Studying abroad is one of the best experiences you can partake in during your university career. The ability to pick a different country to live and study in for one semester or year is a once in a lifetime experience. So, if you are thinking about going on exchange or are already planning to go, then here are some lessons that I learned during my exchange semester.
1. Real-life experiences are the most valuable type of education.
Although sitting in a classroom with a book and pencil (or a laptop nowadays) can be very educational, real-life experiences are what teach you the most. During my exchange semester, I learned so much about my host city, its people, and the culture. I was also able to learn about so many other cultures because of the people I met and the different cities I visited.
2. You should take advantage of the impermanence.
An exchange semester can last one semester to one year. The fact that you have so little time in your host city makes the experience even more valuable because you’ll learn to appreciate every moment and every experience.
3. Never be afraid to take risks.
I am someone that hates risks, so the mere action of getting on a plane and planning to live in a foreign country for one semester terrified me. But it also made me open to taking more risks because once I was in my host city I felt I could do anything. So, I took on every opportunity that came my way and my best memories involved me doing things that were completely out of my comfort zone.
4. Appreciate the differences you’re exposed to.
I will admit that the culture shock really hit me hard when I first got to my host city. I had a hard time adjusting to basic things like transportation, shopping habits and language differences. Although at first I was overwhelmed by these differences, I slowly began to appreciate them and how they were a key aspect in making my exchange experience worthwhile.
5. Learn to accept and understand hidden complexities.
When you are a tourist you often only see the surface of a city, or what the city wants you to see. But, when you live somewhere, you develop a different perspective of the because you see the good and bad. So instead of being apprehensive towards the complexities, instead learn to appreciate them and understand that it all contributes of the depth of the city.
6. It takes time for you to adjust to the differences.
When you first get to your host city, chances are you will fall in the love with it immediately and go through the so called “honeymoon” phase. But after spending a little more time in your host city, the charm may begin to wear off and you will become hostile towards the cultural differences. This however is the time to stay patient and allow the city to grow on you; over time, things will become more familiar and you will begin to feel right at home.
7. Becoming independent is not as daunting as you think.
Being in a new city can be intimidating, especially when you find yourself having to figure out basic things like transportation, grocery shopping, and communicating with locals. However, the act of becoming independent so far away from home is extremely satisfying because you’ll find you can overcome any obstacle and along the way you’ll learn a lot about your capabilities.
8. Being open to new opportunities is beneficial.
Being in a new country can be overwhelming and it can become easy to close yourself off from trying new things. But it can also be very rewarding to take on new opportunities, so take this time to try new foods, make friends, and learn a new language and culture. These things will only enrich your experience and lead to unforgettable memories.
9. It won’t be an adventure every day.
This lesson might be a little hard to swallow at first, but it was probably the most realistic thing I learned. Although I wished that I was travelling and taking pictures in a foreign city every moment of every day, this unfortunately was not the reality. At the end of the day I was there for school and therefore it was important to study and attend class. But I always found time for small adventures throughout the day, even if it was trying a new café or finding small bookstores in a different corner of the city.
10. The world is so much bigger than you think.
It’s easy to get stuck in your own little bubble at home and get used to the familiarity that surrounds you every day. Going on exchange makes you realize that the world is full of so many different cultures and lifestyles. You’ll grow to have a greater appreciation for other cultures, as well your own. And it’s always great to bring that knowledge back home, as it’ll widen your perspectives and make you realize the world really isn’t as small as we think it is.
Share your foreign exchange experiences with us in the comments!