Personal Growth: 3 Life Skills You Can Learn as an International Exchange Student

Now that I’m back in Hong Kong, I’ve had a chance to contemplate the exchange program that I participated in at the National University of Singapore (NUS). In my view, getting accepted into the exchange program was a burdensome process that involved a lot of complicated paperwork to fill out and submit as well as an interview. But if you ask me now whether the exchange program experience was worth putting in so much of my time, energy and attention, I will answer with an emphatic “Yes!”

Reflecting on my goals of participating in the exchange program, I do wonder whether or not I used the opportunity to improve on the areas which I have identified to be my personal shortcomings. Life is a journey full of learning experiences; we make mistakes, we learn from them, and carry on wiser and more experienced. With that in mind, I have summarized three important things that I learned from my experience as an exchange student that you can learn too.

Interpersonal Skills

One of my personal growth areas is developing interpersonal relationships, and the exchange program allowed me to learn a lot about this. Living in a contemporary and socialized world, learning how to effectively interact, communicate and develop relationships with other people are required skills in our society. But developing interpersonal skills can be challenging for many people, myself included.

The fact is that I struggle with it quite a bit. There was a time when I naively believed that I could just build a wall around me to isolate myself from the outside world, fearing for any difficulties and hardship that relationships with others can bring. The reality, though, is that I could not effectively go about life this way, and the exchange program took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to work on this area.

The exchange program provided an opportunity for me to become acquainted with different kinds of people from diverse backgrounds.

In my situation, I was appointed to living in Temasek Hall, which was comprised of about 95% local students from Singapore. However, due to the relatively small number of international exchange students in my hall, we banded together and formed a tight-knit bond between us. Never have I met so many people from different nationalities in my life. There were Canadians, Thais, Germans, Koreans, and students from many other countries. The variety of my friends’ cultural backgrounds and upbringings helped me better understand how different people can be, and I learned a lot through my observations and interactions with them.

However, my experience did not come without challenges, which is a common occurrence when dealing with people. During the exchange program, I found it difficult to integrate myself into the local students’ social group. I had become friends with so many of the other international students, and I found it a bit frustrating that I could not develop relationships with the local students. But through this experience and their disinterest in hanging out with me, I learned not to take it personally. Local students already know each other and have formed strong friendships with their peers long before my arrival, and it is somewhat reasonable to understand if they didn’t want to let any “outsiders” into their social circle.

But that’s an important lesson when it comes to interpersonal skills, and there will be many occasions in life when you try to interact with people that you don’t connect with. It’s crucial to understand that you will not get along with everyone. Each individual is unique in their own terms, and we can try to learn how to interact with different people, but sometimes you will find it challenging and just won’t be able to connect with someone.

It’s important to understand people’s cultural differences, and learn how to integrate yourself into different environments.

This aspect of being an exchange student was a valuable learning experience that helped prepare me for life and future situations, such as workplace environments, where you are interacting with a diverse range of people from different backgrounds.

Self-Management Skills

Self-management is another aspect students can improve upon during exchange study. You need to be able to manage yourself before you can manage others, and being an international exchange student provides an excellent opportunity to develop this skill.

In an exchange program, you are thrust into an environment where you have to deal with daily domestic activities (doing laundry, buying food, etc.), basic financial management, and developing self-discipline of your emotions. Imagine you are thrown alone into a strange setting without traditional support, and you need to do anything to survive. Albeit this is an exaggeration, but this kind of scenario is reflected in being an exchange student. There are no family or familiar friends backing you up, thus we are the ones bearing the responsibility of our own actions.

Going on exchange forces you to grown up.

Daily domestic work was an easy task for me while self-discipline required much more effort. It was difficult for me to integrate into the brand new academic environment at first. Though universities in the world share similarities regarding their academic curriculum structure, each university is also unique in different ways. The professor of one of my courses in NUS utilized the “flipped classroom” teaching method.

Instead of indoctrinating students about particular topics, this professor organized the class based on a class quiz (using a clicker so that the potential answers that students could choose from were shown on the screen instantly), which would then be discussed by the class. This method requires students to proactively prepare for the class session in advance, and while I agree that this method can encourage students to read the textbook before class, it took me some time to adapt to this teaching style. It relies more on our self-discipline to learn, which was vastly different from how I was taught in Hong Kong.

I have come to realize that the “spoon feeding” culture occupies a solid root in the educational system of Hong Kong. Students are so used to being “spoon fed” all the class content and the teachers exist only to present the knowledge. There is limited interaction between teachers and students for a majority of the class, information is merely given to the students. One important thing I have learned from NUS students is that you must ask if you don’t understand anything. There is a saying that, “If you ask, you are a fool for five minutes. But if you don’t ask, you stay a fool for your whole life.”

