If there’s anything memorable from my undergraduate days, having been on an exchange would be on the top of the list. This probably is a common sentiment among students who have been on one, and many times, if the budget weren’t the constraint, we would have opted for more of such overseas exposure programs. (So, on a side note, find avenues to make an income and start saving! Or, try to secure a scholarship/ award that can fund your expenses.)
Being away from family for an extended period of time in an unfamiliar environment can be daunting but the freedom granted makes it exhilarating at the same time. No one’s experience is the same, even when it’s the same exchange university, because the activities and lifestyle you choose to pursue can be very different from another person. For example, the decision to stay in hall or to get an apartment will already impact your daily commuting experience and perhaps, dining arrangements.
But doesn’t this sound similar to your local university experience? What exactly, then, makes exchange highly regarded?
While it’s been seven years back since my one-semester exchange at the University of Pittsburgh, the memories are still vivid. I have had many valuable beyond-the-classroom opportunities to explore and stretch my horizons, such as the chance to participate in a Global Retreat, organized by the Office of Cross-Cultural and Leadership Development. We got to spent 2days and 1night at a ski resort, with food and accommodation fully subsidized. It was an occasion for international students to interact with one another and for the school management to obtain feedback from students on issues such as admissions, accommodations and the process of settling down in a foreign land. There I met students from the U.S, Egypt, Argentina, India, Korea, China, and learnt more about their native cultures and values on topics such as punctuality and notions of success. Listening to their stories, it was as though I had taken a glimpse of the many countries in just 2 days! The open environment allows self-introspection and appreciation of other cultures; this setting is often hard to come by in Singapore.
Lessons at the University of Pittsburgh were also interesting and stimulating; in a Physics course I took, the professor demonstrated many physics theories himself; for example, he explained the idea of torque by retracting and stretching out his arms continuously while spinning himself on a chair. I found it pretty amusing and lessons were entertaining in a way. On the other hand, one of our bonus assignments for the Investment Management module involved watching a movie and answering questions related to finance concepts reflected. Learning was (made) fun.
Education in the U.S has also been generalized to have more interaction between the professors and students, with students being proactive in class participation. It is not always true that classrooms are highly engaged all the time. There was one instance where a professor said, “how am I supposed to award participation marks when no one is talking?”, though I admit such occasions were really rare.
Students at the University of Pittsburgh were very welcoming, friendly, and active beyond academic studies. There are student unions, like the Pitt Programme Council and international student groups, such as Pitt Global Links, that would organize social events and activities ranging from free movie screenings to festive seasons celebrations like the Spring carnival. It is then that I sensed the positive impact one could make through acting outone’s passions and beliefs.
On the other hand, there are some experiences that Singapore could not offer, such as skiing, snow tubing, football (American) and baseball games, and waiting for buses in temperatures as low as -20degC. It is also a great joy to be able to take advantage of student benefits like free visits to museums, and free tickets to ballet and symphony orchestra performances.
To those who are going on exchange, I would like to say, “Do not be afraid to step out and participate in the various activities held in school! Do grab the opportunity to travel, as every country, and state, are greatly different in culture, food and landscapes. However, do not forget to stay safe. SEP (Student Exchange Program) is truly an experience of a lifetime!”