Defining my own adventure: An overseas exchange experience

By Le Ha Than Mai, SMU School of Economics and Lee Kong Chian School of Business

Edited by Astha Kalbag, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

Le Ha Than Mai went on semester exchange to the Copenhagen Business School at the University of Copenhagen during her time at Singapore Management University. Le Ha Than Mai is currently a year 4 double degree student at the SMU School of Economics  and Lee Kong Chian School of Business.

My decision to go on an overseas exchange started out simply for the excitement of being able to explore new places, culture and people. Over time, though, I have come to understand that global exposure is more than just a personal indulgence—it has also taught me to be a wiser and better citizen of the world. Here are but a few of the reasons why my overseas exchange was an indispensable part of my university experience.

1)  It gave me a new perspective.

Copenhagen is known as the country that is the happiest place on earth. In retrospect, I can tell why the Danes are so happy: they feel a real sense of collective responsibility towards one another; they are easy-going and generously display social graces; they do not judge other people’s lives, which allows them to follow their genuine interests without conforming to social pressures; they spend money on socialising rather than on expensive cars or houses; they know how to take a joke; and they also cycle everywhere, which is great for exercise and for the environment. Living in the country made me reflect on some issues I had not given much thought to. It also challenged me to extend my perspectives—to be accepting and to adopt certain habits and values different from what I had been used to.


2)  It taught me to live with less.

Even though I have been living away from my family since I was fifteen, I have never felt compelled to cook, given the ready availability of cheap yet delicious food in Singapore. In Copenhagen, food isn’t as cheap. So I picked up some new hobbies: cooking and looking out for discounted groceries. Suddenly, I could live with less shopping, clothes and make-up—I could even do without a television, phone or 3G connectivity. This experience was actually quite liberating and helped me to differentiate between things that I want and those that I need.


3)  It cultivated a sense of wonder and curiosity in me.

Singapore Management University  gives every student  a fantastic opportunity to travel through their exchange programmes.  Hearing or reading about a place is one thing, but experiencing it for oneself is truly magical. Some of my most memorable moments include listening to the orchestras in Piazza San Marco, watching the Northern Lights dancing across the sky, and enjoying a mug of steaming hot wine while strolling along Champs-Elysées Christmas Market. The more I travelled, the more I realised that many things in the world remain unexplored.

4) It taught me humility and gratitude.

I remember thinking how small I was standing amidst the Icelandic glaciers. I also remember walking through the Ann Frank’s annex and the Amsterdam red light district feeling how insignificant my problems were. Those experiences connected me to nature and to people, to appreciate and to empathise. I was humbled yet grateful for God’s creations and all that He has blessed me with.


5) It showed me the kindness of strangers.

During my exchange, I took the opportunity of embarking on various backpacking trips. Although I spent a lot of time planning, there would always be things that could go awry—the weather, snatchers, pickpockets, scams or just things that would crop up unexpectedly. Through all the unfortunate events, I learnt to appreciate the lovely kindness of strangers, which has also inspired me to give more generously to people I do not know.


6) It helped me to appreciate other cultures as much as my own.

The overseas exchange empowered me to understand and assimilate European culture at a personal level. It was exhilarating and eye-opening to go places and meet people from around the world. Yet the experience also brought me closer to home. There was always an endearing sense of pride as I talked to people about homes (both Vietnam and Singapore). I realised how much I had taken for granted back home: the warm sunny weather, the delicious food, my family and my friends.

With these six key experiences in mind, I am excited to start afresh in Singapore. But, don’t take my word for it, go ahead and define your own adventure!


Undergraduate applications are open till 1 April 2014. Click here to find out more about the overseas exchange opportunities that you can be privy to as an SMU student.