Learning is a process of questioning and acquiring answers. It applies to every aspect of our life. We as young adults need to be the ones taking initiative to learn, and it definitely requires our self-discipline to do so.

As for our emotional management, considering that many of us may not have robust experiences living or studying in a distant country, it was uncomfortable at first. For me, my negative emotions spurred by being in a strange new environment soared sky high during the first few weeks. Eventually, things got better. Now that I rethink all those instances when I was immensely emotional, they were not actually necessary. When I chatted with other exchange friends, I acknowledged that I was not the only student  upset with my situation as an exchange student, at first. Everyone has been through the phase of adapting. Some may require more time to do so, while some may find it very easy.

Sometimes we are too overtaken by our own emotions that we are unable to make logical decisions.

For me, I needed a certain period of time to overcome the emotional obstacles caused by being alone in a new country. I believe a mature person is able to determine if his or her actions are emotionally driven, as opposed to logically driven. Minimizing the negative impact that emotions may bring to our daily lives is one big challenge that many of us may face, and you can learn a lot about managing this through an exchange study experience.

Future Life Perspective

Since I was uncertain about my path in life upon graduation, another reason why I’ve decided to go on exchange is to explore different career, business and academic opportunities. I find Singapore to be a very pleasant country to live in. Its government sought to provide a better life for the people, encompassing benefits in education, housing and welfare. People there generally live a satisfying life. In contrast, the political unease and declining economy of Hong Kong makes me take a step back in wanting to develop my academic or working career in the city I was raised.

Now that I’ve lived in Singapore for nearly half a year, I’m already familiar with the country. Besides Hong Kong, the exchange program showed me that Singapore may be a good alternative to pursue a professional career or higher education. I absolutely adore the stability its government has maintained in the city. From Cantonese, Mandarin, Malay to English, Singaporeans utilize all these languages in their daily life. The abundant cultural diversity of the country has cultivated many startups and created opportunities for innovation. I was fascinated to witness how people from different countries and races can live in harmony and peace within a nation, and I’ve come to acknowledge that I would not be able to experience this if I sought to limit my learning to the inside of a classroom.

With globalization, many more exchange opportunities are provided to college students worldwide. In the U.S alone, there were 40% more international exchange students studying in U.S. universities compared to a decade ago. Being an exchange student is a once in the life-time opportunity. It widens students’ perspectives on life, and we can learn knowledge and skills that can’t be acquired in a classroom. Seizing this opportunity will definitely paint a beautiful stroke in our life book.

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Personal Growth: 3 Life Skills You Can Learn as an International Exchange Student

Now that I’m back in Hong Kong, I’ve had a chance to contemplate the exchange program that I participated in at the National University of Singapore (NUS). In my view, getting accepted into the exchange program was a burdensome process that involved a lot of complicated paperwork to fill out and submit as well as an interview. But if you ask me now whether the exchange program experience was worth putting in so much of my time, energy and attention, I will answer with an emphatic “Yes!”

Reflecting on my goals of participating in the exchange program, I do wonder whether or not I used the opportunity to improve on the areas which I have identified to be my personal shortcomings. Life is a journey full of learning experiences; we make mistakes, we learn from them, and carry on wiser and more experienced. With that in mind, I have summarized three important things that I learned from my experience as an exchange student that you can learn too.

Interpersonal Skills

One of my personal growth areas is developing interpersonal relationships, and the exchange program allowed me to learn a lot about this. Living in a contemporary and socialized world, learning how to effectively interact, communicate and develop relationships with other people are required skills in our society. But developing interpersonal skills can be challenging for many people, myself included.

The fact is that I struggle with it quite a bit. There was a time when I naively believed that I could just build a wall around me to isolate myself from the outside world, fearing for any difficulties and hardship that relationships with others can bring. The reality, though, is that I could not effectively go about life this way, and the exchange program took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to work on this area.

The exchange program provided an opportunity for me to become acquainted with different kinds of people from diverse backgrounds.

In my situation, I was appointed to living in Temasek Hall, which was comprised of about 95% local students from Singapore. However, due to the relatively small number of international exchange students in my hall, we banded together and formed a tight-knit bond between us. Never have I met so many people from different nationalities in my life. There were Canadians, Thais, Germans, Koreans, and students from many other countries. The variety of my friends’ cultural backgrounds and upbringings helped me better understand how different people can be, and I learned a lot through my observations and interactions with them.

However, my experience did not come without challenges, which is a common occurrence when dealing with people. During the exchange program, I found it difficult to integrate myself into the local students’ social group. I had become friends with so many of the other international students, and I found it a bit frustrating that I could not develop relationships with the local students. But through this experience and their disinterest in hanging out with me, I learned not to take it personally. Local students already know each other and have formed strong friendships with their peers long before my arrival, and it is somewhat reasonable to understand if they didn’t want to let any “outsiders” into their social circle.

