International Relations Office
Outgoing Exchange Students
Preparing for Exchange
Preparing for a semester or year abroad on exchange can be extremely exciting but also overwhelming, as for many students it will be their first time away from home. This experience should be treated like an adventure where anything can happen, but with plenty of preparation and patience, everything should turn out well.
Going on exchange gives students the ability to become independent and the first step is for students to do their own research on their destination. The potential of an experience overseas will be maximised when students’ expectations are well managed through research. To allow for the best SEP experience possible, NUS students going out on exchange should read all of the pages in this section for Outgoing Exchange Students and should research their partner university and host country’s websites for instructions, as well as review their faculty’s SEP website and attend all briefings offered by their department, faculty or by the IRO.
For additional information or related queries, please click here.
Once you’ve applied on OPAS by your faculty’s deadline, you will need to wait a few weeks for your faculty to make a decision on your SEP offer. If you are extended an offer for SEP you will be notified by email and you will be prompted to enter OPAS to accept the ‘internal offer’. You will have approximately a week to decide whether or not to accept the offer and log into OPAS or the offer will be rescinded and given to another student on the waiting list. Students are advised to think carefully before accepting the internal offer, since there is a considerable monetary penalty for withdrawing from SEP after accepting the internal offer as well as the fact that doing this will prevent another student from using the SEP place.
Once you’ve accepted the internal offer you will be prompted by your faculty to prepare your application to the partner university, which you will then need to submit to your faculty for approval. If approved, your faculty will submit your application to the Registrar’s Office who will collate all applications to the partner university and submit them together along with an official copy of your transcript (a printing charge for this transcript will be added to your student account at the end of the semester) on your behalf. Different partner universities have different deadlines so students will have different dates to submit their documents to their faculties. Please submit your application materials by the deadline or risk a delay in receiving your offer letter and possibly a delay in arriving at your SEP location.
Some universities have hard-copy application forms that need to be submitted and these are available from your faculty, while others have their applications online. Check with your faculty and on the partner university’s website for incoming exchange students to see what the process is for your SEP destination.
Once you’ve submitted your documents to your faculty you may not hear anything from the partner university until two months before the start of the partner university’s semester (please note this may not be NUS’ semester start date!). If you haven’t heard anything by then please contact your Faculty/Department SEP Coordinator or Contact Us.
However, just because you’re waiting for your acceptance doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do! While waiting to hear from the partner university students should complete the Module Mapping process, prepare for Immigration Matters, begin research on travel and insurance arrangements, and learn about the city and country of their SEP destination. The better prepared you are for your SEP experience the faster you will adapt and the more you will get out of it!
Once you are accepted by the partner university either by email or letter it is important to carefully follow all instructions given in the acceptance package and to meet all deadlines.
Please also ensure to:
Part of submitting your application to the partner university will involve mapping your modules at NUS to modules at the partner university to ensure you can transfer credit back towards your NUS degree. Each faculty has a different process for doing this so you should check with your Faculty’s SEP Coordinator for how you should do this.
When mapping your modules, the best resource is the partner university’s website. Most universities have their course catalogue online, or even a special list of courses available only for incoming exchange students. Use these lists to identify courses suitable to fulfill your NUS course requirements, paying special attention to any restrictions noted by the partner university. For example, some universities will only allow you to take 4 courses each semester, so you would need to make sure you can map back enough credits to prevent delaying your graduation. Each faculty maps credits differently, for example some transfer on a ‘one to one’ basis, others on a full course load basis, so it is extremely important to discuss your module mapping with your faculty to ensure you take adequate courses.
Most faculties will require you list a module code, name and description of the course at the partner university in addition to the NUS course name and code you wish to map it to. If this information is not available from the partner university’s website you can contact the partner university’s international office for assistance or the NUS International Relations Office if you do not receive a response from the partner university.
More good sources of information about module mapping are the returning NUS students from your faculty who went on SEP to the same partner university. These students can advise which courses they took, how they mapped back and the workload required for each. However, the successful mapping of a certain course by past students does not guarantee that the same course will be approved for current students, so be sure to check with your department and faculty for approval as soon as possible.
