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SMU ensured undergraduates continued to have access to global exposure during the pandemic. [Photo: Klaus Vedfelt, Getty Images]
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Transformative Education

Best of all worlds – during and after the pandemic

Published on 16 March 2022

The importance of global exposure for future leaders has never been more pressing. The world is changing at a breakneck pace, and an overseas experience during tertiary education helps broaden our view of what's happening elsewhere in this wide-open universe we call home.

While Covid-19 has affected overseas student programmes at SMU, the University was fast to pivot and create a new global exposure framework, designed to provide the skills, knowledge, attitudes and networks required to become global-ready.

Now that we are entering a new normal and students the world over are returning to campus, we look back at the experiences undergrads who attended exchange programmes, and SMU students who embarked upon the virtual global exposure initiatives organised by the University’s International Student Exchange Programme (ISEP).

Kevin Santiago, International Exchange Student, Information Systems, third-year Business Technology Management student at Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec)

Although many Canadians decided to move out from home when starting college, I chose to remain with my family in Montreal.

For someone who has never lived on their own, I was hesitant about moving to Singapore. Moreover, during my two years at Concordia University, almost all classes were held remotely. I was thrilled when I attended my first in-person class as an exchange student at SMU, in a foreign country.

Although Covid is a concern among many, I felt safe attending class with the Safe Management Measures put in place. As a first-time international exchange student, I did encounter some challenges such as the culture shock, stress and feeling a lack of motivation to study. My best advice would be to get yourself a personal agenda, where you could plan out your days, set your priorities, and note things that must be done.

Maria Oliveira, third-year Bachelor of Science of Business & Administration, Católica-Lisbon SBE (Portugal)

The idea of being an exchange student was kind of scary since I wasn’t sure if I could even travel overseas during a pandemic. Everything was so uncertain, and it made me worry about getting the full exchange experience.

But my time at SMU has been amazing. I have felt the support of the entire community and all the professors were very comprehensive and helpful.

I’ll encourage fellow exchange students to get to know their local peers. The best way to learn about a country’s culture and habits is by getting to know the locals since they can show you around the city from a completely different perspective of a tourist. Another enjoyable element on campus is the food courts dishing out local food, making it easier for us to sample Singaporean flavours.

Lee Kah Hoe, SMU Bachelor of Business Management (Year 4) undergraduate who attended an ISEP in Kansai Gaidai University

To be frank, I went into the virtual ISEP half-disappointed and half-excited.

I was looking forward to living alone in a foreign country in what is one of my favourite countries in the world, Japan. Hence, I was worried about reaping the benefits of ISEP by doing it virtually, but the other half of me was just excited to be able to study in a foreign university and take courses that seem so interesting.

Zoom played a massive part in replicating the classroom experience, albeit not entirely. The breakout rooms were helpful in facilitating group discussions, and I also attended cultural events organised by the host university, which allowed me to interact with Japanese and other international students, just like how I would at a physical event.

Cultural differences were also present as my virtual classes included both international students from the US and local students from Japan. Although I couldn’t experience the peak morning subway rush or bar-hop on the streets of Shinjuku, I was able to broaden my perspectives and learn more about people from outside of Singapore. 

Bryan Lum, SMU Bachelor of Science in Economics (Year 4), who attended a virtual ISEP at the University of Toronto

The virtual ISEP experience with the University of Toronto made me feel like a freshman again, having to navigate the online platforms, a new culture, and the business environment of Canada.

Having undergone university during the pandemic, I was no stranger to virtual lessons. However, what took some getting used to was the time difference. As Toronto had a 12-hour time difference, some of my lessons were at odd hours such as 11pm to 1am! However, my professors and groupmates accommodated by shifting group meetings and providing recordings for all lectures which allowed me to keep up.

Canada is also one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, a fact that was embodied by the individuals I met on virtual ISEP. My greatest takeaway would definitely be an entrepreneurship project with a diverse team of six that hailed from Canada, Singapore, China and Europe. We truly benefited from the different perspectives while navigating the Canadian business landscape, although most of us have never stepped foot into Canada.