I’ve been getting a lot of questions on ask.fm on what exactly it is I’m doing now and how it is I’m traveling so much, so I thought I’d just compile them into an info post for those of you who’ve been asking 🙂 I’ll also include information on applying for this exchange program and personal motivations behind it, but not country-specific information on where to go and what to do – I’ll save that for a later post!
How did you get the opportunity to travel for 7 months?
I’m on an exchange programme between NTU Singapore (my home university) and the University of Stuttgart, Germany.
Most exchange programmes only last four months – or the normal course of a semester. I came up early to attend Winter semester for six weeks – mid Jan to Feb – where I learnt German. March was spent on a compulsory pre-semester intensive German course, and I started school proper in April.
How come you’re traveling so much during term time? / What’s school attendance like for exchange students?
Careful planning – I squeezed my classes into two days a week, and even then I skip them sometimes but clear it with my teacher first so she knows im not going to be around instead of just disappearing for a week. You need to check with your own exchange schools – some are cool with you traveling and expect it from exchange students, and some are real strict with it. Germany’s official stance is you get kicked out if you missed more than two classes, but the teachers vary in their stance on it.
How do I apply for a similar exchange programme?
I’m not sure how it works in NUS and SMU, but for NTU you need a minimum GPA of 3.5 to apply for the exchange programme. You get about five choices, and how likely you are to get placed in your top choice depends on how good your GPA is – so the 3.5 is really just the eligibility to pick up and fill in the form, the final result still depends on how good your grades are compared to the other applicants. NTU then nominates you for one of your choices, afterwhich you have to do the paperwork for application on the foreign university’s end and wait for their official acceptance.
How much did you budget for your exchange programme and how did you fund it?
I budgeted a total of 15k for flight, food, accommodation and travel, based on estimates i got from talking to seniors who’ve been for the same exchange programme to germany. I funded it by working as a copywriter for various media firms/ individual clients.
How does your exchange programme affect/relate to your studies back home?
All your modules cleared on exchange are pass/fail, which means you’ll get the credits for them as long as you pass, but your grades don’t affect your GPA back home. Freezing your GPA can be very helpful if you currently have a good GPA and don’t want to risk it dropping any further, but if you want to pull it up then you need all the graded AUs (academic units) you can get. On the flip side, since it’s pass/fail, it’s very useful for clearing compulsory modules that you don’t want to do in singapore because they’re difficult and might pull your GPA down if you do badly for them etc etc. You can clear up to 4 core modules for English Lit students like me and an unlimited number of unrestricted electives, but you need to get your home university’s approval first. Don’t ask me how many modules you’re allowed to clear for your own major, google that shit or ask your own university about it because it differs from school to school!
What schools are available for the exchange programme?
It differs from school to school. For NTU, there’s a general list available on the NTU website but it’s nowhere as comprehensive as the actual thing. Closer to each application period, the school will release a PDF file listing all available partner schools by geographical location as well as the number of slots available per school and for which semester. Some schools are only available for students from a certain faculty, so be sure to take note of that!
Why did you choose Germany?
Germany’s economy is strong and it’s relatively safe, the cost of living is cheaper than most european countries yet it still makes a good base from which to travel to other european cities.
When will you be back?
I haven’t booked my tickets back, but it should be some time in August 🙂
How did you find accommodation for your seven months / Where are you staying now?
From Jan-Feb I was staying with a host family (and their puppy!) in Filderstadt, it’s one of the options when you do winter or summer semester in Stuttgart. From March onwards till present I’m staying in a single room in the Allmandring I student dormitories on campus – there’s also the option of staying in a single room within an apartment style place, but i didn’t apply for that because it’s expensive and also because i didn’t know it was an option. The entire process is handled by the German studentenwerk housing committee.
Did you need a visa for your exchange programme?
Yes, because I’m staying over three months in the country. German visas take a long time to process, so DO IT EARLY.
Is there a language barrier for students who go to non-english exchange destinations?
I’ve not encountered much issue with it in Europe, most people can speak english. But it does help that I can speak basic german, and I’ve noticed that german people appreciate it when others make an effort to learn and speak their language. I’d imagine it’s the same for any other country, so out of respect it’d be nice to learn a few conversational phrases in their mother tongue!
Are your classes in English?
All my classes are in english because im an english literature student. The language of instruction is available on the school’s website usually, and the department emailed out this pdf of classes we can take in english. Some of my architecture friends are taking classes in German though.
