The exchange at SUTD was like a minor simulation of taking the next steps in life – moving away from family and the places that I’ve known for the last twenty-one years.
Austin Truong is a student from University of California, who joined International Undergraduate Research Programme (iUROP), as part of Summer 2022 Inbound Exchange.
#1 Studying abroad instills independence in you.
I was able to experience what it’s like to be fully away from my understanding of my environment and self. Being in a dorm/hostel abroad is much different from being in a dorm/hostel in your own country or even locale.
For one thing, I’m completely alone, at least at first, as I didn’t know anyone in Singapore nor did I have any real expectations arriving. I can’t just call my parents, family members, or friends to come meet up to help me or know exactly where and what I should do. It’s up to me to figure it out by myself for a while.
I had to mature in order to enjoy my limited time here, and make my best effort to meet people, make new friends and ensure that those connections at least either meant something to me or continue to some degree. Pushing myself to escape the trap of just staying in my dorm/hostel room because “it’s too hot outside” and go out with my friends to explore the ArtScience museum and get dinner.
While the time it takes does matter, and I often did take public transportation while in Singapore, I enjoyed the walks much more than I did taking the MRT or buses.
#2 You learn to appreciate the different ways of life.
Another thing I learnt from my exchange journey was how different perspectives are formed depending on your mode of transport. In the United States, everyone drives a car since everything is so far away from each other, which means that walking is almost always heavily discouraged as a car ride is measured in double-digits whereas a walk is measured in hours to reach the same destination.
In Singapore, walking is roughly comparable to driving and when you walk from one location to another, you see small local events you would otherwise never notice. Like a soccer game being played in a back alley, or a community centre with sorts of local stores and celebrations you would never see. Those small human moments, those are what really capture my eye and just walking around seeing buildings and those moments are more likely to stick with me than anything else.
Singapore is a truly international city-state, I’ve met people from Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
#3 Enjoy the process and interact with new friends.
I had to adjust how I spoke due to the local languages/dialects being utilised, and how to best express myself to others who may not have the same cultural background as I do.
My study abroad journey allowed me to achieve a sense of independence as I was forced to truly rely on myself and taught me to be aware of the cultures and differences that aren’t as apparent as in the United States. I maximised my opportunities to interact with people of different cultures by always trying to speak with others as much as possible.
Whether would it be at a store, waiting in line, or on the bus, I tried to communicate with people and a get sense of who they are. It was always awkward , but if the party wanted to talk I tried to ask about the local area and their thoughts about it. I met people from Germany, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Japan, and the various groups living in Singapore such as Malay and Chinese. Getting to meet them and hear about their cultures was one of the most interesting things I’ll remember, as it showed to me the various similarities and differences between their cultures and my own.
My worldview has definitely been broadened. Being in Singapore, a region between East and West, I was able to see what it truly looks like to mix Eastern and Western cultures and ideas together to create a truly international city-state.
(This is me enjoying the evening at Marina Bay Sands.)
Overall, being a part of this study abroad program has been, what it seems to me, a pivotal moment in my life. I feel that studying abroad has changed me, and I hope to continue the change as I enter my final year at university.
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Click on this link to find out more about the iUROP programme that Austin went through!
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