Notes on Traveling (for Exchange Students): Mark Haider in Singapore

After spending more than 3 months studying abroad in Singapore, I’ve had the privilege to travel to a few different countries in Southeast Asia. I would like to share some thoughts on traveling to you all, especially to those that are interested in studying abroad and traveling.

FEAR OF MISSING OUT (FOMO)

Whether you are currently studying abroad or will in the future, one must understand that there will always be places you wish you could have gone but simply didn’t have time to visit. However, as students studying abroad, our primary obligation is to do just that: study. This, of course, limits the amount of time one has to travel and therefore makes it difficult to go to all of the places one would like to go to.
Understanding that travel time is limited, many exchange students try to cram multiple destinations into short 3 or 4 days trips. I will admit, even I have been guilty of this to an extent. The result of this is a very surface-level experience that can also be quite stressful to plan logistically.
There comes a point — for many exchange students — where traveling just becomes checking off boxes from a list. Don’t fall inside that trap. There is a strong sense of FOMO in the exchange student community, which is not conducive to a truly enjoyable or rewarding study abroad experience. Life’s about making decisions, and with those decisions come trade-offs (e.g. depth vs. breadth).
Rather than exhibit FOMO, I challenge people to exhibit JOMO: Joy of Missing Out (shoutout to the Center for Positive Organizations for sharing this concept with me!). It is not healthy to put too much pressure to travel during every lasting opportunity. Recognizing this, I took a few weeks off from traveling to relax and focus further on my studies.

UNDERSTANDING ONE’S PRIVILEGE

Those studying abroad must also understand that many of the locals have not travelled to many of the places we have travelled to, nor do they live the lives that we live. For example, while I had the opportunity to go to the Philippines, many of my Singaporean peers haven’t. This applies not only to places outside Singapore, but also within. Some Singaporeans haven’t been to Sentosa Island or even Chinatown, but one would be hard-pressed to find an exchange student that hasn’t.
Given this reality, I think that many people studying abroad erroneously perceive a given country’s quality of life to be higher than what it actually is. When you travel to a place, you are exposed to a different side than what someone who lives there is exposed to. Not only do you naturally see the country in a different, more positive light, but you also engage in more fun, perhaps expensive activities that those living in the country likely don’t partake in.
We as exchange students ought to be more aware of these privileges when we formulate opinions on these places. These privileges distort our understanding of a place, since they shield us from aspects of a country that can be — for lack of a better word — less glamorous.

TAKING PHOTOS, A TRADE-OFF

There is also a trade-off in taking photos that I think is often overlooked not only by exchange students, but by people in general.
Why do we take photos? In my view, we take photos to have something to look back on and to remember a particular moment in time. Without photos, we may forget exactly how a moment felt — or we may have trouble remembering what we did altogether.
On the flip side, taking too many photos defeats the very purpose of a photo, since it results in not having any context or meaning to the photos. The result is many photos but little memories (unless you consider the act of taking the photo as a memory).
Thus, we should recognize that when we take photos, we are making a trade-off between enjoying the moment and capturing the moment. Everyone has their own implicit “sweet spot” for this trade-off, but I think it is important that we be more aware of where we fall on this spectrum. For instance, I have toned down on the number of photos I take abroad so that I am more on the “enjoying the moment” side of the spectrum than I was previously.
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