Will I be losing out if I don’t go on the Student Exchange Programme (SEP)?

A student asked:

Will I be losing out if I don’t go on the Student Exchange Programme (SEP)? I’m think that I’ll lose out by not getting the full university experience and also losing out by not looking as good as my peers in the eyes of future employers.

No, you won’t lose out at all. I didn’t go for SEP (student exchange programme), and I certainly didn’t lose out on anything.

SEP won’t help you gain any significant advantage when applying for jobs. The whole point of SEP is for you to have a full cultural immersion by interacting with the locals there. Once you are deeply soaked into their way of life, culture, language, you begin to better understand their system of values, ways of thinking about things, and gain better insight into their own way of life.

With such an understanding, you’ll be able to compare and contrast that with your own experience growing up and studying in Singapore (or wherever it is that you came from).

This is useful for helping you to appreciate the good points in both cultures, but also provide you with a basis to identify shortcomings in your own culture and start thinking about the values and assumptions that you’ve taken for granted all your life. E.g. Is it really important to be so focused on studies? Country X doesn’t do it that way.

But don’t just end with the conclusion that, “Country X is better because it’s less stressful.” That is a very superficial comparison. Ask yourself: Why is it that Country X can afford to be less competitive compared to Singapore?

Do the same for every other thing that you find is different in that country and keep asking yourself these questions. You’ll grow more matured in your thinking and appreciation of the pros and cons of each country’s policy, culture, and more.

Did you notice that it’s possible to still acquire this experience without going for an exchange programme? So the SEP is a nice to have. It’s certainly not a must-do.

SEP won’t really give you a significant advantage when looking for employment, unless you use the SEP to build up strong social networks. Otherwise, it doesn’t do much.

If you want to gain an advantage when looking for employment, you should be focusing on developing your people skills: how to interact with strangers, how to speak confidently to other people, how to promote/market yourself, how to work in a team, or how to lead and manage a team without having to play dirty politics, etc. These things will give you an advantage that will take you very very far.

So, you won’t lose out on anything if you don’t go on the student exchange programme. There are alternative ways to acquire cultural immersion and comparison without doing an exchange. And it’s really the people skills that matter in giving you an advantage.