Wednesday, 23 December 2015

What I Wish I Knew About Exchange

It's honestly been such a long time since I wrote here and I've missed you guys so much. Now that exams are over and I'm back from a family trip to Gold Coast, the countdown to UK has officially started! A year ago I blogged about getting accepted by my school to do my exchange programme at Warwick, and I'm pleased to announce that it's finally happening and I'll be on a flight to London on 4 January. 

This post is the first of an ongoing series about exchange programmes. This instalment is a work of collaboration - a compilation of 17 things people wish they'd been told before going on their adventures. The contributors range from people who've studied abroad to those that've hosted them, and I'm thrilled by the variety of voices this little post has the privilege of including.

I haven't decided how long the entire series will be, but it'll probably document the struggles/triumphs/crazies I'll be facing in the next 6 months. In the immediate future I'll also be doing a more specific post on things to do before applying for NTU students because I've been getting SO many queries about that lately. 

Before we get on to the post, I'd like to give a huge shoutout to all the friends and fellow bloggers from around the world that have had a part to play in this post. I've learnt so much and I'm sure my readers will too. Let's get started!

On Applying:

1. Be sure to know what you want to achieve during the exchange. Are you going there to have fun, clear modules or travel? Find a suitable country which meets those goals. Some countries/places are harder to travel in. Application wise, have a good talk with your exchange coordinator. Make sure he/she knows of your existence in school. It makes it easier for her to process your application (faster as well). They will be the best person to ask regarding academic questions for exchange. - Ming Hui

2. Whenever I switch on my Instagram app, I see all the beautiful pictures posted by my friends on exchange and I keep wondering why hadn’t applied for an exchange program.
When I looked at my empty bank account, I realized why. - Zhan Lun

On Accommodation:

3. Room with a friend or two. It’s best if they have a passion for cooking and they help with group projects. - Delvis

4. The difference between staying with people you love and staying with people you meet is your level of compromise. It’s difficult to compromise with people you hardly know, so issues and difficulties may arise. - Shan, Shanelle Cheng

5. For people intending on doing a homestay: Be open minded! Be mindful and respectful of other's home rules, schedules and cultures, and enjoy the hell out of your experiences - even the bad ones. Oh...and do not ever be afraid to communicate with your host family. Communication of needs and expectations from both parties is VERY important! - Marcia, Coffee to Cocktails

On Finances:

6. I wish someone had told me how much money to bring. None of my friends knew how much to bring over, and how much we would actually need to spend while we were there so we just maxed out the amount that we could bring into the country (10k usd). It was super scary travelling with all that money. Find out how you can set up a bank account there so that you can do it ASAP and not carry so much cash on you. Also, I ended spending much more when I reached than I thought. Like buying all the stuff you need for your room. Who knew man. Pillows, sheets, toiletries and all those bits and bobs could add up to so much. I think I spent close to 300usd getting everything! - Hannah

On Academic Matters:

7. Just because your home and host university approve the classes you’ve shortlisted, doesn’t mean the host university will eventually offer those classes in that semester. Instead, find the course catalogue for that semester and shortlist your classes. (Even then, some schools have a part-year catalogue specifically for visiting students. Make sure you check that instead of the general catalogue!) - Lutfi

8. The best thing that happened to me was that I got rejected for 6 core modules. So contrary to popular belief (specifically the Singaporean mentality), do NOT "clear all your modules on exchange" just to save your GPA. Don't waste your time studying overseas, get out there and live life. - Benjamin

9. I wish I’d known that some universities really care about attendance! Everyone on exchange keeps posting photos on social media and you’d think they’re on the road everyday. When you get there, you realise you can’t just take off because the university is strict about attendance.- Lisa

On Travelling:

10. If you're going to Europe, definitely travel as much as possible! It's so convenient and there are so many places to see and take advantage of. Definitely don't put off exploring until the end. - Kirby, The Love Pug

11. Schedule your travels according to special events to experience the best in each city. E.g. Oktober fest in Munich, Amsterdam Music Festival in Amsterdam etc. Also, solo travelling is not for everyone, but everyone should try it at least once in their lives and there’s no better opportunity to do so than during your exchange. Solo travelling allows you to discover a new side of you that you never knew existed and gives you life lessons beyond your comfort zone. It’s normal to feel lonely, lost and even face unfortunate accidents by yourself. But hey, it’s all about the experience and that’s what exchange is all about. - Junjie

On Long Distance Relationships:

12. I expected my relationship to be the easier part to manage, especially due to the fact that we've been separated for 3 months the year prior to my student exchange. However, it gets tough because there is most often not a cheap option to call each other at any given time in the day and you pretty much depend on skype and internet connection and circumstances in your dorm/apartment. The student exchange life often soaks you in with all the classes, events, parties, there is not a minute when you're not tempted to go somewhere or do something and the long distance relationship can suffer as a result of that. I had no idea it will be like that... So lesson learned was, stay sane enough to take your partner's reactions and feelings into account, because after all, when your exchange is over - that's who you'll be going back to! - Marijana, Lady of Awesome

13. Golden rule: Never leave any conflicts, even the slightest ones, unsettled overnight. And small gifts such as snail mailed postcards can go a long way in maintaining a LDR. - Junjie

14. I studied abroad my junior year of college, and spent about 6 months prior to that prepping myself for what I knew was one of the best opportunities of my life. While I knew everything about getting around and adjusting to life abroad, I didn't prep myself on what might happen if I fell in love. Having to come back home is already sad in itself, but having to leave a boy you love makes it unbelievably harder. While I wouldn't tell anyone to close themselves off to love while abroad, definitely have a conversation about what happens once your time is over before you get serious. That hard talk will save you so much heartache later. - Rubi, When Life Gives You Rubi

On Everything Else:

15. That (in Asia), unless you're white people don't know you're an exchange even if you speak in a British accent. - Harpreet

16. Pack only the essentials so you can buy everything there and you can bring back lots of stuff. Also, do everything you can whenever you can. You are going to miss it more than you realize, so live it up. If you get next to no sleep the whole time, you are doing it right. - Taylor, Repressing the Crazy

17. That the bell curve is actually your friend. That you have to pack chili, chili here (Europe) is a lie. That exchange is actually 80% cooking. - Natalie 

All images from Pixabay and Death to the Stock Photo

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