As the June school holiday season approaches, many students will be embarking on the various overseas immersion trips organized by their schools. KF-US, a three-time veteran of school trips to the United States, China and Hong Kong, shares his tips on how to enjoy as well as maximize your experience, especially if you’re going overseas by plane for the first time.
Before you fly
Read up about the country and places that you will be visiting
- Having some prior knowledge about your destination will not only help you to pack the appropriate attire and help accustom yourself to the different lifestyles and culture overseas; it can also help you strategise your learning objectives for the trip.
- Information is readily available from travel guides provided by your school or public library (check that the publication is up-to-date!); as well as from the internet (e.g., tripadvisor.com)
Have a meal before you check in at the airport
- School holidays are “peak periods” for travelling so there may be a huge crowd at the eating areas in the airport (alternatively, arrive at the airport earlier to eat with your friends).
- It may be a while before the in-flight service serves a meal on international flights, so do eat before you fly to avoid unnecessary hunger pangs and a grouchy start to the trip.
- If you are really hungry, you can ask for double meal servings on the plane (just remember to write a compliment to the airline after the trip)
Check the airline website for information before you fly
- Every airline offers different conditions of carriage; thus the baggage allowance for your flight may vary (so does the overweight charges as well).
- It is best to pack your “outbound luggage” as light as possible. Use ziplock bags to maximize space and save weight. As your “inbound luggage” is sure to be heavier (mainly due to shopping) a light outbound luggage will maximize your possible allowance, and also help avoid nasty overweight charges.
- The same airline may offer two different types of (Economy-class) products, so it pays to check out the aircraft details on your flight via the airline website, and travel websites (such as seatguru.com) to have some knowledge on your in-flight amenities to help you enjoy a pleasant flight.
Cheap and easy communication with your folks in Singapore
- Get a Prepaid Card and an International Callback Card. The International Callback card will charge local rates on your prepaid card.
- To reduce cost, you may want to pool together with a few friends (preferably group/ roommates for convenience) to jointly share the use of the cards.
- This package will also save you from incurring expensive roaming charges on your mobile phone as well.
Plan your travel budget carefully
- You may want to hold some US Dollars (USD) in reserve. As it is the main currency for international transactions, should the need arise, you still have access to a currency that is almost universally accepted.
- Before you exchange Singapore Dollars (SGD) for foreign currency, it pays to check out the US stock market. Based on personal observation, the exchange rate tends to swing in favour of the SGD when the US stock market rises, and vice-versa.
- Do plan your daily budget before you depart- avoid tapping into “Reserves” unless in absolute emergency. A common problem of students on school trips is to overspend on shopping and then resort to borrowing from friends to cover their daily expenses.
- Try to make as many friends as possible during the trip even if you’re in different classes. They may turn out to be some of the nicest people you have ever met!
- If you get assigned a foreign buddy, take the opportunity to make friends. Chat with them and get to know them better. You never know when you may need their help in the future. One way to start is by reading up on their country to find common interests. (refer to Point 1 under “Before you fly”)
- Teachers somehow become nicer people overseas (maybe something in the water?). Do try to know them better, even though they may not be your current subject/ CCA tutors. Who knows? They might actually teach you something while their guard is down!
Don’t forget, we’re here to learn
- Overseas Immersion Trips are actually “stimulus packages”– although it may be very tempting to doze off when the lecturer/ guide is talking, do try to pay attention as this knowledge may benefit you some way, somehow. Maybe even in your exams!
- DO ASK QUESTIONS! Asking questions help enrich your knowledge — which is the primary objective of a school trip, anyway!
- Prepare questions to ask by researching the places that you will be visiting (refer to Point 1 under “Before you fly”)
Do not over-promise souvenirs
- Prior to departure, friends may approach you with requests for souvenirs. However, purchasing souvenirs for friends without prior payment only strains your budget (and possibly your friendship status as well).
- Hence, ask your friends to make a downpayment to cover their purchases; and refrain from pro-actively providing “courier services” yourself. The rule of thumb is to purchase souvenirs only when your personal budget allows for it.
- As a gesture of goodwill, you can pass along free “souvenirs” from the locations that you have visited, such as information leaflets/ maps/ guides; as well as airline memorabilia (in-flight magazine, menu, and poker cards) to your friends.