But that’s an important lesson when it comes to interpersonal skills, and there will be many occasions in life when you try to interact with people that you don’t connect with. It’s crucial to understand that you will not get along with everyone. Each individual is unique in their own terms, and we can try to learn how to interact with different people, but sometimes you will find it challenging and just won’t be able to connect with someone.

It’s important to understand people’s cultural differences, and learn how to integrate yourself into different environments.

This aspect of being an exchange student was a valuable learning experience that helped prepare me for life and future situations, such as workplace environments, where you are interacting with a diverse range of people from different backgrounds.

Self-Management Skills

Self-management is another aspect students can improve upon during exchange study. You need to be able to manage yourself before you can manage others, and being an international exchange student provides an excellent opportunity to develop this skill.

In an exchange program, you are thrust into an environment where you have to deal with daily domestic activities (doing laundry, buying food, etc.), basic financial management, and developing self-discipline of your emotions. Imagine you are thrown alone into a strange setting without traditional support, and you need to do anything to survive. Albeit this is an exaggeration, but this kind of scenario is reflected in being an exchange student. There are no family or familiar friends backing you up, thus we are the ones bearing the responsibility of our own actions.

Going on exchange forces you to grown up.

Daily domestic work was an easy task for me while self-discipline required much more effort. It was difficult for me to integrate into the brand new academic environment at first. Though universities in the world share similarities regarding their academic curriculum structure, each university is also unique in different ways. The professor of one of my courses in NUS utilized the “flipped classroom” teaching method.

Instead of indoctrinating students about particular topics, this professor organized the class based on a class quiz (using a clicker so that the potential answers that students could choose from were shown on the screen instantly), which would then be discussed by the class. This method requires students to proactively prepare for the class session in advance, and while I agree that this method can encourage students to read the textbook before class, it took me some time to adapt to this teaching style. It relies more on our self-discipline to learn, which was vastly different from how I was taught in Hong Kong.

I have come to realize that the “spoon feeding” culture occupies a solid root in the educational system of Hong Kong. Students are so used to being “spoon fed” all the class content and the teachers exist only to present the knowledge. There is limited interaction between teachers and students for a majority of the class, information is merely given to the students. One important thing I have learned from NUS students is that you must ask if you don’t understand anything. There is a saying that, “If you ask, you are a fool for five minutes. But if you don’t ask, you stay a fool for your whole life.”

Learning is a process of questioning and acquiring answers. It applies to every aspect of our life. We as young adults need to be the ones taking initiative to learn, and it definitely requires our self-discipline to do so.

As for our emotional management, considering that many of us may not have robust experiences living or studying in a distant country, it was uncomfortable at first. For me, my negative emotions spurred by being in a strange new environment soared sky high during the first few weeks. Eventually, things got better. Now that I rethink all those instances when I was immensely emotional, they were not actually necessary. When I chatted with other exchange friends, I acknowledged that I was not the only student  upset with my situation as an exchange student, at first. Everyone has been through the phase of adapting. Some may require more time to do so, while some may find it very easy.

Sometimes we are too overtaken by our own emotions that we are unable to make logical decisions.

For me, I needed a certain period of time to overcome the emotional obstacles caused by being alone in a new country. I believe a mature person is able to determine if his or her actions are emotionally driven, as opposed to logically driven. Minimizing the negative impact that emotions may bring to our daily lives is one big challenge that many of us may face, and you can learn a lot about managing this through an exchange study experience.

Future Life Perspective

Since I was uncertain about my path in life upon graduation, another reason why I’ve decided to go on exchange is to explore different career, business and academic opportunities. I find Singapore to be a very pleasant country to live in. Its government sought to provide a better life for the people, encompassing benefits in education, housing and welfare. People there generally live a satisfying life. In contrast, the political unease and declining economy of Hong Kong makes me take a step back in wanting to develop my academic or working career in the city I was raised.

Now that I’ve lived in Singapore for nearly half a year, I’m already familiar with the country. Besides Hong Kong, the exchange program showed me that Singapore may be a good alternative to pursue a professional career or higher education. I absolutely adore the stability its government has maintained in the city. From Cantonese, Mandarin, Malay to English, Singaporeans utilize all these languages in their daily life. The abundant cultural diversity of the country has cultivated many startups and created opportunities for innovation. I was fascinated to witness how people from different countries and races can live in harmony and peace within a nation, and I’ve come to acknowledge that I would not be able to experience this if I sought to limit my learning to the inside of a classroom.

With globalization, many more exchange opportunities are provided to college students worldwide. In the U.S alone, there were 40% more international exchange students studying in U.S. universities compared to a decade ago. Being an exchange student is a once in the life-time opportunity. It widens students’ perspectives on life, and we can learn knowledge and skills that can’t be acquired in a classroom. Seizing this opportunity will definitely paint a beautiful stroke in our life book.

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