Isabel Leong Jiarong
BSocSc Class of 2017
Arriving in France
I was really clueless about everything when I first arrived in France, because I couldn’t understand a single word that they said! In these times, it pays to really make friends with the locals so they can help you out with translations. There was so much to be done in France – open a bank account, apply for a phone line, buy your transport card, sign up for a compulsory health insurance and going for X-ray scans. There weren’t that many major adjustments to be made as long as you knew how to take care of yourself.
Singapore is much more organized, cleaner and efficient. The subway stations in France are not fitted with escalators, so be prepared to lift your luggage around while commuting. People can smoke anywhere in France’s public places, unlike in Singapore. They also express their creative expressions around the city in the form of street art pieces, which are unfortunately not as common as compared to Singapore.
Going to School
A typical school day would be walking to school, having classes, heading to the bakery on the way home to get breakfast for the next day, then going home to prepare either lunch or dinner. Any spare time was either spent chatting with my neighbours or planning for my upcoming travels. On weekends, my friends and I would gather (if no one is going travelling) to head to town for a walk or to stock up on groceries.
I will always remember one class fondly – Oenology and Wine Industry. It is a class about the study of wines. What better place to learn about wines than from France itself? It has given me the knowledge that no other school in Singapore would teach, and I am glad for the opportunity to take this class in France. I also took a class on Emerging Markets in Asia, and learned how valued Singapore is to the world. I have actually learned more about Singapore through this class than being in Singapore itself.
Whenever I had free time, I would venture around Europe. In my entire 6 months there, I have been to 16 countries, 55 cities, and spoken in 10 different languages! Paris is the nearest city to my school, so I had visited this city a couple of times throughout my exchange. Belgium, Amsterdam and Spain are also nearby, which I had visited on separate trips. All of them were very memorable and gave me different experiences and insights on different cultures.
I had a residential neighbour from Madagascar, and he provided the hospitality which is always lacking when you are living alone. He was always there to offer kitchen supplies, shared his local food with us and brought us around town when we first arrived in Rouen. Another former exchange student of SMU, a Parisian, also very kindly hosted me during my first 4 days of arrival in Paris, despite having not met before. He was the first French friend I had made on my exchange, and his hospitality exceeded all my expectations.
Singapore is better developed than other countries, whether in terms of infrastructure or through the systems they put in place. Through being on the road, I have learnt not to take a country's technological efficiencies for granted, whether it is the presence (or absence) of escalators and lifts, or having short waiting times on public transports. The best travel advice came from locals - like how I ended up visiting Milos over Mykonos in Greece. Covering every attraction of a city is less important than enjoying the atmosphere and vibe of the city, because it is what you feel from being in a city that you remember most.
Above it all, I realized that Singaporean millennials like myself can often be too goal-oriented for our own good. We always have a goal in mind, whether it is a destination we are headed towards, or a career goal we have in mind. We rarely give ourselves a chance to take a breather, simply because we are always racing against time. It is however, more important to live in the moment and enjoy the present, for the present is fleeting. Being on exchange allowed me to do that, and to enjoy a slower pace of life.
My advice on those contemplating if they should do an international exchange is to JUST DO IT. Go with an open mind. Learn a new language. Get out of your comfort zone. Be around people of the wrong crowd. Don’t stick to the same people. Take pictures. Wander aimlessly. Go without Internet. Sit at park benches. Do nothing. Enjoy your surroundings. Witness the different phases of the moon. Commit precious moments to memory. Smell the flowers of spring. Do something you never would have done back in your home country.
An international exchange is an experience like no other, something you can only experience once in your lifetime. Being a working adult begets different expectations about travelling. I want to leave you with 10 student travel tips I wish I’d known earlier to help you cut costs and improve your first long-haul travelling experience.
Isabel Leong (Standing, First from Left)
Last updated on 04 Oct 2016 .