To travel the world & seek grace in all

Finally completed my exchange report during recess week, thought I’d post it here. I didn’t write about some things (like growing in my faith and boys and other stuff) because it was sort of an official report about my learning and experiences, so I couldn’t write about it much. Don’t think I ever will though hahaha. Enjoy my lame report + lack of beautiful vocabulary 🙂

Travelling solo in Oxford

“Do one thing that scares you everyday” was a quote that guided my actions while I was on exchange. The exchange programme has been nothing short of valuable learning opportunities with every train I missed, every meal I tried to order in a language I couldn’t speak, every tiny island I travelled to without any company and every single person that has crossed my path in the entire 5 months I was away from my most comfortable comfort zone called Singapore.

As an individual, one of the most beautiful lessons I learnt was about valuing the perspectives and attitudes I held and discovering a side of myself I had never seen before. The global outlook and open-mindedness I had brought with me served me extremely well, not just in being able to be more accepting of cultural and systematical differences, but also in being able to connect better with people. I was surprised to see myself being so much more outgoing than I usually was in Singapore, that I was able to connect really quickly and really comfortably with new friends and I could even talk about things with some of them as if I had known them for years now.

Certainly a practical lesson would be growing in my independence as a young adult. While I had my opportunity to stay on campus in my first year in NUS, it was an extremely different experience from the beginning of my exchange programme. I had gone on exchange not knowing anybody from Singapore who was going, and so right from the start as soon as I arrived in Sweden, I could rely on no one but myself to do everything, from moving 2 backpacks and 2 luggages uphill alone, shopping for groceries and learning how to cook my own meals, to attending social gatherings not knowing a single person there and even travelling in Croatia for a week all by myself… the initial period was a difficult experience, but I knew I would grow in terms of mental resilience (perhaps even physical strength and in my cooking skills as well). In fact, I was thankful to not have known anyone from home during that time, because it really pushed me out of my comfort bubble and forced me to branch out and connect with people I never knew I could connect well to. A few of my biggest treasure finds were fellow exchange students from the Netherlands as well as from South Korea, with whom I had the loveliest time sharing life and travelling with in the course of my exchange.

Me in Paris with the Eiffel Tower, photo taken by my Korean friend Seung Min whom I travelled with in Paris for 9 days

The most amazing experience I would say the exchange programme has to offer would be about meeting new people. It was about developing new perspectives and growing in empathy from the many opportunities I had to interact with people who came from a multitude of cultures and brought with them experiences so different from my own. The exchange programme has taught me the most amazing things about human relationships I will never be able to learn from textbooks and readings, about the human heartware that shapes our attitudes and behaviours. I have learnt how to live with the worst of others, and especially the worst of myself. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to evaluate my personal self in line with my professional values as a social worker-to-be from a completely different lens in a completely different cultural situation away from typical norms. It was also about creating opportunities to talk about anything under the sky, from debating the importance of history, explaining the essentiality of social work and sharing our nation’s struggles, to discussing the most sensitive of issues that the world battled with today, having a conversation about religion and faith with non-religious friends who were not narrow minded but were simply curious and teaching French and Japanese friends who wanted to pick up Singlish. Many of the people I have shared such beautiful conversations with are friends I knew I could keep even as we returned to our home countries, because for the short time I was in Lund, they were the closest thing I had to home.

Nozomu Christmas
With Nozomu from Japan at a Christmas dinner party in a Swedish friend’s home
with Laura from the Netherlands in Copenhagen

Education, not studies – understanding the difference came through very well in my experience of the Swedish education system. From discussing the Swedish social policies (in the midst of their national elections!) and learning the Swedish language, to looking beyond IKEA and everyday food and exploring unfamiliar territory of design in Scandinavia and eating insects for sustainable eating, the variety of courses have really helped me understand the meaning of education. I could be taking a course that was seemingly irrelevant to my own major, but the culture of the classroom and exchange with other students have allowed me to realise the intricate details in each course that continued to relate to my understanding of the social world. Knowing how Scandinavian design was shaped early on to reflect a democratic ideal that the world lacked post-World War II and design continues to be grounded in values that advocated for the betterment of people’s lives has allowed me to extend my understanding of ‘quality of life’ to more than just knowledge in the social science disciplines. Given this example, taking on a different discipline has challenged my personal paradigm as well as my professional values. Particularly, picking up a new language has never been easy, as I have done so with learning Korean for 2 years in my time in NUS, because it is more than just learning to communicate with others in their language; it is also about picking up the nuances of their culture, embracing their version of the world and connecting with the locals on a different level compared to me not speaking their language. Being one of the few Singaporeans taking a higher level Swedish language course I got to meet and connect with classmates who came from everywhere else in the world, and got to understand about their cultures and nuances in their native languages that I would otherwise not be able to know of.

I have always loved travelling, and embarking on the exchange programme has given me the privilege to be able to do so to expand my horizons as a global citizen. I felt that it was important that I travelled with the mindset that I wasn’t there to just play or have fun, but to challenge my boundaries, engage with locals and open up conversations while still having some scary fun by doing things I never get to experience in Singapore and overcoming my fears (e.g. of heights! I was the most excited of all my friends to try skydiving, and I still don’t know why!). I found that there was so much this beautiful world had to offer me, and so much I could offer to the world in the capacity of a global learner, a Singaporean citizen and a new friend to strangers.

Skydiving in Hungary – I must be crazy (as usual)
With fellow Singaporean exchange students I met in Lund in Amsterdam; moments after we took this picture we realised we had got off one stop early and missed our subsequent train transfers as a result ;_;

I took away with me an immense amount of gratitude, that as I began to embark on opening up my heart to bigger and even crazier ideas and perspectives, I also began to appreciate the beautiful country I call home even more. Living in a city that was starkly different from where I came from, travelling through cities that had unique cultures and people to offer, I went into each experience with an open mind and came out in the end realizing that my own home country is one of a kind as well. I am blessed to be able to have the privilege to leave home and go to a foreign country 6167 miles away to be exposed to these experiences, to be able to give back to the world I have learnt so much from, and to return home as a more mature individual and social worker-to-be with much more knowledge, empathy and understanding to give back to Singapore.