By Ng Yan Lun, SMU School of Accountancy
Seeking a Different Exchange Experience
Looking back, it has been almost a year since I stepped out of my comfort zone to experience living life abroad in France for an entire semester at the NEOMA Business School. While I believe many will take the opportunity to tour Europe and enjoy the wonderful scenery (which I still did of course), I wanted to try something more than that. In SMU, I played both tchoukball and volleyball, representing SMU at the Singapore University Games, so I thought to myself, why not try the same thing in France?
As a foreigner, going in cold to ask to join the local and school French teams for these two sports was challenging, to say the least. But with the help of social media, I linked up with both teams and went down for their trial sessions. It still just seems like yesterday when I look back on how I was nervously trying to navigate my way to an unknown gymnasium for the trials. But till today, I have never regretted taking that plunge.
Playing for French Teams
Once the first trial sessions were done, I recall them trying to communicate with me as much as they could in English, asking for my name. I remember giving an alias since I did not think that a Chinese name would be easy for them to remember. The next thing I knew, they asked if I was able to play the next few competitions with them.
With my school volleyball team
Communication was just one of the challenges I faced, but it was a huge one, especially since communication is key in team sports. However, in the end, I managed to pick up some French words to better communicate with my entire team. It was indeed an honour to have been selected to play volleyball for the school in the national championships, as well as the combined school meet.
On the other hand, as a relatively new sport, tchoukball was not represented in the state that I lived in, so I had to take a train to and from Paris every week with the Paris First Tchoukball Club. The effort paid off and I was gratified to have the opportunity to represent Paris in their national competition and Coupes de France (French Cup).
My tchoukball club in Paris
Both teams gave me huge exposure to sports outside of Singapore and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to experience the road less travelled while on exchange.
Sightseeing Still a Must
Of course, I did not give up the chance to tour Europe. In fact. there was much travelling during our recess week and weekends too. In total, we visited 12 countries and over 25 states in the five months we spent there. If there are any juniors who would like to contact me for itineraries, I would be more than willing to share!
To do list – tour Europe with friends
Renewed Appreciation for Singapore’s Accessibility
To me, the biggest takeaway from my entire exchange would be to always treasure the people around you. In Singapore, I think that very often we tend to take proximity and accessibility for granted. I remember once taking 7 to 8 hours to travel between different competition venues because, at that time, the majority of the drivers from the national railway operator of France were on strike. Besides, for a large group like our team, it was more economical to travel by bus than by train. In Singapore, we are connected easily by various means of public transport, yet some baulk at the thought of a 30- to 40-minute journey. Well, not me.
Final tips for all my juniors going on exchange:
- Book your weekend travel early. Flight prices during the weekends are constantly booked in advance and the earlier you can book, the cheaper the prices are.
- If you are going to Europe during the same period as me (Term 2), pack enough winter clothes as it is already winter time when you are there. However, do not forget your summer clothes too as it starts to get hot after April.
- For SIM cards, I would recommend getting one that covers the whole of Europe, not only just your host country. This would greatly reduce your overall cost for just that small, extra amount you pay.
- Always look at more than one travel option. What saves you money will likely cost you time. There is a fine balance to maintain between how much time you are willing to waste versus cost savings you might gain in return.
- Trust the locals when it comes to scenery recommendations. But for food options, trust Singaporeans more, as the taste buds of locals tend to differ from ours.
- Almost every country has a cheap supermarket, you just need to locate one which carries the items you and your friends usually buy.
- Have fun, take lots of pictures, and stay in touch with your family back home!
Learn more about the Global Exposure opportunities in our undergraduate programme today!