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.


Step 1: Respond to NUS faculty’s SEP offer

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You will have approximately a week to decide whether or not to accept the offer and log into OPAS or the offer will be rescinded and given to another student on the waiting list.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.

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Step 2: Prepare application to the partner university

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!

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Step 3: Prepare for SEP-related matters

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:

 
  • Arrange for accommodation at the partner university.  Most universities will provide information on how to apply for accommodation either at the point of initial application or upon acceptance.  Read your acceptance packages carefully for instructions or refer to the partner university website.  More information is available for each partner university in the Where Can I Go? section.
  • Settle your Immigration Matters by arranging for a visa or residence permit as necessary.  Please note that this process may take a long time so it is important to apply as soon as possible.
  • Settle your Module Mapping by mapping the courses you wish to take plus a few more to allow for last minute changes by the partner university.
  • Make your travel arrangements
  • Obtain suitable travel and medical insurance including coverage for emergency evacuation and repatriation for the duration of your SEP
  • Attend the Pre-Departure Briefing conducted by IRO, as well as any held by your faculty or department and review the presentation slides from the briefing if you are unable to attend
  • Read the rest of this page for more information on Culture Shock, What to Bring and a Pre-Departure Checklist

 

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Step 4: Complete the module mapping

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.

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Step 5: Prepare the documents needed for immigration matters

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.

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Step 6: Pack your luggage

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

 
  • Valid passport and student visa, if required, or any paperwork requested by the host country
  • Letter of offer and other material sent to you by the University
  • Return air ticket
  • Certified copies of important documents: identification page of passport, visa, bank statements verifying personal funds, and if applicable, your scholarship letter
  • If you are covered by travel insurance, your proof of purchase
  • If planning to drive, bring your driver's license and your international driver's permit
  • Extra passport photos
  • Medical records and immunisation papers (if immunisations are required, lack of documentation may result in your university's health services insisting upon costly new jabs)
  • Credit cards, bank drafts, travelers cheques and other financial instruments for bringing funds abroad (keep copies and a record of all serial numbers in case of theft or loss and note credit limits on each credit card!), and know how to report their loss
  • Copies of your NUS documents – NUS student card, ‘A’ and ‘O’ level certificates, transcript of courses taken
  • Exit permit for National Servicemen
  • Medication for personal use, any prescription drugs should be clearly labeled and accompanied by a doctor’s note
  • Warm clothes if going to a cold climate (it’s best to buy winter coats and shoes upon arrival at your destination as the quality and prices are usually better outside of Singapore)
  • Lip balm and lotion – most of the world has a drier climate than Singapore!
  • Any personal or dietary products you can’t live without*
  • Soup or spice mixes for when you miss Singaporean cuisine*
  • Pictures and information on NUS and Singapore to share with your new friends
  • Travel adaptors and chargers
  • A sense of adventure!


*Please make sure that any food items you bring are allowed by the customs and immigration of the host country

What to Leave at Home

 
  • Copies of all important documents you plan to bring, so that if necessary someone in Singapore can email or fax them as needed
  • Travel insurance and travel itinerary (include flight details & emergency contact numbers abroad) - leave these with next of kin with clear instructions and a plan for when they should hear from you
  • All unneeded credit cards!

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Step 7: Know what to expect

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.

Culture Shock

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:

 
  • Everything is new and exciting
  • You are excited about being in a new place where there are new sights and sounds, new smells and tastes
  • You are ready to take on new challenges


Stage 2 - Cultural Stress:

 
  • You may begin to feel aggressive and start to complain about the host culture/country
  • You may feel unsettled or like an outsider
  • You may begin to compare everything to back home
  • Self-doubt and depression may take place


Stage 3 - Initial Adaptation:

 
  • You begin feeling in control and positive again about being where you are
  • You begin to accept the food, drinks, habits and customs of the host country, and you may even find yourself preferring some things in the host country to things at home
  • Emotions become more stable
  • You have become comfortable in the new place


Stage 4 - Re-entry:

 
  • Cultural adaptation may occur upon return
  • All of the above stages may occur, or only some
  • The better the adaptation to the host country the greater the possibility of re-entry shock

 

Discrimination

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

 
  • Maintain your pride and self confidence- remember that people who discriminate against others are ignorant and probably feel insecure about themselves.
  • If you assess that the situation is not threatening, assert yourself by expressing your feelings tactfully but clearly. For example, if someone speaks gibberish at you, calmly ask them, "I'm sorry, I do not understand you. Do you speak English (or whatever language is spoken in that country)?”
  • If you feel threatened in any way, diffuse the situation or retreat! Never provoke further attack by striking first or getting into a heated argument.
  • If the incident is serious, contact the international office at the partner university and file an official report with the relevant authorities. Get witnesses to testify if possible.
  • If troubled or concerned, talk to advisors at the International Office or your professors, or contact the NUS International Relations Office for help.
  • Talk to your friends (new and old), your host family, and other people familiar with your host culture to try and get things in perspective.
  • Know your legal rights!
  • Get involved in a local organisation that works to combat 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:

