By the SMU International Office
Regardless of destination, university exchange programmes can offer much more than what is taught in the classroom. The experience, though fleeting, are often looked back upon by students as significant milestones of their university years and personal growth. Singapore Management University (SMU) Business alumna, Jasmine Ng, found herself at the ISM University of Management and Economics (ISM) for her International Student Exchange Programme (ISEP) almost by serendipity. In the Spring of 2018, the Bachelor of Business Management graduate journeyed to the well-ranked business school located in Lithuania to experience life as a student in Europe. We speak with Jasmine to find out all about her adventures and learnings.
When selecting a university in the exchange programme, what were some of your considerations? How did you decide on ISM?
My first choice of university was actually Warsaw School of Economics located in Poland. As a back-up, I selected ISM in Lithuania because it is right next to Poland and is also a relatively affordable destination in Europe. Moreover there is a grant available to students who are travelling to Eastern Europe on exchange.
After looking at the cost of living in Lithuania (surprisingly cheaper than Singapore) and the modules that I could map over (I eventually cleared six Credit Units, with one module that was double counted), I decided on Lithuania as my exchange country. I also felt that exchange is all about having a YOLO experience, and so I gamely took the path I had not originally planned.
How was studying at ISM like?
The study experience was a little unlike SMU in that there was a mixture of lectures and tutorials. But the grading format is similar to SMU’s, where projects and class participation hold a high percentage of the grade. I also had to make presentations on real-life case studies to show how the textbook theories taught are applicable in real-life. The most memorable module I took was International Business Communication, and part of the course required me to research and present on a public figures with strong personal branding. I took away lessons in personal branding that are applicable even in my working life today.
What were some of your initial impressions of Lithuania?
I chose to rent an apartment with a fellow student from SMU. Our apartment was a 25-minute walk to school so it was really convenient. Lithuania is near Russia, and it was cold all the way till summer in June. When I saw snow for the first time I was so excited, but grew out of it after a while as it was really cold and inconvenient. It did give me the chance to try out winter sports such as snowboarding though.
Things were also surprisingly affordable. In fact groceries were cheaper than in Singapore, which I didn’t expect for a European country. Everyone there was friendly – Lithuanians may look unapproachable at first glance but they are actually very friendly and helpful people.
What were some of your most memorable experiences?
I made lots of new friends from Japan, Korea, France, Russia, and even all the way from Argentina! I was surprised most of them had heard of Singapore. They were however, not aware that Singapore is a city with many skyscrapers, and were amazed after I showed them pictures of our country.
Since we stayed near our friends, we constantly had food exchanges and got to enjoy different types of cuisines (Lithuanian, Singaporean and Korean).
Most students take the opportunity to make short trips around the region during ISEP. Where did you go and what were some of the highlights?
One of my most memorable trips was to The Netherlands. We rented bicycles to ride through the tulip farms and gardens. I mean, have you really been to Netherlands if you didn’t ride a bicycle there? The tulips in varying shades were just beautiful.
Jasmine among a sea of tulips in The Netherlands
I also stayed on a botel (a ship that functions as a hotel) for the first time – there was free breakfast and everything was so clean. And I loved their stroop waffles so much that I brought them back to share with my family! In total I spent less than 500 Euros on this trip, inclusive of airfare, accommodation, and everything else.
Jasmine’s first botel experience
Due to flight prices, I arrived at The Netherlands a day before my friend did, and since accommodation was expensive in Amsterdam, I decided to try couch surfing (a popular way to get access to free accommodation and meet people from around the world at the same time) while waiting for her. I made two bookings just in case any of the hosts bailed on me, but at the very last minute, both bookings fell through. Aghast at paying 70 Euros for a 10-bed shared dormitory, I decided to spend the night in public establishments. On hindsight that was probably not the safest thing to do, so next time I should definitely plan better!
That was a fun and eventful trip, and you learnt how to take care of yourself in novel situations! How would you sum up your experience and what advice do you have for your juniors considering an ISEP?
Overall, I feel my exchange turned out to be a serendipitous experience. It was by chance (and choice) that I ended up in Lithuania – but I made many friends and even visited them in their home countries (e.g. South Korea) after the exchange programme was over. And because there were only a handful of us Singaporean exchange students in Vilnius so we made it a point to mingle and got to know each other quite well.
It was also by chance that I visited countries like Morocco, Albania – places that I never thought I would visit in my life – and they were all hidden gems. Overall the entire experience made me more independent and I would encourage SMU students considering international exchange to seek out unfamiliar experiences because they can help you to grow, but always remember – safety is key, so don’t ever compromise on it!
Jasmine Ng went on a semester exchange at the ISM University of Management and Economics in 2018. She has since graduated from SMU with a Bachelor of Business Management.
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 Jasmine Ng.]