Going on a student exchange programme is such an exciting experience! Make the best out of it with these tips.
A couple of years back in my final year of university, I got the chance to travel to the United States for a semester abroad. Growing up in Singapore, going on a student exchange programme was my first true taste of independence. I ventured to a foreign country, lived in a little apartment (with roommates), and got a taste of life outside of my safe Singaporean bubble. It was eye-opening, and a time I hold close to my heart. But were there things I wish I did differently to have a more enriching experience? You bet.
Tips to make the best out of your student exchange programme
1. Ditch your insecurities and make new (local) friends
Prior to joining the workforce, I was a pretty timid individual. This meant I mostly kept to myself and experienced massive social anxiety around strangers. While I enjoyed the conversations I had with my roommates and other students around campus, I would turn down their invitations to events or social gatherings. I stuck mostly to fellow Singaporeans. I had a blast with them, but there’s no doubt I missed out on opportunities to widen my circle and fully experience a different lifestyle and culture.
If you’re going on a student exchange programme, push yourself to make new friends! It may feel overwhelming at first (especially if you’re introverted and anxious like me). But it’s guaranteed to make your time abroad 10 times more memorable.
2. Get that driver’s license (if you don’t have one)
If you know me, you know I can’t drive at all. And that’s precisely why I regret not taking my driver’s license while on my student exchange programme. If you get the chance to pick up driving while you’re abroad – do it. Chances are, the roads are emptier and traffic is slower (unlike Singapore’s fast-paced, congested streets). It’ll be a less stressful experience overall, even if you have to come back and adjust to driving on this side of the road.
3. Don’t be an outsider, join a club
I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this when I was on exchange. But if I could turn back time, I would’ve signed up to be part of more clubs and societies. I mean, I could’ve picked up a new craft, gone on hikes with fellow nature lovers, or contributed to a good cause. It would have expanded my social circle and given me a more holistic perspective of student life outside the Singaporean education system. Plus, more opportunities to get out of campus and explore facets of life beyond grocery trips and hitting the books.
4. Say yes to everything
Well, not everything. But everything within reason. I would’ve said yes to that fun party, accepted that invitation to get a couple drinks at the bar, gone on a spontaneous road trip, and stayed up until 2am to play board games with my roommates. Sometimes you think you’re saying no because being in bed sounds like a much better way to unwind for the day. But looking back, I realise I should’ve embraced all the perks that come with being young and having no real responsibilities yet. Once you start work, it’s tough to find the time to enjoy leisurely activities.
5. Book more flights outta town
Word of advice: if you’re going on a student exchange programme, don’t waste your time staying put in one place. Aside from travelling down to Orlando and Miami during spring break, and spending a couple of days in Canada, I mostly stayed on campus. Sure, I couldn’t drive, but I could’ve hopped on a cheap flight and spent a weekend exploring a new city. There’s not going to be much opportunity to travel so freely once you’re bogged down by a full-time job.
I hope these tips give you the push you need to get out there and make memories on your student exchange programme!