Every semester, many SMU students go on exchange to our partner universities all across the globe. We hear from many about their host countries, and even get to experience another part of the world through their colorful stories and photos. It is always fascinating to perceive other cultures through our lenses, so we were wondering what Singapore and SMU looked like to exchange students who come here. The Blue and Gold decided to switch things up and ask four exchange students about their experience studying in Singapore and SMU.
Mathilde Nærland hails from the Scandinavian country of Denmark, Copenhagen, a winsome place bathed in the ethereal radiance of Nordic light. When asked what the number one thing a student on exchange here should do the most, she recommended going out a lot.
“The parties are (mostly) really cool and the nightlife is beyond dazzling here!”
The 22-year-old, who was here on exchange in the first semester of academic year 2015/2016, also suggested that since Singapore is very close in proximity to countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, and Hong Kong, one should definitely “travel, travel, travel”. Her first time in this region of the world, Mathilde told us that while traveling is a good idea, she also said to make sure it didn’t clash with school days and commitments. During her semester here, she even joined SMU Basketball and played for the school during the Singapore University Games (SUniG).
Mathilde owning in on the court
“A good idea is to travel in the beginning of the semester before recess week because it tends to get more hectic after the break,” she said.
Ditte Sofie Nielsen, another Danish student who was on exchange here with Mathilde, agreed. She said her emphasis was on the traveling around to nearby countries when here in Singapore, but to make sure it falls on the less busy weeks of school.
Abril Hernández from the windswept, sun-baked city of San Luis Potosi, Mexico told us that every time someone mentions Singapore, she smiles. An exchange student to SMU in the second semester of academic year of 2013/2014, she declared that the whole experience was the best time of her life.
“At the beginning I was afraid, and didn’t know what to expect about everything: school, culture, food, and people. But as soon as I landed, I knew it would be an amazing experience. My first real struggle was the language! Singlish at first is a little difficult to understand but later, you will find yourself using their expressions,” she mused.
Abril out and about in Singapore
Reminiscing about her time here, she confessed that she missed the affordable food the most. She recommended eating at food courts or looking for special deals on Groupon.com, a global e-commerce marketplace. What she deems “the best cuisine in the world”, Abril also said that exchange students should just be brave and try out as many dishes as possible here, also recommending them to ask locals for tips on food. Other than the culinary adventures she has had here, she missed the clean and safe streets of Singapore where she observed even “six-year-old kids can travel alone on the MRT”.
Besides Singapore being a great host country to them, the three of them agreed that their time in school was an eye-opener. Mathilde’s first piece of advice to future exchange students was to get to know the locals. She went on to say that showing motivation for school, as well as an interest in sharing culture related stories, similarities and differences between their countries, and just generally being open, gives way to a resulting experience that is priceless.
“As much as possible, make sure to socialize and go out and meet new people to get a local experience, and learn more about Singaporean culture. Of course you should go ahead and make friends with other exchange students, but one should try to make some Singaporean friends too, you know, to mix it up and learn something about the locals and the culture here.”
Mathilde and Ditte with SMU friends
Abril also had the same thing to say, encouraging exchange students to “make as many friends as you can, and just hang out with everyone” because doing exactly that let her experience the best of both worlds.
Lee Sang Hoon, from the delightful blend of hilly green countryside, coastal fishing villages and high-tech cities known as Korea, told us he missed the small classes in SMU. The 23-year-old told The Blue and Gold that although the classes here were long in duration, he learned a lot during his time here in the academic year of 2014/2015’s second semester.
“Being in a small class makes it a very conducive environment to learn, and that feeling that you won’t be insignificant to your professor and classmates because you are not in a massive lecture auditorium, is great,” he said.
He also said that the curriculum here was rigorous and fast paced, something he was luckily able to keep up with, thanks to his classmates who helped him out whenever he couldn’t understand terms or had difficulty translating it into Korean. On making friends with locals, he observed that Singaporeans were friendly in general, but the stereotype of the ‘partying exchange student’ is very real. “Although we do go out or travel around during the semester, we actually do care about the work we put in!” he said.
Mathilde similarly said that it was definitely important to really study and keep up in school. “Because there is a lot of project work on top of the many tests and midterms, it’s important to show SMU students that you are serious about your work. If you don't do your part in the group, you also end up not learning anything in class – and that is bad too, because at the exam, you will be on your own.”
Another piece of advice Ditte and Sang Hoon had to give was on the topic of accommodation. Both of them agreed that although accommodation was pricey, this issue could be circumvented by either staying in the SMU hostel or renting a whole apartment with other exchange students to save money. “It is best to stay outside of the city area if you want a more affordable place, but that’s a good thing too because there is plenty of good food in the neighbourhoods,” they said.
All in all, among the four exchange students we interviewed, the united consensus was to enjoy their Singapore experience. Mathilde put it best saying, “Don’t save a penny! Spend it all and don't say no! Put the "yes hat” on (Danish expression), travel, eat, drink, remember to study a bit, and enjoy the heat. The amazing city, food, culture and people all add to the priceless experience of being an exchange student in SMU and Singapore.”