The application process of anything is tiresome, especially for an exchange. All the documents you needed to gather, writing the application or filming a video about yourself can discourage you from applying. But what if I told you that if you could get past the temporary period of boringness, you will be left with an experience you’ll want to relive again and again - would you take on more opportunities in the future?
Going somewhere unknown to you alone can be scary enough, let alone to another country. Everything depends on you and yourself. But it is only then you’ll get to learn more about yourself, how you manage your scarce funds, how you navigate around with a different transportation system and how you interact with people who speak the same language but not the same one you’re used to. You’ll also learn about the culture of your visiting place. You’ll learn more than any textbook you read and any YouTube video you watch. My experience of a two-week exchange program over at the National University of Singapore allowed me to put all of these things into perceptive.
Firstly, the exchange program itself (comprised of lectures, panels, company visits and some practical activities) opened my view up to a lot of things that would never have crossed my mind if I didn’t take this opportunity. For example, Dragon boating while being blindfolded or being deaf allowed me to understand what those who couldn’t see and couldn’t hear experience daily. We also learnt some basics of sign language including, “What is your name?” and “My name is", and even that was tough. All of those experiences made me realise how appreciative we should be to have the ability to see or hear and not to take everything for granted.
The program taught me a lot but the interaction with people who were culturally and psychologically different taught me the most. Although we were all able to speak English, we had different ways of speaking and interpreting words due to the different environment we’re used to. So it was important to keep your interpretation to yourself before jumping to any conclusions. As I reflect on my experience, I realise that you’ll get along with different people much easier when you keep everything open-minded and accept that everyone is different. It is only then you’ll realise that they are not so different from yourself.
I believe I cannot finish this blog without mentioning the friends I met during the two weeks. I honestly didn’t expect to develop such strong relationships during a short period. For example, I didn’t expect to become close with someone, despite not knowing their name until only halfway through the exchange. On the first day when I met everyone for the first time, I remember how distant we were from each other. Just 9 individuals being in a group tied together by the program. However, as time went on, spending time with each other after the daily program schedule for dinner/hangouts allowed the clan to bond to a point where I felt I’ve known them for a long time. Giving each other nicknames, taking photos of others sleeping in lectures, telling jokes about each other and the list goes on.
When people say their exchange experience was the best experience ever, it’s hard to for us to understand why it’s their best experience. But it is only when you go on one yourself you’ll understand why. The things you learn, the people you meet, the memories you create are just some parts of the full story. No amount of words can describe it and the only way to experience it for yourself is not to ask others but to go on one yourself when you have the opportunity to.
I believe most people would like to undertake a similar experience overseas but are usually discouraged by the long and dull application process. I was discouraged to apply too. But if I knew the experience I would get, then I would be willing to go through the application process again.
I’m grateful for joining the GLP. From its experiential points system to the cultural concepts learnt from Colloquia gave me the incentive to undertake these activities. So I highly recommend to any students passively doing this program to just take on as many opportunities as you possibly can because you are only going to regret it if you don’t.