 
  • Do not travel alone, especially at night.
  • Do not use shortcuts, narrow alleys, or poorly lit streets.
  • Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
  • Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  • Avoid scam artists. Beware of strangers who approach offering bargains or to be a guide.
  • Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will jostle, ask for directions or the time, point to something spilled on clothing, or create a disturbance to distract the travelers. A child or even a woman carrying a baby can be a pickpocket. Beware of groups of vagrant children who create a distraction while picking pockets.
  • Wear the shoulder strap of a bag across the chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse snatchers.
  • Keep bags and purses zipped or latched shut and carry smaller bags or purses tucked under your arm.
  • Try to seem purposeful when moving about. Even if lost, the traveler should act as if they know where they are going. When possible, ask directions only from individuals in authority.
  • Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language to signal a need for help, the police, or a doctor. Make note of emergency telephone numbers they may be needed: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest Singaporean embassy or consulate.
  • If confronted, do not fight back.  Students should give up their valuables, as their money and passport can be replaced, but they cannot.
  • Carry the hotel name, address, and telephone number in the local language and in English.


Safety in the Hotels, Hostels, Apartments or Dorms

 
  • Keep doors locked at all times.  Meet visitors only in the lobby or the ground floor area of your building.
  • Do not leave excessive money and other valuables in room while out.  Use a computer lock for your laptop if you must leave it behind.  
  • Let someone know when to expect your return.
  • If out late at night alone, do not get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside.
  • Read the fire safety instructions in your room.  Know how to report a fire and know where the nearest fire exit and alternate exits are located. Count the doors between the room and the nearest exit - this could be a lifesaver if you are required to crawl through a smoke-filled corridor.


Safety on Public Transportation

 
  • Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings and beware of unmarked cabs.  Ask for, and where appropriate, negotiate the fare before entering a cab.
  • If your way is being blocked by a stranger and another person is very close behind, move away. This can happen in the corridor of a train or on the platform at a station.
  • Do not accept food or drink from strangers. Criminals have been known to drug food or drink offered to passengers.
  • Do not be afraid to alert authorities if you are feeling threatened in any way. Extra police are often assigned to ride trains on routes where crime is a serious problem.


How to Handle Money Safely

 
  • Change travellers’ cheque only to avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Countersign travellers’ cheque only in front of the person who will cash them.
  • Do not flash large amounts of money when paying a bill.
  • Make sure credit cards are returned after each transaction.
  • Deal only with authorised agents when exchanging money.  Do not change money on the black market.
  • Be careful when using an ATM machine.  Keep the security code secure.
  • If possessions are lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the local police. Keep a copy of the police report for insurance claims and as an explanation of the situation. After reporting missing items to the police, report the loss or theft of:
   
  • travellers’ cheque to the nearest agent of the issuing company;
  • credit cards to the issuing company;
  • airline tickets to the airline or travel agents.


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.


Travel Advisories

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.

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Step 8: Go through the pre-departure checklist

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.

Have you remembered to…

 
  • Ensure that your passport is valid (at least 6 months validity)?
  • Ensure that you have the required entry visa (visit the relevant country immigration website to obtain information on visa requirements)?
  • Organise your travel arrangements and check that your ticket(s) are error-free?
  • Inform your partner university of your arrival date and ensure that your housing arrangements are in order?
  • Pack the most important documents in carry-on (cabin) luggage: e.g. Passport, airline ticket, offer letter, etc.?
  • Check Customs and Quarantine regulations and pack separately any items which you need to declare e.g.: food, agricultural products (fruits/plants), computer?
  • Have medical/optical/dental check-ups prior to leaving (and remember to bring a spare pair of glasses/contact lenses, prescriptions for medicines, etc. if needed)?
  • Pack some personal items such as photos, address book with contact details of family and friends, etc. to help you stay in touch with people back at home?
  • Budget for emergencies and make sure you are able to access emergency funds when needed?
  • Upon arrival, check your passport and immigration endorsement? If there is any discrepancy, liaise with the police or immigration authority in the foreign country.
  • Call or email home to ensure your loved ones you’ve arrived safely?
  • Report to the International Office at your partner university upon arrival?
  • Upon arrival at your partner university, register your personal particulars at the Diplomatic Mission of your nationality (e.g. Singaporeans may contact the Singapore Diplomatic Mission if in a capital city, or register on-line at http://www.mfa.gov.sg)?
  • After you settle in, update ISIS with your new mailing address and continue to check your NUS email account?
  • Remember the CORS bidding period for the semester you plan to return to NUS?


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