Guest Post By: Hallie Chen, a Sophomore studying Accounting. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through Foster Exchange at the National University of Singapore.
My exchange was one of the most formative experiences of my life. I grew and changed more than I ever thought was possible in five short months, and I wanted to share some things that helped me to do so. While none of these tips are earth-shattering, I hope that they will help you to make the most of your own exchange.
- DO: things by yourself
Before I went to Singapore, I’d never eaten at a sit-down restaurant by myself before. It was actually an accident that I went at all. A friend (shoutout to Rachel Joshua) texted me and told me to go eat Nando’s fried chicken, since we don’t have it in the States. So I went, expecting it to be like KFC or Chick-fil-A or your average American fried chicken place. Turns out that Brits take their fried chicken more seriously, and I was properly seated and served my chicken. While the food was subpar, the overall experience was excellent. I came to genuinely enjoy learning to be alone. Take advantage of all the time you have abroad to do things by yourself that you might not do at home. Try eating at a fancy restaurant alone, watching a movie in theaters by yourself, or hiking without grabbing a friend.
- DON’T: panic when things go wrong
I think this is the most important tip of them all. Many, many things will go wrong on your exchange (just read my blog post about traveling to Singapore). If you come in with a vision of exactly how you want your exchange to go, prepare to be disappointed. Whether it be not getting the classes you wanted, or feeling unable to meet people, or anything else, don’t worry too much. Everything will work out in the end. My exchange ended up turning out very different from what I expected, but it was much more rewarding and fun than what I had planned.
- DO: make local friends
While meeting exchangers from all over the world was incredible, most of my favorite memories were with local Singaporean friends I met through my church. I loved learning about their culture, visiting their favorite spots to eat and hang out, and trying my very best to pick up some Singlish. Over those five months, they became some of the closest friends I’ve ever made. I strongly recommend trying university clubs, churches, or other community events to meet local friends.
- DON’T: take hard classes (if you can help it)
When signing up for classes, try to stay away from the tougher classes (higher level finance or accounting classes, very technical courses, etc.). There were so many new experiences every day and so many things to adjust abroad to that I personally found it hard to study regularly. If possible, I’d recommend taking an easier course load and saving more time to explore and simply just experience living in a different country. Protect your GPA!
- DO: find some way of documenting your adventures so you can remember them
At the time of writing this blog, although it’s only been a couple days since I’ve returned from Singapore, I’m having a hard time remembering what my life was like back there. Luckily for me, I took a couple thousand photos of even the most mundane things I did abroad. They serve as a great reminder that I really did live in Singapore for four months. Whether it be clogging up your phone storage with photos, journaling, or vlogging bits of your day, I recommend finding a way to store your memories abroad so that you can reminisce about them even years down the road.