5 Ways to Make the Most Out of an Exchange Programme

By the SMU Social Media Team

Over the years, SMU students have left their footprints in more than 150 cities across over 50 countries. In fact, completing a global exposure experience is a compulsory component of the SMU experience—for good reason.

Among the host of SMU-organised overseas activities available for students, embarking upon an overseas exchange programme is probably one of the most exciting options. The freedom of living in a different country for a whole semester (or two), experiencing a new culture, or going on multiple road trips are unique opportunities for learning and growth.

To date, the SMU International Office has built and maintained partnerships with more than 200 leading universities around the world, to provide students with the exposure they need to navigate the ever-changing and increasingly globalised world.

For an inside look at studying abroad, we chat with SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business graduate Theresa Syn and School of Economics undergraduate Desmond Wong, who went on exchange programmes to Istanbul, Turkey and Reims, France, respectively. The two reveal their top four ways to make the most out of an exchange programme and reap the full benefits of a semester abroad:


1. Keep an Open Mind

The world is a massive place filled with endless experiences. Keeping an open mind includes embracing new situations, being less cautious about making mistakes, and immersing yourself completely into a new culture.

As Theresa says: “An interesting thing I’ve discovered from living abroad is that the more places I’ve been to, the more I realise I don’t know much about this world we live in. It is so big with so much left to explore! My exchange experience has made me more curious and open to finding out more about different cultures.”

Living in a new country also means you may have to learn a new language, adapt to a different way of life, pick up local etiquette, and so forth. Along the way, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon a cultural boo-boo or two, but it is important not to let mistakes deter you from immersing yourself into a new environment. Mistakes help you learn a little faster, so be sure to boldly practice the foreign phrases you have learnt and meet new people, even if it means occasional embarrassing slip-ups.


Theresa on a global exposure trip to Hangzhou. Read more here.


2. Make Friends with Locals

It’s human nature to prefer to thrive in our comfort zones. However, the fear of venturing into the unknown could prevent you from making the most out of your exchange programme. Hence, avoid sticking to fellow Singaporean university mates and push yourself to mingle with other students during your exchange stint. Hanging out with locals in your host country not only allows you to learn about the local culture, it will also provide you with fresh perspectives and train you to be a true global citizen.

“Try breaking away from your usual group of Singaporeans and make new international friends,” advises Desmond.

“It is always nice to talk to someone from another part of the world and learn something new from him or her. That’s the purpose of going for an exchange.”

Theresa also adds: “To make the best of your exchange experience, speak to locals to find the best restaurants and hidden gems in your neighbourhood. Locals are often proud and happy to share more about their city and country!”


Desmond at Science Po on his exchange programme


3. Plan Well

One of the most exciting parts about going on an exchange is all the trips you get to take with your friends. However, it is easy for things to go wrong in a foreign country, especially if you are travelling abroad on your own for the first time. Therefore, take time to come up with a plan and itinerary to prevent unforeseen travel issues.

“One big rule when you are travelling in a foreign land is managing your expectations as things may not always go as planned,” says Desmond.

“It’s always safer to allocate some buffer time for transport. If the first leg of your journey to a destination is delayed, it will snowball to the rest of your trip and you will lose whatever savings that you have benefited from early bookings and discounts. Your trip will not be memorable if you experience a bad start to your journey.”


Desmond travelling other parts of Europe during his exchange trip


4. Choose the Right University

Last, but most definitely not least, it is important to choose the right university and country you’d like to spend your semester in as this will be your home for months. For example, some universities may boast a great sports culture which appeals to die-hard sporting fans and athletic types, while others are focused on the arts which may attract those who love culture. Prioritise what you want to experience abroad and zone in on the university that offers most of what you are looking for.

For Desmond, his choice to embark on his exchange in France stemmed from his interest in learning French: “In fact, I had already planned for it since my first year in SMU! I always had the interest in learning the French language, and I believe that if one is surrounded by native speakers everywhere you go, learning a new language would be more interesting and easier.”


5. Plan Your Modules Early

Desmond also stresses the importance of planning for your exchange trip early because “there are so many considerations in mind when you are about to travel away from home for a period of time.”

One of the key things to consider is how long you’d like to stay abroad and how you can fit that in while still comfortably working towards completing the required modules in your degree programme. With thorough planning, you can then determine if there is sufficient time to accommodate an extended exchange trip or even incorporate a summer or winter internship abroad after the semester ends.

These are just a couple of simple ways students can maximise their exchange programme experience. The key is to always be ready for unexpected situations while keeping an open mind to experiencing all aspects of another country’s culture and traditions. Going for an exchange will be the highlight of your university life, so make the most out of it!


Here are more tips from Theresa on how to make the best out of your student overseas exposure: 



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