Dreaming of the day when you can embark on an overseas student exchange but unsure of what to expect? Living overseas and traveling during the semester is often glamorised on social media and your peers look like they are having the time of their lives.
Although their experiences may look picture-perfect, don’t forget that there are tiny details about the experience that your friends will not show you on social media. Let’s peel back the layers of glitter and fluff — here’s a list of 10 truths about overseas student exchange that nobody talks about.
If you’re particular about your photographs, you may face difficulties on your solo travels. You could rely on the selfie stick but that would mean having the same angles for all your photographs.
You can also forget about having any full body ootds.
Asking strangers for help is an option but they may not be able to pander to your aesthetic and help you take artsy shots of your back view with the scenery. But as the saying goes, “pictures or it didn’t happen”, so you don’t have much of a choice but to accept every shot you can get.
While you may be busy with travel and lessons, you have to consistently manage your mess before your room starts to look like it got hit by a hurricane. Be prepared to deal with your clothes shrinking, and if you are using a communal laundry area, be warned that waiting for a free washing machine and dryer is often a nightmare.
Eating out is often expensive and one meal in the restaurant can cost the same amount as a week of groceries. So you will be forced to cook if you’re on a budget.
While you may not become a cooking mama, take heart in the knowledge that your cooking skills will definitely improve. Add excitement to your meal planning and recreate Singaporean dishes!
Gone were the days where you could run to your parents for help to kill insects. If you thought that cockroaches and lizards in Singapore were the bane of your existence, think again.
The pests in other foreign countries that you may encounter in the household range from (eek!) rats to possums.
At least you can now put your creativity to the test when you think up baits and traps for those pesky pests that invade your home.
Falling sick is the worst, especially if it’s winter in the country that you are in. Comfort foods like porridge or clear soups are unfortunately not readily available.
You will miss home the most because sick days were easier back in Singapore and you often had your family members to nurse you back to health.
It is normal for you to feel self-conscious about being alone in restaurants and cafes. You’d probably rather order a take away rather than have the meal while it’s piping hot.
Well, an overseas student exchange is a great time for you to overcome that and to not be ashamed of being seen alone. Be comfortable with the silence and learn to keep yourself content with a book or your phone.
Shopkeepers, cashiers and diner staff are usually very friendly and will make small talk with you. Feel free to engage in conversations with strangers but always ensure that you do not overshare and fall prey to any scammers out there.
To avoid getting lost all the time, Google maps will become your best friend and you’ll get to hone your navigation skills. You may even have to ask the locals for directions at times too, so don’t be shy!
Of course, you will be rewarded with a sense of achievement when you slowly learn how to get to places without using any maps.
Be prepared to spend long hours at the airports. It is a very uncomfortable but often necessary part of traveling. The earlier flights are usually cheaper but that also means planning your route to get to the airport in time (taking into account the fact that public transport doesn’t usually start so early).
If you intend to take overnight buses to travel to places, the bus journeys can sometimes take six to ten hours. Your bottoms may be sore and backs may ache by the end of the ride, but it’ll be so worth it in the end.
Singlish is a big part of our lives but you’ll probably have to tone it down because the locals may not understand what you are saying. So leave your favourite Singlish phrases and words like lah, lor, leh behind and speak proper English to get your point across.
The locals are likely to ask you to repeat yourself if your Singlish confuses them but they’re usually very polite about it so you don’t have to worry.
You may have realised by now that fellow Singaporeans on an overseas student exchange tend to club more and use dating apps like Tinder because when you’re overseas, what you do there stays there and you receive less judgement from your peers.
If you are not someone who enjoys clubs and alcohol, you don’t have to feel pressurised into engaging in those activities. It is perfectly alright to want to spend a night in, snuggled up in your bed with a good book or TV show. You do you!
If anything, an overseas student exchange experience will help you to gain the confidence to navigate foreign places by yourself because your friends may have different interests from you. Take courage and travel to the museums and parks that you want to visit alone because you don’t want to have any regrets!
Through the course of the overseas student exchange, you will become more equipped to handle harder situations. At the end of the day, you are on your own so you do have to man up a little.
It’s a once in a lifetime experience though, so go ahead, young explorer of the world, and treasure this beautiful period of time in your life!
What are some other less glamorous sides of exchange that people rarely talk about? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.
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