Students share their eye-opening exchange experience in exotic locations

Get of a taste of what NUS short-terms programmes have to offer.

What comes to mind when you think about the overseas opportunities  NUS offers? For most of us, we think of the Student Exchange Programme (SEP), in which students spend a semester abroad at a foreign university.

While that sounds enticing, the International Relations Office (IRO) offers a wide variety of short-term  programmes that go beyond the typical semester- long exchange—from overseas internships to international summer programmes. The best part is, many of these options range from as short as four weeks, to as long as six months long. So if you’re looking to maximize your time-off during summer vacation, or want to live abroad for an extended period, the SEP isn’t your only option.

But don’t just take our word for it—we spoke with our fellow peers who chose to take a leap by going on some of these short- term international programmes.

Mongolia1

Mongolia2

 Charmaine Ng, Literature, Year 2. International Summer Programme with the National University Of Mongolia

BEING EXPOSED TO THE VASTNESS OF NATURE ON AN   EVERYDAY BASIS LEFT ONE IN A “PENSIVE STATE”

Being different is something that Charmaine can attest to. After all, she confesses that “it must take  a tinge of weirdness for people to choose Mongolia in the first place.”

Once a History major, Charmaine took part in the month-long Archaeology summer programme offered by the National University of Mongolia in Ulan Bataar, the nation’s capital.

So why Mongolia? “I have a fascination with the transient and nomadic lifestyle, so Mongolia was really the place for me,” the Year 2 FASS student told us.

As it turns out, she definitely got all that she bargained for—and more. Having the opportunity to live in an authentic nomadic ghir (traditional Mongolian tent) gave her a window into the life of traditional Mongolian nomads, by roughing it out in the wilderness, taking care of their livestock, and chasing lambs, horses and even cows!

On top of that, the summer programme allowed Charmaine to interact with not just Mongolians, but people from all around the globe.

“There was a Canadian, a Finnish and many East Asians… I realise there are a lot of cultural differences, and it was very interesting to know how they feel and think.”

Because the students couldn’t use their phones or access the Internet, they were forced to spend more time with each other. By the end of the trip, strong bonds of friendship were forged.

Moreover, disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature seems to have left a deep impact on Charmaine. She laughed as she recounted the immediate culture shock upon returning to Singapore, and observed that being exposed to the vastness of nature on an everyday basis left one in a “pensive state”.

“People say that the vastness of the sea presents the illusion of the sea meeting the sun. But in Mongolia, it’s the total opposite… [it’s] the land that meets the sun.”

For a perspective like that, a month of no Internet access and chasing animals was definitely worth it.

Mexico

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Nur Eliza, Environmental Studies, Year 4. International Summer Programme with Tecnologico de Monterrey in Queretaro, Mexico

“JUST GO FOR IT!”

“It’s something that I couldn’t imagine going on my own… so I thought this would be a great opportunity to try [it out].”

And that’s exactly what Eliza did: a six-week International Summer Programme with Tecnologico de Monterry, in Queretaro, Mexico.

Designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, Quetaro was the perfect place for Eliza to explore and immerse herself in Mexico’s natural and cultural heritage. Some of her trip’s highlights include visiting La Pena De Bernal, one of the world’s largest monoliths; and the La Huasteca rapids. “We stayed in a cabin near the river and we went rafting. It was quite dangerous, and the most memorable part was when we jumped off a giant rock near the waterfall!” she enthused.

Even though she faced challenges when it came to her Islamic dietary requirements, this didn’t stop her from enjoying her time there. In fact, she learnt how to adapt to her environment: as Mexican eateries usually sold non-halal products, Eliza scouted for foods that she could eat—such as eggs and cheese

(“a lot of cheese!”).

The hospitality and kindness of those around her also helped her transition into Mexican culture. She recounted her experience with her host family, whom she described as very friendly and accommodating, when she first came over for dinner. “When I came into their house, they kissed me from cheek to cheek to welcome me, and they even complimented me in Spanish.”

When she told them about her halal requirement, her host profusely apologised. “She was like, oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t know! ‘Cause she’s a chef, she quickly cooked something and gave it to me, and she kept asking if I wanted more,” she said.

“It changed my perspective of the place,” she mused. “From what we learn here, we think Mexico’s a very dangerous country and we’re too scared to go there. Once you’re there, it’s quite different!”

Any advice for students who’re still hesitating whether they should go on a short-term summer programme?

 “Just go for it!”

 

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Sri Lanka2

Sri Lanka3

Joel Wong, Physics, Year 3International Internship with World Vision Sri Lanka

EVEN EATING WAS AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE.

For Joel, it was all about trying out his options. “I know I’m definitely interested in physics, and I’m interested in working in an NGO and doing humanitarian work. So, I just wanted to explore my options.”

This meant choosing to fly to Sri Lanka and working with World Vision for eight weeks on the ground. As an intern for the Paddipalai Area Development Programme (ADP), Joel was heavily involved in the evaluation of community organisations and their social development programmes.

Learning on the job was an experience in itself. “For the hands-on part, I conducted discussions and interviewed the exco of the organisation—the villagers themselves. For the work itself, I had to write a study [on the organisations].” Taking the initiative, he also approached colleagues to teach him more about humanitarian work and to bring him out for field trips. His pro activeness paid off— he gained more experience and exposure.

Though embarking on an international internship was challenging, it was definitely worth it. One example was the different aspects of Sri Lankan life—very much different from his life back in Singapore—which took some time getting used to.

 “Over there, they horn for everything!” he exclaimed. “If you see someone along the road, you horned to say hi. If someone gives way to you, you horned to say thank you, and the person would horn back to reply, ‘no problem.’ ”

Even eating was an eye-opening experience. In Sri Lanka, the use of utensils is few and far between, so learning how to eat with hands was a tactile gastronomic trip. And the food itself? “They mix together the dhal, curry and vegetables to form one whole ball of rice and meat and curry, and it tastes really good.”

For those of you who worry about being stuck in a more ‘exotic’ country you know next to nothing about, that’s exactly the best time to break out of what you know, in order to experience what you don’t know.

And that’s the beauty of embarking on an exchange programme overseas: you get to immerse yourself into a completely different culture, widen your horizons (figuratively and literally), break stereotypes and learn how to adapt to your environment. All this and more!

 As Joel succinctly put it: “I didn’t stick to my own comfort zone, because I didn’t have a comfort zone.”

So step out of yours today and take your first step towards an adventure abroad, by checking out www.nus. edu.sg/iro for more information about IRO’s short-term summer programmes.

 From what we’ve heard, you definitely won’t regret it.

This article is written by Wendy Wong and Sufyan Selamet from NUSSU The Ridge Magazine, as part of a collaboration between Digital Senior and NUSSU The Ridge Magazine.

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The Ridge is the largest student-run editorial team in the National University of Singapore and a committee under the National University of Singapore Students' Union. As the pulse of the NUS community, The Ridge publishes all-year round online, and at the start of every semester, with 8,000 copies circulated throughout the Kent Ridge and Bukit Timah Campuses.