By Archanna Selvaraju, Alumna, SMU School of Economics
Even before I began my studies at SMU, I was looking forward to the International Student Exchange Programme (ISEP) offered as part of its curriculum; it was one of the main reasons I applied at SMU back in 2017. I was aware that SMU had many overseas partner universities, which afforded many exchange opportunities to its students. So when it finally was my time to apply to an overseas exchange programme, I was thrilled!
I wanted to choose a country or region that I had neither travelled to nor experienced its culture. Studying in Singapore, I was exposed to many international students from China, India, Vietnam, and Malaysia. During vacations, my family would mostly travel to countries within Asia, particularly South-East Asia. Hence, I picked University College Maastricht (UCM), the liberal arts college within Maastricht University in The Netherlands.
One of the great benefits of going on an exchange programme would be exploring modules that are different from what I take at SMU to maximise my learning. At UCM, I had the opportunity to take modules like Introduction to Art, Economic Psychology and Economics of Information. While each semester in SMU comprises 14 weeks for curriculum and two weeks of exams, my overseas exchange semester was split into two periods of seven weeks each, with an assessment week after each period. Another key difference between SMU and UCM was their teaching styles. SMU focused on seminar-style learning, while UCM adopted Project-Based Learning (PBL). That said, both SMU and UCM emphasised group work, presentations, and class participation in their assessment criteria.
An introduction to Maastricht University
A picture taken after an Entrepreneurship presentation, where we pitched an application to improve communication between flatmates
UCM had multiple student-led initiatives to bring the students of the faculty together, including open mic sessions
I landed in Maastricht on the first day of INKOM – the general introduction week for all new Maastricht University and Zuyd Hogeschool students. I spent five days with fellow freshmen, exchange students, and Masters-level students, where we were introduced to the city of Maastricht, the school’s facilities and its student life. Maastricht, located in the south of the Netherlands, is at the border of Belgium and Germany. Hence it came as no surprise that many freshmen were international students from other parts of Europe.
After INKOM, we had an introduction week for our respective faculties, during which I got accustomed to the unique teaching style within Maastricht University and had lots of time to mingle with new freshmen and fellow exchange students.
Thanks to the enthusiastic facilitators, I had a fun-filled two weeks with indoor and outdoor activities like carnivals, water sports, game nights, great entertainment, and enjoyed delicious food! I valued these activities as they provided me opportunities to make new friends and settle into Maastricht.
Spending five months in a Dutch university town
Maastricht is a rather laidback place and is one of the most beautiful cities in The Netherlands. It’s known to be home to many students, as well as Dutch retirees. As with most places in The Netherlands, cycling was the main form of transportation within Maastricht. Parents with young kids have various attachments to their bikes for their children’s safety, and even young children rode their bikes. It was a new sight for sure! Here, there are specific bike lanes and traffic lights meant for cyclists, and while it took me a while to understand the traffic rules for cyclists, it was far easier than I had expected. With the help of some local friends, I managed to get a second-hand bike. Surprisingly, I was able to ride a bike despite not having used one for over a decade. It’s true when they say that you’d never forget how to ride a bike!
A beautiful view of the city that I enjoyed during my daily commute to the campus
Sharing cultures through food
In my five months at Maastricht, I had various opportunities to learn about the local culture through orientation programmes, friends, school initiatives and even during class. At the same time, locals were curious about the Singaporean culture too, especially our school life and food. On one occasion, we invited a few friends over to our apartment to share Singaporean culture in the best way we know possible – through food! We treated our friends to a home-cooked Asian feast where we made mapo tofu, basil pork, ginger chicken and many other signature Asian dishes. They even took on the challenge of eating a chilli padi!
As exchange students living on a budget and fuelled by our cravings for Singaporean food, my flatmates and I got comfortable with cooking our meals, often experimenting with new recipes
A new meaning to ‘work hard, play hard’
I wanted to use my time at Maastricht to travel to different parts of Europe to experience diverse landscapes. This meant that I had to manage my time well by allocating sufficient time to complete my assignments before taking weekend trips or day trips. Efficiently completing my assignments made me realise that I could adopt a similar ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra back home. Since coming back to Singapore, I have been managing my time better. Consequently, I have been able to spend more time exploring activities that I enjoy, such as cooking, artwork, and hiking over the weekends.
My newfound independence in Maastricht didn’t come without responsibility. Ensuring that I had enough money budgeted for rent and putting aside time to clean the apartment while preparing meals for myself were responsibilities that I had to consider. Thankfully, my flatmates shared these responsibilities with me. Budgeting, planning and organising were vital to ensuring successful communal living and having enough for my travels.
Looking back, I have thoroughly enjoyed my exchange programme – it has been an unforgettable experience where many fond memories were made. ISEP truly embodies the ‘Global Exposure’ spirit that SMU advocates for all its students. Using only a bicycle for transportation within Maastricht, and public transport for inter-city travel truly opened my eyes to the ease and convenience of sustainable urban living. After being in an environment where sustainability and environmentally conscious behavior was the norm, incorporating such habits into my life has become part of my routine today.
ISEP has also enabled me to expand my understanding and appreciation of cultures to the ones beyond Singapore. I urge everyone to meet new people, make new friends and engage in meaningful conversations. For SMU students considering an ISEP, I hope that you keep an open mind and have an enriching experience that you will remember for years to come!
Archanna Selevaraju attended the University College Maastricht on an exchange programme in 2019. She has since graduated from SMU with a Bachelor of Science in Economics.
Given that the Covid-19 situation still prevails globally and will continue to have a significant impact on our daily lives and how the University operates for some time, SMU has shifted its suite of global exposure programmes to virtual formats where possible. The University looks forward to resuming all programmes physically when the situation improves, and when it is safe for our students to travel again.
[All images courtesy of Archanna Selvaraju.]