Finally, some faculties also provide lists of pre-approved course mappings so you can see a list of courses at your partner university and which NUS modules they can be mapped to without needing any additional approval. You should research your faculty’s SEP website carefully to prevent any unnecessary work for yourself and your Faculty SEP Coordinators.
It is also good to remember that course offerings at the partner university can change at the last minute and NUS students should be prepared to choose alternative courses while on campus at the partner university. Students should prepare more course mappings than necessary to allow for this contingency and should contact their faculty immediately via email to obtain approval for the change. If students do not obtain approval for the new courses via email at the start of the semester the course credit will not be transferred.
An important part of preparing for your exchange is making sure you can legally reside in the host country! Each country has different requirements for international students based on your citizenship and length of study, and sometimes the process can take a few months to complete. Therefore, it is extremely important to research what you need to do for your visa and to be ready to submit the documents as soon as possible for processing to avoid arriving late for the start of the semester.
Good sources of information on immigration matters are the partner university’s exchange student website, the partner country’s immigration website, the NUS International Relations Office and returning NUS exchange students. The visa process is covered at the NUS IRO’s Pre-Departure Briefings a few months before the start of your SEP semester, but you should familiarise yourself with the process and necessary documents before the briefing to prevent delays.
If you are an NUS student who holds a non-Singaporean passport then it is extremely important for you to begin this process early and to read all instructions and requirements carefully, as sometimes students are required to return to their home country for visa processing and errors in submissions can lead to late arrivals at your SEP destination.
We also caution against planning travel, immersions or internships before the start of your semester on exchange as the date you will receive your visa cannot be guaranteed and many countries require you to obtain your visa in Singapore, not in the host country. Any travel or additional time you wish to spend outside of Singapore should be scheduled during or after your exchange semester.
Should you experience problems in obtaining your visa, you can contact us for advice and assistance or to alert the delay to your partner university, but as each host country has the final authority to approve or reject your visa application we recommend you work directly with the visa officials as much as possible.
Many countries require part of the visa process to be completed in your home country and then the rest to be completed within a few months of your arrival. Make sure you understand what is required of you upon arrival (including any documents you will need to provide) and if you have any questions see the international office at your partner university immediately for guidance.
As a rule, we find that NUS students going out on exchange bring too much! But as long as you have the most important things and can handle any oversized luggage fees, there’s no limit to what you can bring. Here is a list of the most important things to bring, and what to leave behind.
What to Bring
*Please make sure that any food items you bring are allowed by the customs and immigration of the host country
Every student’s SEP experience will be different and eye-opening in one way or another and it is impossible to prepare for every challenge or obstacle that may arise while abroad. However, there are a few things every outgoing NUS student should be prepared for and knowing what to expect will help you deal with it better when it happens.
We encourage you to read this section fully, talk to returning students (perhaps through the Peer Advising Programme, and research your partner university, city and country to prepare yourself as much as possible for your journey beyond on SEP.
All students who venture from NUS in search of adventure on student exchange will inevitably have to deal with the perils of culture shock. It is a completely normal and natural condition that everyone who finds themselves in a different culture experiences. By knowing a little bit about why it happens and how it progresses, hopefully you will be more prepared when it affects you.
Everyone experiences the symptoms of culture shock differently. Most people experience the real physical & psychological impacts of arriving in a new culture. You may be afflicted by ailments without apparent origin, such as headaches, loss of appetite, and fatigue. All your senses are on full alert with new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Your metabolism may take months to adapt to a new climate. Even as you sleep the environment impacts on your senses; possibly influencing your dreams.
Your behavior towards other people may take a turn for the worse. You feel impatient when they don't speak your language and become angry when their systems of work are different. Although you don't consider yourself a racist, you find yourself using generalizations about the locals; "they" are rude, and "they" don't like me. This can be quite a shock to your self-image.
