My SEP Experience: Exchange at Boston University

Hey, everyone! I’m back with yet another article. This time, I thought I would share something a little bit more personal to me: my experience at Boston University! If you hadn’t noticed, I was gone for a long while — I didn’t write any articles for four whole months! That’s because I was on exchange at Boston University (or BU for short).

Thanks to my recent experience, I now know a lot of the ins-and-outs of the university, and so I decided to share them with all of you! Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert at anything, or that my opinions are always right. After all, I was only there for four months and only experienced four modules there. But, for anyone who is considering an exchange to BU, I hope this article will help shed some light on what it might be like over there!

Why BU?

But before I begin, I think it would be good to take you through the process of how and why I chose BU. When I was considering possible universities, I was thinking about two main factors: clearing my unrestricted electives (UEs), and finding interesting modules.

For the former, I have a whole Google Sheet that contains my plan for all semesters in NUS. The sheet also has the number of credits I need to clear in order to graduate. Because of the new CHS curriculum, it is now harder to clear my unrestricted electives (i.e. modules that are not part of your major code, and are not part of CHS/common core). Additionally, because I tend to be less interested in other things besides psychology, the grade for my UEs is naturally lower than the grade for my psychology modules, which can really pull down my CAP. To fix that, I wanted to get as many UEs as possible on exchange so that I can get the credits for graduation without being stressed about getting a B!

For the latter, I knew I wanted UEs, which meant that I could take just about anything. However, I also wanted to use this opportunity to take things that were not offered at NUS, and the modules at BU looked really interesting. I mean, youth justice and juvenile delinquency? Yes please! Public policy in youth development? Sign me up! Those modules appealed to me, especially since they are closely linked to my own personal interests, and so I ended up applying to BU!

BU Admin

After the application, aside from the usual NUS/US visa administration, BU also has some requirements of their own. First, you get your own BU email and BU student account. Second, you have to register for the courses on their website, which you will only have access to once you get your student account. Third, you have to submit health documents via Patient Connect. And fourth, you have to submit a premium insurance form. BU has their own health insurance called ‘SHIP Insurance’ (which you will need to purchase), but the insurance is automatically charged for a year. Since NUS students only go for one semester, you need to submit a form (called the premium adjustment form) that cuts the payment from a year’s worth to a semester. You also need to submit a picture for the BU card, although that can be done directly in the office when you are there.

Additionally, do take note that BU requires students to get immunizations, but you can get them for free under BU insurance. So all you need to do is submit your immunization documents and records, and then go to BU student health services. Do NOT pay for them in Singapore, unless of course you don’t mind the additional cost.

BU Campus

After you’ve done all your admin and you’ve flown off to BU, it’s now time to view the campus! The campus is more like SMU than NUS/NTU, in the sense that it is spread out and not concentrated. BU has quite a few train station stops: Kenmore, Blandford Street, BU East, BU Central, Amory Street, and Babcock Street. The stop you alight from is dependent on the building you are going to.

Kenmore is near some living areas, and is near Marciano’s dining hall. Blandford Street is near the Questrom business school, and is also near Marciano’s. BU East has the psychology building, the computing and data sciences building, and the physics building. BU Central has the college of arts and sciences, as well as the George Sherman Union (GSU). Amory Street is near the Howard Thurman Center, the Chase bank, some food (Chipotle, Taco Bell), a Target and is near the sports center (i.e. the Fitness and Recreation Center). It is also near Agganis Arena, where sports games are sometimes held. Finally, Babcock street has the West campus (e.g. Sleeper hall), and is near a thrift store (Goodwills) and the ice skating rink (you can ice skate for 5 USD with no time limit).

These might not mean anything to you now, but it can mean a lot when you receive news about your accommodation and your class schedule. It can also mean a lot when you are trying to figure out which stop has the bank (for you to open a US bank account), or where you can buy your bedsheets (go to the Target at Amory Street). It can also help you figure out what fun things you can do (go ice skating or go thrifting)!

BU Orientation

BU does have an orientation, but I would say that it does not really benefit you. Or, at least, it didn’t benefit me. My group was the international student exchange group, but there were 60 people with one leader. It did not go very well. Additionally, the orientation structure is geared towards freshmen, which you likely are not.

