Now that I’ve lived my exchange experience fully, from A to Z, I can tell you the worst part of it with full certainty: An exchange semester actually ends someday…
The reason why I joined the Échanges Internationaux blog months ago was to share my life experience of studying and traveling abroad. I expected to share funny moments and politically correct university anecdotes. I expected an interesting yet distant commenting of just another project in my life. I now realize that telling you about my exchange actually makes me tell you more about who I really am and what I learned deep inside while traveling and living abroad.
As I was asked before to give a sort of *10 commandments* for a succesful exchange semester, more precisely in China, here is my take at it… Without any particular order, those are the things you should keep in mind when living your own exchange…
- Do not, under ANY circumstances, worry about making a fool of yourself. Whether it be because you cannot speak the language of your new country or because you just missed regards for an important local custom, don’t let people make you feel embarrassed. You will probably never see them again so laugh with them instead of blushing!
- Talk to people, ask questions. Whether they be locals or foreigners, your richest learnings abroad will never come from the classes you take or the places you visit, but rather the people you meet. Most of the time, people will be as interested in you as you will be interested in them. So when you’re sitting at a bar and you make eye contact with that nice looking Chinese girl, do as I do. Stand up, go to her and say: Ni hao ma?
- Be prepared to lose your comfort. Traveling abroad for a student is never done in 5-star hotels and American Airlines’ Business Class. The experience will be much richer by traveling in youth hostels, going from one city to the other by train, bus, or even by boat!
- Learn to say yes. When people ask you: Do you want to go out tonight? say yes. When people say: How about we go visit the Great Wall this weekend? Say yes. When people say: We should book a flight to South Korea for the beginning of June… Say yes we should. Going abroad opens a world of opportunities. Don’t be afraid to reach out for them.
- Stop thinking. Start doing. While it was great accepting other people’s invitations, I found even greater fulfillment in initiating activities myself while I was in China. Being abroad is not at all about planning, thinking or preparing. It’s all about daring and doing.
- Have your friends give you a *Dare List*. Now this, this is fun. One of my friends was, in the Fall of 2009, on an exchange in the Netherlands. At the time, I had the idea of giving her what I called a *dare list*. It was a list of achievements and accomplishments I dared her to fulfill while she was away from home. When she came back and I went away, she and her friends did the same thing for me. The exchange program is the best time ever in your life to do things you would never have done before. Although I will categorically refuse to share with you any of the *dares* I was asked to complete or the ones I did fulfill, I am sure your imagination can fill in the gaps and you will be able to come up with a great *dare list* for your friends and even yourself.
- Do not be afraid to bond with people. Remember. When you leave your home and go abroad, you inevitably end up alone for a while. When you do meet new people and friends, you might be reluctant to bond with them because you know deep inside that those relationships could very well be short lived. Nevertheless, I can tell you that the people you meet and the experiences you share with them will be long lasting in your memory and that they will shape your future personality. Invest in those friendships as much as you can.
- Keep your contacts with your home. Whether you have a strong relationship or not with your parents and your friends back home, make an effort to keep in touch with them regularly so that your homecoming goes down smoothly and that you don’t fall in PED (Post-Exchange Depression).
- Enjoy EVERY moment. While you are abroad, enjoy your times with your friends, enjoy your times in the classroom, enjoy your times traveling… Enjoy everything, as all those things come and go so fast.
- Just do it. Ok ok, I stole that one from Nike… Still however, this is the whole essence of it. In the end, whatever you do, the most important thing to keep in mind is to commit to your exchange through thick and thin. Taking that airplane in January led me to the best 5 months of my life. How glad am I looking back, and how glad will you be as well. I promise.
Now, I am sure some of my colleagues who have done their exchange can add-up some commandments to that list and I welcome you to do so in the comments section 🙂
It was a fun ride… I hope you appreciate your own exchange as much as I appreciated mine. Wherever and whenever you have it, enjoy!