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UConn partners with Singapore in student exchange program

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - December 4, 2006

UConn senior Devika Dhandapani is doing more than just her class work this fall.

The physiology and neurobiology major is learning first-hand about the people and culture of Southeast Asia.

Dhania Nair, a sophomore from the National University of Singapore, is taking classes at UConn this semester and adjusting to life in the U.S.

The two are participants in a new exchange program between UConn and NUS.

Nair is one of the first three NUS students to come to Storrs.

Five UConn students to date have studied abroad at NUS, and two more will go in the spring.

Eventually it is hoped that up to 20 students a year from each institution will take part in the exchange for at least a semester.

International partnership
Last month, a high-level UConn delegation visited NUS to cement the relationship.

NUS is regarded as one of the top universities internationally, rated number 19 in the world by the Times Higher Education Supplement of London; many of its individual programs also have a leading reputation.

"NUS is an extremely high quality university," says Veronica Makowsky, vice provost for undergraduate education, who traveled to NUS with Provost Peter J. Nicholls, associate vice provost and Honors Program director Lynne Goodstein, and Study Abroad director Ross Lewin.

A small country with a population about the size of Connecticut's, Singapore has a booming economy, and is a leader in science and technology.

Honors student Chintan Bhatt, the first UConn student to study at NUS last fall, says he was drawn to Singapore as "a business crossroads in Asia."

Bhatt, an engineering major, says the country has many advantages for UConn students wishing to study abroad.

"It's an easy place to be based in terms of education, because it's English-speaking, extremely safe, and really clean," he says.

It is also "a dynamic country that has preserved distinct cultures," he adds. "The folks there are very friendly, very receptive."

Global citizens
University officials are enthusiastic about the partnership.

The exchange program with NUS is expected to play an important role in UConn's goal - articulated in the academic plan - of educating students as global citizens.

Part of that is an effort to increase the number of UConn students studying abroad. Last year, 12.5 percent did Study Abroad, up from 7 percent in 2004.

The goal is 30 percent.

"Study Abroad helps our students gain a broader international perspective in service of being able to succeed in whatever endeavor they choose," says Lewin. "If our students are to be competitive, they must be international.

"We're now encouraging more students to study abroad outside Western Europe, especially in China and India, because that's where we'll go head to head in the marketplace," he adds, noting that Singapore has strong Chinese and Indian roots.

Exchange programs allow students to be fully immersed in the culture of the host country and are the least expensive way to study abroad, says Lewin.

UConn students studying at NUS under the exchange agreement pay UConn tuition, but are responsible for their local housing and living expenses.

They take classes alongside their NUS peers, and the credits are transferable.

NUS exchange students at UConn also take classes with UConn students and live in residence halls or apartments on or close to campus.

Devika Dhandapani, second from left, an honors student from UConn, chats with friends at the Central Library of the National University of Singapore. The other students come from Taiwan, Canada, and Japan.
Photo supplied by Devika Dhandapani

This year, there are about 65 exchange students at UConn, from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Sweden, and the U.K., as well as from Singapore, according to Lisa McAdam-Donegan, a program administrator with Study Abroad.

Incoming exchange students are matched with those who've been to their country of origin through a "buddy system."

Nair, the NUS student, said it was meeting UConn students in Singapore that drew her to Storrs.

"I met UConn students who came to Singapore on exchange before embarking on my exchange," she says, "and they were excellent ambassadors who promoted what UConn could offer."

Nair adds that although it can be difficult to get around without a car, "the UConn kids who came to Singapore are always kind enough to bring us around."

Dhandapani says she enjoys the diversity of the student population at NUS.

"The proportion of international and exchange students at NUS is higher than at most universities," she says.

"Besides learning from the local Singaporeans, I am also exposed to exchange students from all over the globe. Whether it's education system, government, upbringing, foods, or fashion, I'm constantly learning about the rest of the world."

Singapore also offers many opportunities for travel to other Asian countries. Dhandapani has visited Hong Kong and the Philippines during her stay.

UConn senior Brenda Stepina, an international business management major, has traveled to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam while at NUS.

Wide-ranging potential
The exchange program has the potential to go beyond undergraduate exchanges to include collaborative research and faculty exchanges.

It can benefit not only individual students, but the entire institution, says Makowsky.

The UConn-NUS exchange discussions currently focus on the life sciences, engineering, theater studies and puppetry, liberal arts programs, and American and Asian studies.

Business, law, and pharmacy are other academic areas under discussion.

"We met with every faculty's dean and the provost at NUS," Makowsky says

"We are interested in developing a range of exchanges with the entire institution."

While in Singapore, the UConn delegation also discussed research opportunities in stem cell research, fuel cell technology, and nanotechnology.

In addition, the two institutions are developing an agreement between their respective honors programs to ensure that honors students from each institution can take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the other's honors program, says Goodstein.

She says the two honors programs are exploring the possibility of connecting some honors classes by videoconferencing between Storrs and Singapore.

"The same class would be taught in two locations," she says.

They also hope to develop joint short-term, student-led service learning opportunities at a third destination in the developing world.

"NUS and its honors program are very clear about their vision," says Goodstein.

"The students they're training are leaders for the 21st century and for them to be effective, they need to have international experience. At UConn, we are embracing the same vision."

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