Preparing for exchange is a stressful process for everyone, from you, to your parents, your extended family, and even your potential landlords. The bunch of us that went over Y2S2 had it no easier of course. Still, I dare say that being and going on exchange really grows you as a person: be it planning and arranging all aspects of your solo trips, or living abroad away from your family for an extended period of time, etc. This article is a brief summary of the thought process that I had when preparing for exchange. Enjoy!
1. Europe? North America? Asia?
As a NUS student, I had a good problem on my hand with too many universities to choose from. For one, I knew I wanted to go to a place where I can “clear” as many countries as possible, so naturally Europe came to mind. Some of my other friends chose the Americas instead, but I thought that Europe was historically and culturally richer, and also had more attractions I wanted to visit. The other side benefits of Europe were that it was closer to home of course, and that I could visit my sis who was studying in London.
One thing, I wouldn’t have mind going to South America for exchange, but sadly NUS Business did not offer any spots there. I know of some SMU people that are in Chile and Brazil though.
2. Which school?
I had a good problem on my hand with 100+ (?) universities alone in Europe to choose from. The factors that I considered when shortlisting the schools were: 1) Ranking of the school relative to NUS, 2) Mappability of modules, 3) Accessibility for travel.
I recall accessing an “Equivalent Module Master List” document back then, where I could see the schools and the modules that it roughly offered. Now, you have to use the official exchange platform by NUS to manually enter and check the module mappability. I thought the initial document was more efficient, but oh well.
Two universities ranked highly for their Business courses: Copenhagen Business School and Bocconi University. In CBS, you could map 4 modules but get an extra ULR module free, so you bring back 5 modules. However as a double degree student, I did not need the ULR module at all, so CBS did not benefit me as much as Bocconi. To add, I could map 5 finance modules in Bocconi, so that was great.
Thereafter, everything else was just rationalizing the Bocconi choice: Bocconi had 3 airports that are 1 hour away max (makes for easy travelling), I like Italian food and Bocconi is in the south of Europe so relatively warm. I even packed shorts, thinking winter in Italy would be warm, but alas not the case.
BONUS: On reaching Bocconi, I learnt that I could take a “non-attending” option for all my courses, which meant I could legally skip classes and just take exams at the end of the semester which would count for 100% of my grade. Yay to full-time travelling and part-time studying!
3. Preparation matters? – Accommodation
I applied for Bocconi myself, so I took the risk that I may go to the school alone. Luckily, there were other NUS students that got Bocconi whom I knew, so that was splendid. Further, I managed to reach out to the SMU and NTU students that are going too, and we met up twice before flying to Italy. I was lucky enough that the 4 NTU students were willing to accept me in their accommodation, so do try to reach out to other possible students!
The easiest option available for housing is obviously the ones that are provided by the school. Bocconi had about 6-7 student hostels, but I personally thought the 800-900 Euros per month was steep for a single private room. Still, student hostels are the best place to make quick friends, and should be your top option if you are going up alone.
We next looked at Airbnb, ordering our choices based on the distance from Bocconi and filtering out any options that were more expensive than the student hostels. The 5 of us got a house for 330 Euros per month per person, with 2 bedrooms, a dining room, and a living room which was really value for money. The other Singaporeans got their places for about 400-500 Euros a month, but their houses were slightly less spacious. There is indeed cost savings to be had with a group of 4 and higher.
Another medium that we considered were private agents and localized rental websites that catered mainly to students. However, they had mainly single rooms to offer, and we weren’t that keen on negotiating on in Italian.
3. Preparation matters? – Visa
As I would be staying in Italy for more than 90 days, the typical tourist visa would not suffice. Hence, we had to apply for a long-stay visa from the VFS Global office in Singapore. As the long-stay visa application document is not readily available from their website, we had to email the office to request for it.
Applying for visa is yet another protracted process and I started applying for it 2 months before departure. Besides the usual documents like the photocopies of your passport, you have to also have a bank book records, insurance (obtainable from school), your flight itinerary, a proof of housing, your acceptance letters from the two schools, and a whole lot of other documents depending on the country. This means you have to confirm your flight dates and your housing even before you apply for the visa.
The proof of housing / rental is a document that you can draw up with your landlord which states the occupants, the period of stay, and have the signatures of both parties on it. Our Italian embassy also wanted us to obtain the pictures of the landlord’s IC and signature to proof that he was the one signing on the document.
3. Preparation matters? – Packing
My airline (Qatar Airways) only allowed 1 checkin luggage, so I brought 3 main baggages: one trolley bag that I checked-in, another haversack that I would be used for travelling, and one smaller day bag.
Clothing – Travel light and bring about 1.5 weeks worth of clothing, as hopefully you would have access to a washing machine and a dryer. Worst-case scenario would be to buy when you are in Europe, so you could save lots of space on clothing. During winter, we also tend to reuse clothes alot as we won’t sweat, so do take into account that.
Electronics – I brought my laptop, chargers, mouse, and speakers which can all be easily availed from sites like 25pc. I also brought an extra phone which I had my Singapore SIM in it for roaming. Powerbanks and batteries are of course depending on personal use.
Essentials – I brought about a thousand Euros there in cash to tide me over before I opened a bank account (which I didn’t end up opening). If you are paranoid, you may want to carry some other major currencies like USD, GBP, especially if you are lazy to change while travelling. I also printed copies of my important documents which I placed in my main baggages.
4. Final words
While the exchange process may be harrowing at first, treat it seriously and do your due diligence! Talk to friends who have gone, consider all other aspects, look at your financial situation, or even ask strangers for advice. I’m sure that exchange will be as rewarding as it has been for me. Ciao!