Should I Stay or Should I Go (on Exchange)?

Not sure whether you want to go on an exchange programme? Trust me – do it.

Be it summer school, exchange, or NOC, your time away from NUS might just be the most exciting part of your undergraduate life. Granted, going overseas to study will be an expensive affair, but there are numerous scholarships/bursaries you can apply for, as well as study loans you can take out to reduce costs.

Why should you go? Firstly, you should take every opportunity you get to step out of your comfort zone and expand your boundaries. You can’t grow as a person without taking risks, and that includes throwing yourself into the unknown. Secondly, going on exchange will expose you to new people, new surroundings, and new ways of learning. Being in NUS may trap you in a bit of a bubble, and it would help to gain an insight into how other countries are like. Lastly, you will (probably) get to travel! Best to see the world and do all those fancy backpacking trips while you’re still young and healthy.

That being said, don’t throw yourself completely into the unknown – here are some tips to bear in mind while applying for exchange:


  1. Location, Location, Location

You will probably take the opportunity to travel while on exchange (Gradeless sem woohoo!). Thus, you should look for a city located in a region you’ve always wanted to explore and somewhere highly connected to many countries around it. Examples include London or Paris for Europe, or New York for the USA. Travelling around Europe is relatively cheap, while the USA can be explored leisurely through road trips. If you’ve always wanted to go to Northeast Asia, Tokyo, Seoul or Beijing would be your best bet. So, remember to pick a good location!

  1. Your course of study

Your grades may not matter on exchange, but don’t forget you’re still there to learn! Try to pick a university relevant to your course of study. For example, I picked a university in The Hague, for there are many international institutions there, which allowed me to go on field trips to places like the International Criminal Court and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. I also got to learn from experienced lecturers such as the ex-Secretary General of NATO. If a certain university boasts experienced or renowned academics, try to pick that as well, as it will probably be your best and only chance to learn under them. Even if you do end up in a university less renowned for your course of study, you can try taking courses that you would not normally take in NUS since your grades don’t matter, should you have the unrestricted electives to do . That being said, this is a very FASS-centric view, and should not be taken as representative of all the faculties. Some faculties have a limited choice of exchange universities, which may be an advantage as you don’t have to wrack your brains thinking where to apply to, but with the added caveat that it will be more competitive.


  1. Food makes the world go round

You will miss Singaporean food. A. Lot. Unless you go to an Asian country, chances are that the cuisine will be quite different from what you’re used to eating on a daily basis. If you don’t have a meal plan, outside food will likely be expensive, so you’ll have to learn to cook for yourself. Worse still, if your university is in a campus town or somewhere other than a big city, shops will close early. No more McDelivery/Ameens at 2 a.m. or going down at 12 a.m. to grab a Bak Chor Mee from the 24-hour kopitiam near your place.

Hence, try to pick a city where the food is at least semi-good. You can’t go wrong with places like London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, or major cities in the USA. Speaking from personal experience, the Netherlands is generally not great with food (sandwiches for lunch. Every. Day.), neither is Eastern Europe (but at least it’s cheap). The Nordic countries, however, are okay but very expensive.

  1. Language barriers

Language barriers may exist in certain countries. While most of Western Europe speaks English (except the French who may insist on speaking French), and you should have no problem in the USA, people in Eastern Europe, Japan, Korea, China, and some Southeast Asian countries may not be able to understand English. Students around our age will probably be able to speak English, but may be somewhat uncomfortable doing so and hence will not hold many conversations with you. On the other hand, if you have been learning another language and wish to practice it, there is no better chance to do so!


I hope these tips will come in useful as you apply for exchange! Go out and have the time of your life! 😊


Pictures by the author.

About the Author

Isaac is a Year 3 FASS student majoring in Political Science. He wants to explore and understand the world, but is content with just surviving in university for now. He can be found browsing only the dankest memes.