What does a fully planned overseas study trip have in store for you?

Flashback to 2013, to my childlike, starry-eyed first year self starting my 2nd semester of studies. It must have been a fine day in the library (most year ones are over-zealous about performing well after all) where I was checking my email and chanced upon an invitation to be part of a study trip sponsored by the SMU Scholars Program. As an SMU Scholar, one is entitled to 4 years of fully-sponsored tuition fees and a sponsored overseas immersion program. I registered for it without much thought, kick-starting my very first overseas program with SMU.

A group picture at CPA Australia.

Australia, otherwise known as the land down under, is a modest 8 hour flight from Singapore. The planned itinerary was short, spanning 10 days from start to end, covering the cities of Melbourne and Sydney. (However, one can easily extend this by making travel arrangements after the study program.) The trip was a bold one for me. True - I did know a few fellow students, but they were mostly acquaintances I’d seen in my classes, who I did not know on a personal level. Nevertheless, a combination of freshman’s enthusiasm and the allure of the country pushed me to be proactive in getting to know my fellow travel mates.

Company Visits

The study trip was extremely well organised, with visits to one or two companies on each day. These companies ranged from large multinationals such as Linfox, ANZ bank, CPA Australia to boutique marketing firms. These experiences were extremely fulfilling. As a year one student, it is definitely an exclusive opportunity to interact with an executive, what more one from Australia with a multitude of experience under his or her belt. Although I did not have much working experience then, I quickly learnt that the Australian job environment differed highly from a conservative Asian context. Open communication was emphasised, with extremely thin lines in superior-subordinate relationships. What also fascinated me was the pride Australians took in their jobs, no matter what they did. Be it accounting, warehousing or waitering, people were passionate and enjoyed their jobs. This quickly gave me a more tempered, mature perspective on how to approach my work in the future.

The study group, our driver, and the bus which brought us all around Sydney.

My most memorable visit came with The Monkeys. Established in 2006, The Monkeys is an unconventional advertising firm which clinched multiple international accolades for its provocative advertising designs. It was my first time visiting an advertising company, much less one which focused on bringing advertising beyond its traditional scope. The entire company structure was built very flat to facilitate communication and creativity. Visiting the company was an incredible experience, and I’m proud to say they are still in great shape today.

Culture in Melbourne and Sydney

Truth to be told, my experience in Melbourne was shocking to me.. Life in Melbourne can be described as extremely laidback and relaxing. While the average Singaporean works from 9am to 6pm, shops in Melbourne are never open past 5, and operate on a 4 day work week.

I was heartened by the politeness and enthusiasm from the locals, and it pleased me to know that the city had once been ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world. In addition, we managed to have a networking dinner session with locals who migrated from Singapore. Of course, each had their own reasons for moving across borders, but it was great learning the different perspectives from others. One thing in common though – all of them enjoyed the cooling weather the country provided.

Getting hands on at a restaurant in the Yarra Valley region.

On the other hand, in Sydney, shops didn’t close at 5pm sharp. Life was generally more upbeat and faster in the city. The city’s harbour bridge bore a close nostalgic resemblance to Clarke Quay, with a large river and bustling nightlife situated there. Generally one would describe Sydney as slightly more disorganised than Melbourne. Things in Sydney didn’t operate on a tight schedule, with more leeway for spontaneity and improvisation.

Overall: a wonderful experience

Right now, as I start my final year of university, the trip still holds fond memories within my heart. Coincidentally, my direct supervisor in my internship happened to be Australian (as you can imagine, he was in fact pretty laidback), which brought about quick recollections to my previous experience in Australia. Such overseas trips provide an easy crash-dive course to understanding a foreign country’s culture, which I find incredibly insightful and important in our globalised world. This also comes with the luxury of dedicated university staff planning our accommodation and itinerary with almost no effort on our part. I can only hold with a grateful heart that I’ve managed to be part of such a wonderful experience.

Do yourself a favour, and sign up for one of these trips :)