Horrible exchange admin!

Mike and Dali are back in action with a new post today on something all students on exchange should never overlook… The terrible admin and paperwork! Catch some of their previous exchange adventures here and here.


Horrible Exchange Admin 1        Dali: Hi guys! Before embarking on exchange, it is every exchange student’s nightmare when it comes to the administrative chores. The seemingly never-ending amount of administrative chores can be frustrating and the constant worry that you have accidentally missed something out… It can be very unsettling and stressful. From visas to modules planning to bank accounts, it is important to be well prepared before going on exchange so that you will not be in a frenzy.

Mike: Agreed, Dali. Let’s talk about the visa application process first, as that is normally the first thing you should tackle when going overseas for a long term, especially because of the long waiting time. Horrors! I have a friend who waited 2 months for his visa to an European university to be approved! Luckily, it was a smooth process for me, and I am very glad!

The High Commission of India (Singapore) has detailed information for the application for a student visa to India. Information on personal particulars and purpose of visit are to be filled on an online application form, which is to be printed out on a hard copy and submitted at any of the 3 designated centres specified on the website. The processing was very fast for me; it took less than 5 working days for my visa to be approved.

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Extracted from http://hcisingapore.gov.in/visa/application-process/

Dali: My visa application for Korea was rather smooth too. A first visit to the Korean embassy in Goldenbell Tower along Scotts Road for the application and a 2nd visit back to collect my visa was all it took. Be aware though! During the approval of visa, I had to leave my passport at the embassy, so no travelling out of Singapore during that period! 🙁

Also, you can choose between a single or multiple entry visa. As the name states, the single visa only allows you to enter Korea before the Final Entry Date on the visa, and no more after that. Multiple entry visa allows you the freedom to re-enter Korea as and when you like, provided the visa is still valid. The latter type is more for people who want to travel to neighbouring countries such as Taiwan or Japan while on their exchange.

Required documents for the application of Visa would be your passport, admission letter from the host university and your most recent letter of confirmation of exchange from your home university. I have a friend who failed on his first visit to the embassy to apply for visa because the letter of confirmation was dated back in November 2012 when the exchange was scheduled for February 2013. He had to return to NUS to request for an updated letter of confirmation. It’s these minor troubles that make administration chores for student exchange programme so dreaded!

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Visa – First step to going on exchange!

Mike: I would say that the next most tedious task would be module planning.

Mapping refers to the replacement of modules in NUS with those we take during our exchange period at the foreign universities so that we do not have to take again back in NUS.

The first thing to note is: Never assume that all universities follow the same academic calendar, since different universities start at different times. It is always good to ask the counterpart university and seek clarification. The modules need to be of 50% resemblance in content and satisfy criteria for a minimum number of lecture / tutorial/ practical hours or else they cannot be mapped back to the ones in NUS.

Next, you may encounter a situation when you are interested in mapping a particular module but it is not available during the semester when you are enrolled in the school.  Some of the modules also have pre-requites modules which you may not have the necessary knowledge, especially engineering modules whereby there is a heavy emphasis on mathematical concepts and prior knowledge of the basic principles would be essential.

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A screenshot of the course structure for Mechanical Engineering students IITG

Dali: Oh yes, module planning really is another MAJOR headache! This administrative task will probably take up most of your time spent on planning for the exchange. Even when you’re on exchange, you’re still a student! So unfortunately, you still have to take classes. (BOO!)

It is important to realise that the main language of instruction in many overseas universities may not be in English, and this will prove to be a really big limitation when it comes to modules selection.

For my host university, Seoul National University, the main language of instruction is Korean, however it offers many English modules as well. I am not sure if it is a standard practice throughout all Korean universities but here in SNU, Korean students are required to clear a certain number of English-instructed modules before they can graduate. Thankfully, this requirement resulted in a wider selection of English modules that I could choose from.

Despite the wide selection of English modules available, I quickly realised that many courses offered in English were graduate courses, not undergraduate courses. So, one has to really think twice on whether he or she is able to cope with the workload before registering for the course.

As Mike already mentioned, for your home universities to take the modules you take in your host universities into account for credit, you will have to “map” these modules. This means that the module you are intending to take in your host university on exchange should bear some semblance to a module offered back in your home university. We cannot stress the importance of this!

For example, if you intend to take a sports module in your host university, you should check if your home university offers such a sports module too. If not, they will most likely not allow you to map it back in your home university. The content of the modules intended to be mapped back should also be of similar difficulty to the content offered in a module of your home university. For example, trying to map “Fundamental Physics” to “Quantum Physics” is just not possible.

It is also noteworthy that based on the content of the modules, the procedure of obtaining approval is different. Thus the mapping of a general Arts module may require different information than the mapping of an engineering module, and sent to different staff in-charge of the respective departments.

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An example of a module mapping

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Yes. I tried to map over 10 modules and only had 6 approved. You have been warned.

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A sample of some engineering courses available in SNU

Mike: Now many of you may also be wondering how to manage your money while on exchange.

