Exhange Programs: Months Of Fun Vs. Meaningful Experience

Young people today have access to a wide range of programs to study abroad, and the number of them is constantly growing. Studying abroad is a great chance to see how the systems in other countries work, and also to test yourself as a person. A typical list of advantages that come along includes new friendships, experiences, traveling, and so on. As with everything else in life, not even this resists turning into a cliché. The reason is that many perceive a semester or a year abroad as an “academic vacation“. For all of you who are about to go abroad and study as exchange students, take a moment to decide whether you just want months of fun, or a meaningful experience (which doesn’t exclude wild parties).

A semester/year abroad is not a whole new world – It definitely is a whole new opportunity, but definitely not a cozy capsule where the laws of Planet Earth don’t apply. You will find that people in the host country live regular lives, experience frustrations of their own, and worry about the future just like you. Be an observer, see how people function there, talk with them, and pay attention to their opinions. The truth is, foreign students often choose to travel in a pack with their fellow countrymen, and because of that they don’t learn about the place they currently live in, and about its people. Try to actually live your life there, and don’t be just an observer.

Use your time wisely – By that I don’t mean just to study hard for high grades and written recommendations. Information is power, so pay attention, ask your coordinator about all the possibilities you can pursue. You are out there with the chance to find out about something that just might influence your future decisions. In addition to that, your current plans might drastically change. Be open to change and take a new approach, because that exchange program you are doing is a part of your life.

Don’t forget your social skills in a foreign environment – A foreigner is not necessarily an interesting person. Certainly, knowing someone with a background and way of life that are different from yours has its benefits. But it doesn’t mean you will automatically become good friends. We are all people, with qualities and flaws, so don’t brush off the possibility of arguing, or getting into an utter misunderstanding. All that “tolerance”, trends such as “being a global citizen” and multiculturalism are only part of a typical introduction, until people’s true natures come into focus. Time abroad provides opportunities to create lifelong friendships, but only if you treat people as they are.

You don’t have to travel to every single country – If you are more focused on about your Instagram and Facebook accounts than your possible destinations, you should rethink your actual motives regarding traveling. Quality is always more welcome than quantity, and it can bring more satisfaction than a series of pictures. This is not the first or the last time you’ll ever have the money to visit places you want to see. In addition to that, there are cheap possibilities everywhere in the world now. After all, travel should be an adventure, something new that’ll shake your routine, not a fake smile photo session. Remember to invest in your memories, rather than your image.

Make sure not to neglect your interests – Exchange students usually form groups and tend to stick together. However, your wishes should come first for you, even if they don’t conform with the rest of your crew. This is a perfect time to learn the art of independence. Go alone to that event, camping trip, or whatever, it won’t make you less social. You’ll grow to appreciate your own time and company even more.

Make yourself feel at home – Of course, not every place on Earth resonates with us, but still, it’s worth the effort to search for a corner that feels like home. You are not in that city for a week strictly as a tourist, but for a longer time instead. Search some café-bookstores, parks, or any other place where you feel comfortable. Let this inspire you to enhance your creative side and maintain your own world with favorite places, parties, leisure activities and so on. Don’t forget to decorate your room, or a corner of your room if you have a roommate.

Photo: Shutterstock

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