Moving overseas presents many challenges that take you out of your comfort zone. In order to feel comfortable again it is necessary to become familiar with the terrain and adapt to the new environment. When you feel uncomfortable or even completely miserable, it might be reassuring to know that something is happening to you, that you are growing into a stronger, more independent and worldlier person.
No matter if you experience some or all of these effects, it is helpful to talk to others about what you’re going through. Seek out other students, the exchange coordinator or counselling centre at your partner university or at NUS’ Counselling and Psychological Services for someone to talk to.
Stages of Culture Shock:
Stage 1 - Honeymoon Period:
Stage 2 - Cultural Stress:
Stage 3 - Initial Adaptation:
Stage 4 - Re-entry:
Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts. - E. B. White
You may encounter discrimination anywhere, whether in Singapore or while abroad. Discrimination may be directed against you because of your gender, your age, your size, your skin color, your religious beliefs, your political persuasion, or your sexual orientation.
If you are on campus, the chances of encountering discrimination are extremely rare as most people who operate in a university setting tend to be more open-minded and accepting.
However, in the unlikely event where you are faced with discrimination, the best way to cope is to be prepared and to seek guidance from the international offices, your professors or people familiar with your host culture.Countering Discrimination
Health & Safety
Your health and safety should always be your primary concern whenever traveling abroad. Thousands of Singaporeans safely travel abroad each year, however it is important to always remain cautious and vigilant while in unfamiliar surroundings. Below are some tips to encourage safety while abroad.
Safety on the Street
All students should use the same common sense traveling overseas that they would at home, and they should be especially cautious in or avoid areas where they are likely to be victimised. These include crowded subways, train stations, elevators, tourist sites, market places, festivals, and marginal areas of cities.
Specifically, NUS students should be warned:
Safety in the Hotels, Hostels, Apartments or Dorms
Safety on Public Transportation
How to Handle Money Safely
Traffic, Vehicles & Swimming
Be aware of traffic patterns, it is easy to become confused in countries where drivers use the opposite side of the road.
Be sure that any equipment you rent or use (bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, cars) is operationally safe. If you plan to rent a car anywhere, inquire about driving regulations, learn traffic signals, and make sure you can legally drive in the country.
Swimming carries a high level of risk unless you are in a well-chlorinated pool. However, even pools can be a health hazard. Contaminated lakes and rivers can cause diseases and a variety of skin, eye, ear, and intestinal infections. Ocean swimming is usually the cleanest, but it is always good practice to check with the local authorities before venturing into unknown bodies of water. Tides and undertows can be deadly to the uninformed swimmer. Beaches and coastlines that are marked with the international code for "no swimming allowed" are to be avoided.
Our world is an ever changing place that isn’t always safe. Although NUS evaluates all international programme destinations to ensure a safe environment for its students, unforeseen circumstances might create dangerous situations for NUS students while on SEP.
Students are advised to check for travel advisories before and during SEP in their partner university’s country and for any location they wish to travel to. To do so, NUS recommends consulting the USA’s State Department International Travel website, Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Travel Reports & Warnings website, or Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website.
NUS strongly recommends that students follow the recommendations of these government reports and warnings and avoid travel to any country or region where a warning is in place. NUS’ International Relations Office monitors its international programme destinations for adequate levels of health and safety for its students and should an advisory in one of those countries be issued students will be contacted by email with further instructions.
World Embassies & Consulates
While on SEP you may need to visit the embassy or consulate of your home country or those of countries you wish to travel to. Knowing where the closest embassy or consulate is while on SEP could be valuable information should you lose your passport, have trouble with immigration or police authorities or experience a crime or unstable situation in the country.
We advise all students locate the closest embassy or consulate of their home country in their country of SEP and for all countries they travel to. A comprehensive list can be found on a private company website Embassy World or through each country’s foreign affairs website.
Singaporean citizens can learn more about what consular services are available to them while overseas on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consulate Information website.
There’s a lot to keep in mind when you’re preparing for SEP, so review this checklist to make sure you’ve got everything covered.
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