Orientation was, however, good for one thing: it gave us a lot of time. They essentially let us wander off for hours, and I spent that time finding new friends! Orientation will at some point bring you to the George Sherman Union (a fancy building for food and events), and it has a piano. Because I had time, I wandered off to play it, only to find other people already making music. I bonded with them over piano, and then went thrift shopping the next day with three of them, and the rest (as they say) is history.

One final note: orientation does not really show you a lot of the buildings at BU, which means you likely won’t know where your classes are (or where anything is, really). I suggest you do your best to Google maps the buildings, and visit the day before BU begins so you get a sense of where you are expected to show up.

BU Splash

Of course, we have to talk about Splash! Splash is essentially a large scale CCA fair, where all the BU clubs have their own stands. You can walk around and see all the different clubs you can join. Fun fact: they also have fraternities, which you can join if you want! I didn’t join because I don’t think it’s for me.

I mention Splash because it’s another great way to make friends! I like chess; it’s a hobby of mine, and I play casually online. I’m not great at it, but it’s fun nonetheless. Before attending BU, I found that they had a chess club, so I intentionally searched for their booth. Once there, I played a game of chess, lost, and then put my name and BU email address on the email list. Afterwards, the clubs send emails regarding the timing and location, and you just show up.

I loved chess club — it was definitely my favorite. The people there are really nice — no matter how crap I was compared to the rest of them, they always managed to include me and helped me have fun. I even played bughouse (a format of chess where you partner someone else and play together as a team) for the first time! I also made two really great friends, and I hope I can keep in touch with them for as long as possible. It might be difficult given the thirteen-hour (yes, thirteen hours) time difference and the NUS workload, but I will do my best.

BU Classes

Of course, we have to talk about the classes. Personally, compared to NUS, BU’s modules were significantly easier. I barely had to study, and I put in relatively little effort (compared to NUS) but got decent grades (all As and only one B+). Of course, this comes with a caveat: three out of four modules I chose were with the School of Wheelock, which is apparently known to have a lighter workload. But even my Social Psychology module was, in my opinion, significantly easier compared to a normal core psychology module at NUS. If you’re looking for a break, you can have one.

However, I would say that I learnt a lot, although what I learnt wasn’t always the most academic (i.e. reading 10 papers). I learnt about the culture, and about the different experiences of people. There is a greater degree of diversity at BU, and there are so many people who have all sorts of experiences. A lot of them are personal, and I do not wish to break confidentiality, but based on the stories I hear, I have a much greater appreciation for Singapore, the government, and my life in general. I am fortunate to be educated, I am fortunate to be safe every day, and I am fortunate to live relatively comfortably.

BU Activities

While NUS may be more academically rigorous than BU, BU has a significantly better student life. They organise so many activities, and practically all (or at least the majority) of them are free. You can go for bingo night, where you get free bubble tea, and can win prizes ranging from gift cards to a whole Nintendo Switch. You can stuff a plush, with a few stuffed animals for you to choose fromThere are so many activities for you to enjoy, and — again – at practically no cost.

I would say the best way to find these activities is to follow their Instagram and see what activities you are most interested in. You can then sign up using eventbrite, and then go for it. Make sure to sign up, because they WILL ask for the e-ticket as evidence, particularly for the popular events. Additionally, sign up early, because from personal experience, there are a lot of people who also want to attend.

Overall Thoughts

I thought it would be good to give my thoughts and opinions about my time there.

Overall, I didn’t learn a lot academically. But for me, BU was a complete break from reality. I had no grades to be concerned about, no house chores, no calculating and budgeting and no part-time jobs. It was freedom from responsibility. I could finally find friends who were willing to play chess with me; I could stay up late and go to a Christmas market; I could go out every weekend with my friends and experience thrifting and eat nice but expensive Italian food.

I could also interact with a diverse group of people, some of whom are significantly less fortunate than me. They all have their own life experiences and their journeys, and through those narratives, I learnt more about life outside of the bubble that is Singapore. I learnt of poverty and of political instability, of danger and violence on the streets. I have heard so much more about all the different countries, and I am now eternally grateful to be where I am and have the things I do.

Finally, because BU gave me so much time, I could actually enjoy learning. I spent my days reading statistics books not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I wanted to learn and I was happy to expand my knowledge. It has been so long since I felt pure joy from learning, instead of learning for the sake of having to, and it was a very nice feeling indeed.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. I am now back in NUS, with duties and responsibilities to fulfill. But I will always be able to look back at the pictures in my phone and to recall the peace and happiness I felt in my time in BU.

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