Overseas exchange: an adventure of self-discovery

By SMU Social Media Team

SMU is known for its dedication and commitment to broadening our students’ perspectives through global exposure opportunities. Recently, we announced partnerships with eight other partner universities — our students now have over 200 universities to choose from when deciding where to go for an international exchange programme!

Your exchange destination is a big decision to make (on top of managing your co-curricular activities’ commitments, landing an internship at The Company that everyone wants to get into, and clocking your community service hours). In this post, hear first-hand from the experiences of your peers and seniors: how they decided where to go for an exchange, what they experienced both in and out of the classroom, and more.


“What should I consider when choosing an exchange university?”

You’re going to live and study in a different country for around half a year, so it’s pretty obvious that you should pick a place where the culture interests you. SMU typically partners with universities that offer modules compatible with our degree programmes, but do also consult the partner universities’ course catalogues to ensure that the available modules are relevant to your own interests as well.

“I was drawn to my exchange university due to the breadth and depth of courses that were offered. The school offered many interesting courses like Geopolitics,” says Janel Loi, a Year Four student in Lee Kong Chian School of Business who did her overseas exchange at NEOMA Business School, Rouen.

NEOMA Business School

NEOMA Business School, one of SMU’s international exchange partner universities.


“What are the day-to-day experiences that I should expect?”

Where the academic experience is concerned, many exchange students find that the unfamiliar cultural environment is the main difference between a day at their exchange university and a day in SMU. Depending on your exchange destination, this may also include foreign language exposure.

“Classes at my school were very similar to those in SMU — they employed an interactive format, with group work thrown into the mix,” said Janel. “I managed to work with the other exchange students from countries like Mexico, the Netherlands, Turkey, Finland, France, and Canada in my groups, and learnt a lot about how businesses in those countries are run, as well as cultural differences.”

On the practical side of things, be prepared for high price tags on necessities such as food and accommodation. This is true for exchange students nearly everywhere. Unlike the variety of affordable meal options available in and around SMU, you’ll find that the price of lunch on many overseas campuses can make a large dent in your budget. Upside: you’ll learn (fairly quickly) to develop your culinary skills, especially if you have friends and housemates who also enjoy cooking. And if not, there’s a surprising variety of dishes that you can prepare in the humble rice cooker


“Should I travel the region while I’m on exchange?”

Logistically, it’s very possible to use your exchange university as a base for short trips to neighbouring cities/countries, even during weekends. Those on exchange in the United States, for instance, have mastered the art of cheap interstate travel by taking “Chinatown buses” that ply routes between many major cities; similar to the Singapore-KL coaches, some of these buses are even equipped with onboard WiFi so that you can work on your assignments while on the road.

European exchange destinations are also ideal for taking brief excursions, especially since travelling within various EU countries doesn’t require you to apply for additional visas. Janel’s choice of exchange university, for instance, was partly based on its optimal location for outbound travel: “Rouen is close to Paris, so I was able to leverage the cheap flights and buses out of Paris to travel around Europe, without the sky-high cost of living in Paris.”

Although it may be tempting to treat your excursions as sightseeing opportunities, many exchange students have found that their perspectives have been shaped and enriched through their side trips. Sadhvi Ilango, a Year Three student in Lee Kong Chian School of Business, managed to cover ten countries during her six months at Bocconi University, Milan. “Being able to visit so many different countries for the first time really helped me become more adaptive and sensitive to the changes around me,” said Sadhvi. “It enabled me to expand my horizons as I got to connect with so many different people.”


Sadhvi at Bocconi University campus

The Bocconi University campus in Milan, where Sadhvi spent her international exchange programme.


On one particular visit to Istanbul, Sadhvi and a group of her fellow students were invited to dinner with their friend’s grandparents. Over a delicious home-cooked Turkish meal, the elderly couple shared their stories and experiences, and made an effort to get to know each of their guests. “It was a very moving experience to be welcomed so warmly by people who would have otherwise been strangers. The biggest takeaway from my exchange is the group of friends that I made from all over the world,” said Sadhvi. “I honestly did not expect to become so close to anyone in such a short period of time. I think it is important to have a support system when you are alone in a new place. Parting with them on my last day was harder than I thought it would be.”


Sadhvi (centre) taking a wefie with her friends during her travels.

Travelling around the region is a great way of bonding with the friends that you’ve made while on exchange. Here’s Sadhvi (centre) taking a wefie with her friends during her travels.


Things didn’t go as well for Rhea Chandra, a Year Two School of Economics student who spent her exchange programme at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. She was pick-pocketed just before boarding a bus from Germany to the Netherlands, and had a harrowing experience worrying about how to handle the border crossing without carrying any proof of residence. “But in the end, when you find your way out of situations like these, you emerge stronger, more independent and confident,” said Rhea.

Rhea (left) with her friends in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Although Rhea (left) was pick-pocketed during a trip she took while on exchange, it didn’t stop her from making the best of the experiences available to her in Europe.


Some parting notes from the students featured in this article:

Rhea: “Treat each day like it’s your last day on exchange. It will be over before you know it, and it would be so much more worth it if you leave without regrets. Frankly, I expected a vacation, but I realised it has been anything but that. It has been a journey of highs and lows. All the stories about self-discovery that people talk about, they come from experiences like this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am so glad to have taken it.”

Sadhvi: “Time flies really fast, so make sure you make the most of it! It helps to have an idea of all the things you want to do on exchange before you leave, so that you can prioritise your activities when you are pressed for time. Many of us leave for exchange with certain expectations. The most valuable experience is being able to see those expectations surpassed and broken.”

Janel: “Be open to new experiences—venture outside your comfort zone to try things that you haven’t done before. When you’re in a new city, make efforts to engage with local culture by picking up key phrases in the local language and befriending local students in your school. Take your time when you travel, don’t rush through cities in an attempt to see them in one or two days. Going slowly enables you to fully experience a city and see it in its entire splendour. Last and most importantly, react positively to situations. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. That’s part and parcel of travel and life.”

Remember to hashtag your photos #smuoverseas if you’d like to be featured on our Instagram!



Undergraduate applications are open — visit admissions.smu.edu.sg to learn how you too can Transform into a Different U.


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