness trainer, if she’s not at the gym, you can find her doing yoga or rock climbing! Read more about her on belaroundtheworld.com/about.

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