Having finished my exams at the National University of Singapore by the beginning of December this final blog post is arguably slightly overdue. However, having spent a few weeks traveling and then having to revise for an exam I had in Manchester in January, I’ve simply not had the time. I feel like the time I’ve had has given all the impressions and experiences time to settle, so hopefully this will enable me to more accurately convey my thoughts through this final blog entry. Unfortunately it’s impossible to describe every experience you’ve had through an entire semester abroad, and how they’ve changed you. Nonetheless, I will attempt to offer some final insight and advice.
An exchange semester is packed with potentially character-changing experiences. However, everyone will have different opinions on how different aspects of their exchange has changed them, and everyone will have different opinions on which aspects have been the most important to them. What I’m going write in this blog entry may (will) therefore not be applicable to everyone, but will hopefully serve informatively for prospective students.
When you’re on exchange, interaction with the local culture and people is inevitable. In my case, the local culture differed significantly from what I’m familiar with. While Singapore has a certain quite “Western” traits, and resembles typical western European countries in some ways, it is very much its own country with its own culture. This is represented through a range of things, including food, language, interpersonal relationships and mind-set. Differences in expected ways to behave towards peers and mentors, in groups and in general can create challenges when interacting with professors, making friends or even when doing group projects.
As an exchange student you are bound to meet exchange students from all over the world. The exposure of different cultures you experience as an exchange student can at times feel overwhelming. Keeping an open mind and willingness to interact with, and understand, others’ points of views can make these encounters enlightening rather than daunting.
For me, my exchange could, to some accuracy, be described as a mixture between a long holiday and an actual academic semester. Firstly, the opportunities for traveling were huge. Singapore serves as a great traveling hub, with all of Southeast Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand (relatively) easily accessible. My craving for exploring was not limited to other countries, but applied to a high extent to Singapore it self. Not even by the time I left the city had grown boring, and there was always something to see or do, be it conservatories, art galleries, beaches, architecture, hawker centres or communities. This is a gripping aspect, which also offers a possibility to unwind after long weeks of studying. Being thrown straight into a new culture, with new people at a place far away from home, there is no way 1 semester (or even 1 year) is going to be enough to see and do everything you want to.
The most important part of my exchange (to me personally) was the friendships I made. While on exchange you’ll meet a lot of people, many of who have made the same decision as you, often for the same reasons. You’re therefore likely to find a lot of people that are “compatible” with your own personality. Combined with the fact that an exchange semester is packed with bonding experiences, it is truly a place where deep friendships are built. And as the moments from your exchange start to fade, you can rest assured that, at the very least, they have been well invested in the lasting friendships you have made.
Over the course of the semester I feel like I have changed. I’m not going to use the phrase “found myself” – just because I’ve heard it too many times and because it’s turned completely cliché. But I do recognize that the exchange has affected me in certain ways. It has made me more aware of and confident in the beliefs I hold and the person I want to be. It’s difficult to concretize, but it amounts to things such as attitude towards diversity, moral values, willpower and patience. My exchange semester has probably been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had my entire life, and the only disappointing aspect of it was the all too short duration. Going on exchange is a great opportunity for personal, professional and academic development, and it’s something I would strongly recommend to absolutely everyone!!