How does living abroad differ from living in Singapore?
Well firstly, if you’re an exchange student it’s understood that you’re pretty slack compared to the locals because you’re on a pass/fail scheme, so it’s very relaxing academically. That said, the pace of living is much slower, it’s possible to cram your classes into one or two days and travel on long weekends, and take great afternoon naps. You also cook a lot because it’s expensive to eat out, so your domestic skills suddenly rocket.
What’s the difference between classes abroad and back home?
The students generally talk more in class/ there’s more class discussion. Back home if you skip more than three classes you get taken down a grade for your final subject score due to attendance/class participation, but here if you skip more than two you fail the class. Also, I have to write papers here that are anywhere from 4 to 6 thousand words whereas back home it was normal to write papers that were 1.5-2k words long 🙁 However, classes here are shorter – usually a class is about 1.5hrs, whereas back home a seminar can go for three hours straight.
Where have you travelled to so far?
Paris, London, Scotland, Zurich, Lucerne, Engelberg, Berlin, Bremen, Salzburg, Constance, Hameln.. I’m traveling more in June 🙂 You basically travel every weekend or every other weekend because it’s the only opportunity you will have to see so much of Europe while you’re young!
Have you ever encountered any racism?
Not maliciously. People say Konnichiwa and Ni Hao to me a lot, but definitely not in a mean way. But if anything, I feel like being an asian girl is in many ways an advantage because people are generally nicer to you.
Will you go on another exchange programme?
Well I can’t, because you can only do an overseas exchange programme once so other people get a chance at it too. Other options include summer school abroad, which I can’t do because I’m graduating soon and don’t have any more summers left, or a local exchange with NUS/SMU, but i don’t want to do that because i don’t see the point.
If what you’re asking is – would you do this exchange programme again if you had the chance? – the answer is yes, definitely. It’s a fantastic experience and I suggest everyone try it at least once. You can earn the money back when you start working.
I want to go on an exchange programme but i don’t have the money to on hand. What are my options?
There’s the summer school, which is 6 weeks long and much cheaper. My exchange budget is 15k because Europe is expensive, but there are other destinations within eastern europe which are much cheaper – I’ve had seniors complete their entire exchange semester with travels and all added expenses for under 10k in Hungary. Otherwise, asian destinations are really much more affordable too – taiwan, thailand, and china, for example.
Some countries are more prone to offering scholarships to exchange/international students, like the Korean government. The thing is, you can only apply for these scholarships after being accepted to the school so i wouldn’t count on it as a factor in the application process as much as a bonus.
I’m not sure about NUS and SMU as well, but NTU will loan you money for your exchange programme – up to 5k for Asian exchanges and 10k for Europe/USA/etc destinations. More details here. The loan is interest free until you graduate.
Is it difficult to survive in Europe on a student’s budget?
It’s alright. Of course you cut down on many things – like cab rides – but i think that’s all part of the fun. Traveling when you’re young and broke is an experience like no other. All these memories that you’d never get if you were traveling when older and richer.. like hobo-ing it out in an airport, staying in cheap hostels and taking overnight buses, dealing with crazy people.. they’re all priceless. There’s a certain glamour to traveling when you’re rich and can comfortably afford to stay in hotels and have fancy brunches, of course, but i think traveling while broke* and roughing it out is good for character.
*Not literally – all students are by nature broke unless you’re from some rich family that will pay off all your exchange expenses.
What do you miss most about Singapore when you’re on exchange?
Probably asian food. You can’t really get good/affordable asian food in Europe..
Will you get an accent from studying abroad?
No. Don’t be pretentious. One semester is nowhere near long enough to adopt some accent over the one you’ve been cultivating for years back home.
What’s the best thing about studying abroad?
Alright, I hope i’ve covered most bases for all of you who’ve been asking away! You can ask me more questions about my exchange programme on my ask.fm here, but do note that if I’m traveling/ on the move it might take me awhile to reply them. Also, please don’t ask me things like What airline should I take? and Where’s the best place to stay in xxx country? because do your own research and that’s what google is for.
Bottom line is, going on student exchange truly is one of the better bits of college life, I think. Definitely apply for it if you have the chance to – because you’re only young once, and once you start working it’ll be difficult to get to travel for such an extended period of time again 🙂 I hope this was helpful, and if you’re embarking on your own student exchange soon, I’m so excited for you as well! If all I did was to give you wanderlust… sorry about that.
C’est la vie x