Dali: Yup. Another important thing to prepare prior to flying is your bank account. Plan how much you are going to bring, whether you are going to open a bank account overseas or if you are going to withdraw money from global ATMs when you are abroad. Each has their own pros and cons. For my case, a friend of mine had previously opened a bank account in Korea when she was there last year. I exchanged my Singapore dollars and telegraphic transfer to her Korean bank account. Once I reached Korea, I had her transfer the money to me via bank transfer.

Before deciding on whether to open a bank account abroad, you should first check out if there are any limitations or hidden costs. For example, ATMs in Korea are not 24-hours. A small nominal fee is charged if withdrawals are made after a certain timing. Also, all bank services such as transferring or online transactions are subjected to this nominal fee.

Should you decide to opt for the second option of withdrawing money from global ATMs when overseas, it is good to be aware that global ATMs are really hard to find when overseas, and more than likely never found on campus. Also, the global withdrawals will be subjected to the bank’s rates, which might not be good. For Singaporean exchange students coming to Korea for exchange, you can consider opening a Citibank account and deposit your money inside. One you reach Korea, you can withdraw your deposits from any global ATM. When your semester is finished, you can transfer away all your remaining money from your Citibank account as there is no minimum required amount.

Mike: For India, I would recommend the State Bank of India to all locals who are going to India, since they are a lot of branches in Singapore and India. With this, I did not need to carry a lot of cash with me when I embarked on my Indian trip.

However, the only problem I faced was the updating of personal particulars. I suspended my local mobile line to save on phone bills since it won’t be in use for a substantial number of months. As a result, I was unable to make online transactions. Apparently, the Singapore branches work independently from the Indian branches. Luckily, I had the help from my Indian friends and they helped me to book my return air tickets, and I paid them cash in return. It is important to settle your accounts before hand, because you don’t want to be stranded with no money, or have your account frozen in the middle of the foreign country.

Dali: What other important exchange tips do we have, Mike?

Mike: Oh! It is always essential to get travel insurance, since they will help to cover the cost of medical healthcare and lost personal belongings in times of emergencies. U will never know when you will need it. As I did not have a lot of money for luxurious plans, I signed up for the deluxe Overseas Student Personal Accident Insurance plan offered by NTUC, which costs me a reasonable $160 for 6 months. This allows me not have my mind at ease, as I know I have some basic forms of protection against unforeseen circumstances.

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Extracted from: http://www.income.com.sg/insurance/OSPA/benefits.asp

Also, you might want to consider a bursary or a grant. Most universities in Singapore offer their own awards and grants to students, and the government also offers a few, so it’d be good to do some research beforehand to see if you are applicable for any.

NUS has a lot of partnership collaborations with foreign universities worldwide, and they do offer a few awards under the NASA ( NUS Awards for Studying Abroad) scheme for students going on exchange programmes.  For those who have outstanding results, they can apply for the NASA scholarship award. This award is based on academic merit and thus people with better results stand a higher chance of getting the award. Also, for those who are financially needy, they can apply for the NASA bursary award. However, this criterion for the latter is that the applicant must have a gross monthly household income not exceeding $1200 per capita. Information on bursaries is easily found and available on the school official website under IRO ( International Relations Office ). This is solely based on family financial status, regardless of academic performance.

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Screenshot of the NASA exchange award, which I received

Another tip – When going overseas, you should check out the climate of the countries you are going to so that you can be better prepared for the change in environmental conditions ahead. Singapore is a tropical country that has an equatorial climate, having high rainfalls and temperatures. Other countries might be even hotter, where light clothing is more practical or even have colder climates, which one has to prepare winter clothing.

It is always useful to register one’s name with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that they can keep track of your whereabouts overseas. For example, during my time at IIT Guwahati, there was a minor earthquake happening near my region but there was not much damage caused. I received a call from the officials regarding my well-being, which I was very grateful for.

I also feel that it is essential for a person for one to check out the laws in the country so that one does not get into trouble overseas, since different countries have different ways and penalties for maintaining law and order. For example, in India, especially in the north-eastern part, they are people who looked more like a mixture of Chinese and Indian descent. There is a crude term of labelling them as “Chi-ka” for men and “Chi-ki” for women who fall under this category. However, it is an offence to use these terms and anyone found guilty can be imprisoned for 5 years as this is seen as a form of racial discrimination. Not forgetting the part on checking out the common forms of crime that are present in the country we are going to, so that we can be on guard against any forms of unlawful activities.

Dali: Lastly, do remember to familiarise yourself with the different cultures before embarking on your exchange! In Korea, elderlies are highly respected so any acts of disrespect/ rudeness towards them is a big no-no. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some Korean elderlies being really rude but Koreans in general are still rather nice! When standing on escalators in Korea, you have to stand on the right side and not the left side like in Singapore. Be prepared to get sighs of annoyance or displeasure if you momentarily forget this! One must be sensitive to a new culture and adapt to the change!

All things said and done, are you ready for your exchange?