What better way to help interested students find out more about the exchange programme at SMU than to have our very own seniors come down and share with us their own personal experiences at Travitas’s exchange sharing session. Here’s some highlights from the session for those who missed it!
Elizabeth our Director (Events), sharing what Travitas is all about
The evening began with a little introduction on Travitas and what we do. For those of you who are curious, we are a group of travel enthusiasts and we focus on bringing people together and sharing travel experiences!
Our speakers for the evening: Aaron, Chengyuan, and the lovely people from STA Travel
Advice #1: On Choosing a Location
Consider the less so well known parts of Europe as your exchange destination to truly soak up the experience and lifestyle beyond that of a tourist. Take the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and explore new places.
Advice #2: On Language Barriers
When deciding where to apply to for exchange, or when planning your travels, take into consideration the languages spoken by the locals of the city you’re planning to visit. In most cities, people speak English, hence conversing should not pose a huge problem during your time in Europe. However, when all else fails, sign language works well too (just be mindful of cultural differences so that you won’t end up using offensive gestures! E.g. did you know that the OK hand sign is offensive in places like Greece?)
One way to overcome such language barrier would be to use the World Lens app (available on App Store and Google Play Store) that allows users to translate printed words from one language to another. This free app would process the photos taken in real time, with no network connection needed. This will come in handy for most of your travels. Many different European languages are supported by this app.
Advice #3: On Safety
Be careful of your belongings and be smart about your choices! Make wise decisions about the type of bag you choose to carry, as some might give pickpockets easy access into your valuables. Insurance is very important, especially if you decide to drive in a foreign land. If you decide to go green and use a bicycle for commuting, remember to get a padlock!
Advice #4: On Accommodation
Most schools may have dormitories, which provide a lot of opportunities for exchange students to bond. However, if the school of your choice does not have a dormitory, the schools may provide some websites and contacts for you to find accommodation. Websites such as http://www.airbnb.com/ and http://www.hostelbookers.com/ provide great rates for long stays as well.
Advice #5: On Being Away from Home
Many people end up feeling homesick and miss their family and friends dearly. However, with today’s advanced technology you won’t feel that far away from home. Internet services like FaceTime and Skype help you reconnect with your family at low or no cost. But take note: Many countries do not have reliable Wi-Fi connections at the dormitory, so it is always advisable to bring along your LAN cable (and for Mac users, your Thunderbolt-to-LAN adapter). Say no to homesickness!
Advice #6: On Traveling within Europe
Remember to book your tickets in advance because prices tend to get higher towards the date itself. Use flight-aggregating apps like Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights! Taking the plane is worthwhile for flight journeys beyond 2 hours. For anything less than that, consider rails or coaches. Rails are quite expensive and can be more expensive than air flight. Weigh your pros and cons when considering your travel options. Coaches are very affordable and convenient for neighboring countries but tend to be more uncomfortable as compared to using the rail.
When navigating around the city, try to make sense of the directions beforehand and take note of the more prominent landmarks along the way. Use apps with GPS to ensure you’re going in the right direction. You can download your map data offline via Google Maps or Apple Maps, so even without mobile data connection, your Maps apps can still work perfectly fine! When all else fails, ask a kind stranger for help.
Advice #7: On Expenses
Generally, the further north or west you go, the more expensive the country is. Cities and coastal resort areas are also more expensive. For Germany, it’s about the same cost of living in Singapore or even cheaper. Take note of changing seasonal prices at winter resorts or summer spots when planning your travels.
Costs in Prague
Dorm: 180 SGD/month
Beer: 1-3 SGD/mug
Restaurants: 8-15 SGD/dish
Cheaper food: 2-6 SGD/dish
Transport: 16 SGD/month for student pass (can be used for metro, tram and bus travels)
With that, we concluded the evening by giving out some wonderful prizes and freebies like travel guides, butter factory passes, amongst many others to our wonderful participants. We would like to sincerely thank our speakers for taking the time off to prepare for the session and to all participants for making the event a success!
Do look out for more exciting events to come and join us for future of such sessions 🙂