For Round Square, I went to YKPao School in Shanghai, China. I went for four weeks during the month of May. I chose that school as I take Chinese, and going to this school was very helpful to improving my Chinese.
The school is a Chinese school that follows the iGCSE and IB curriculum just like UWCSEA. It was interesting to see how the subjects were taught differently, despite learning the exact same thing. However, as it was still a Chinese school, students were required to take certain subjects for the Chinese government exams. This meant that around half of my classes were in Chinese. While that was an amazing experience and helped me with my listening, eventually it was too hard and so I did independent studying during these classes. The exchange taught me that you should always just admit when something is too challenging. It also helped me to develop my independence as I had to do my own independent studying to keep up with my classes at UWCSEA.
I left Singapore at the end of April and stayed until the end of May. I think that it was the perfect length of time to be on an exchange because if I had stayed any longer, I would have had a lot of trouble catching up with my classes.
When I arrived, I was immediately thrown into my first case of having to act independently. The representative from the school was stuck in traffic, so there was no one to pick me up at the airport. While it was scary at the time, it also was a good lesson in how I should act in a situation like that. I contacted my parents and we were able to clear up the situation, and come up with a plan for me to wait near the Starbucks. The nice thing about having these experiences on an exchange is that there are people supporting you throughout this learning process, for example my parents.
There are many differences between our two schools. For example, their school is very small, with around 100 kids per grade. But the largest difference is that their school is a boarding school. I stayed at the school during the school week, and went home with one of the students over the weekend. It was a large change from what I am used to because I am not a boarder at UWCSEA. Being a boarder requires a lot of independence and self-management. This was something that I struggled with at first, but as I stayed longer, I was able to overcome these challenges.
Another thing that was different was how strict they were about school rules. All phones had to be locked away from 10pm at night until after dinner the next day. Their uniform was also very strict as they had to wear a white shirt, grey skirt, tights, sweater, and a tie. During the exchange, I wore my UWCSEA uniform, so I stood out quite a lot. This was a step out of my comfort zone as I usually like blending in with the crowds.
At the school, everyone was very friendly. I would usually start off at lunch sitting alone, and by the end of the lunch period, I would be surrounded by a group of students who just came over to say “hi” and welcome me to their school. They definitely helped me with the challenge of going to a new school and made my experience so much better.
My host family spoke very little English. My buddy was fluent, but her parents weren’t. Her father couldn’t speak any at all. She also has a three year old sister who can speak both Chinese and English. Even though I was taking classes in Chinese and speaking to my friends in Chinese, it was the younger sister who helped my Chinese improve the most. As she was quite young, she didn’t realise that I can’t speak Chinese very well. So, while my buddy and her mother tried to speak English to me, the sister didn’t. This meant that I got the experience of listening to more colloquial Chinese, while not having to fear the words being too hard for me.
Despite still going to school, the exchange flew by! Before I knew it, I was packing up my things and getting ready to go home. I was sad to be leaving the school, but I was glad to be going back to my own home and the shelter of my comfort zone.
I would definitely recommend going on an exchange. I think that my advice to you if you are thinking of going on an exchange is to always say ‘yes’. Whenever you are offered an opportunity or an activity on an exchange, say yes to it as it will always be an amazing experience. However, you should also know your limits. While it is good to be out and socialise, know when you need to take a break. While it sounds counterintuitive, a balance of taking advantage of all opportunities and taking breaks is the best way to make the best out of your exchange.
UWCSEA is a Global member of Round Square, a world-wide association with over 160 member schools in 40 countries. Students attending Round Square schools share a commitment beyond academic excellence, to personal development and responsibility. Learn more here.