I was always wanted to live in other countries. During my undergraduate studies in the UK, I discovered that the business faculty offered students the opportunity to study for one semester in an Australian University. I thought this was an amazing idea and, over a period of several months, I managed to convince my university that the psychology department should have an exchange programme too. The logistics were quite difficult because I had to ensure that the subjects I took in Australia were similar enough to those in the UK to allow me to qualify for the Graduate Basis for Registration with the British Psychological Society. I wasn’t given the go ahead until just a week before I needed to be in Australia.
Living and studying in Australia felt very different from being in the UK. I studied at the University of Wollongong which is about an hour south of Sydney. It’s fronted by surf beaches and backed by ‘mountains’ (more accurately they were steep hills).
I spent most of my time failing to learn to surf, wake-boarding or engaging in any number of other outdoor activities which are much more pleasant in Australian weather.
If you’re a student and you have the opportunity to go on an exchange programme it might not be easy to make a decision. It definitely worked out for me but there were some potential downsides. In many ways I was very lucky. In the 1990’s university education in the UK was still free, I even received a partial grant and I was able to use my student loans to fund my trip. I don’t think I would have been able to afford to go if I was paying the level of tuition fees that students in the UK now have to pay. Travelling and studying in another country can also distract you from studying (see my comments on surfing above) which could affect your grades. I would argue that it was worth the risk to grades for an experience that made me much more aware of what the world had to offer. Being overseas meant I tried so many new things and met so many new people that I gained a very different perspective (there were lots of Asian students at the university who were fascinating to chat to).
It was when I was on my way to Australia that I had my first experience of Asia – I flew via Tokyo for a few days. I enjoyed Asia so much that when I graduated (sadly by returning to the UK to finish my studies) I hatched a plan to move back there.
Japan wasn’t as feasible so I aimed for Singapore. You can read about that in my moving to Singapore blog post.