Singapore Management University (SMU) has always been outward-looking; drawing its inspiration from American universities for its pedagogy and operating with the vision of being internationally recognized.
In line with this goal, SMU has recently instituted the compulsory requirement for global exposure. All students must undertake at least one SMU-organized international activity, be it an internship, community service project, exchange programme or study mission. The idea is to give students global traction – a real-world perspective to what they learn in class, and to help build character through independence and open-mindedness.
The qualities you can glean from global exposure are central to personal development. But frankly, you don’t need to travel overseas to garner new perspectives. How, you ask?
Well, I’ve got two words for you: Exchange Students!
Our little red dot draws people from every corner of the world, something that is reflected in our clubs and classrooms at SMU.
Here are 7 reasons why you should strike up a conversation and get to know them more:
You’ll Learn About a New Culture
Conversations with exchange students are akin to visiting exotic countries, without taking a single flight. Talking to them can teach you so much about the world that you wouldn’t have known otherwise.
I invited a few of my friends who are currently on exchange at SMU to my family’s annual Deepavali party. It was a novel experience for them as they got to enjoy Indian food and traditions. At the same time, I learned several new things about their culture. Apparently, Africans don’t have a habit of celebrating birthdays to track a person’s age; instead they count the number of rain seasons people live through! Interacting with exchange students can make you worldly wise, sitting right here in Singapore.
You’ll Level Up Your Group Projects
Their insights on/from other parts of the world can also add an entirely new dimension to group projects. Your group will be able to provide case studies and examples from different countries to give your project a fresh take, something your lecturers and classmates would most definitely appreciate.
You’ll Have Fun and Interesting Conversations
Every exchange student I have spoken to claims to love Singapore! They are amazed by the cleanliness, the eclectic offerings of food and flavors and the balance of technological development and humanity. Because they come from different places, they view Singapore differently than we do. You will find that some of their experiences are funny or unfamiliar to you and you might even learn something new about Singapore. The best part is that there is so much to talk about because their lives back home are so different.
Everyone knows that some weeks of the semester are brutal, and there’s no choice but to be holed up in the library. But at other times, we eat meals with our friends, catch up for drinks or even study together. Many of us spend the most time with a particular set of friends, bidding and grouping with them too, thus never feeling the need to make new acquaintances. But why don’t we invite exchange students whenever we do hang out?
Just a simple “Hey, you want to go with us to Subway?” or an invitation to join you for a round of drinks on Friday night could go a long way. You could even make a travel buddy in the process – one of my friends is going to Vietnam at the end of the semester with a friend she made from exchange!
You’ll Be Globally Connected
A small survey I did among my peers highlighted that SMU students feel it is futile to invest in a friendship that will soon become “long distance”. I feel that the connection is anything but lost even after exchange student leaves Singapore, especially with social media. Think of it as a long-term friendship, spanning across the globe! When you travel or go on exchange, you might have friends in the local country to give you tips and show you around.
Two years ago, I made friends with a Spanish exchange student and we kept in touch through Instagram. When I visited Spain during my exchange semester, she showed me around and even had her father take us on a private plane ride! Not only did I have an international resource; I could reconnect with her in her hometown.
You Gain a Competitive Edge While Seeking Jobs
Employers today seek enthusiastic and fast learners, favoring those who are open-minded and have varied experiences. Working with people from different cultures and backgrounds gives you an undeniable edge during the job hunt, especially if your job requires you to travel. Plus, should your boss assign you to work in Italy or Canada, you might even be able to save on accommodation. (Just kidding!)
You’ll Be A Friend Everybody Wants
And finally – have you ever walked into a room and felt awkward or left out? Imagine landing in a strange country, where cars drive on the other side of the road, your coffee order now involves words like siew tai and the people look different. No matter where you are, the feeling of being an outsider is disquieting. As local students, we can easily take the initiative to include exchange students and try to make them feel comfortable.
Rather than letting luck determine who sits next to you in class and if they will become your friend, consciously reach out to exchange students who might feel shy or excluded. Ask them how they like Singapore, suggest grabbing coffee or simply chope a place for them in class. Being sensitive to different types of people shows personal growth, and maybe the good karma will help you one day!