It is that time of year when students are planning their whereabouts in the next year. Even just the thought of going abroad for a semester or two might be giving you itchy feet, but if you are still having second thoughts or even if you’re still wondering would studying abroad do you any good, I am bringing you some good news: there are plenty of reasons to be an exchange student, and I summed them up for you.
1. Traveling & local sights
This basically comes by default and you probably don’t need me to tell you this, but I will anyway: you get to travel. A LOT. You might or might not have a similar chance again: you are in a foreign country for a certain number of months and you are surrounded by places, cities and countries that you usually aren’t. You most likely don’t know if you will ever have a similar opportunity.
You might also avail of cheaper flights than you usually would in your home country. If you, for example, move across the continent (or even just half-way across) for your student exchange, you will find yourself very close to a whole new set of ideas and places to go that could usually be out of your radar (I, for example, climbed a mountain in June and found snow there!), so make sure you get the most out of it.
TOP TIP: When planning out your budget before your semester/year abroad, take into account that you might want to travel and research your options on that matter (e.g. types of transport, places of interest, travel agencies) so you can know what kind of expenses to expect if you decide to go for it.
2. New language(s)
Being an exchange student abroad almost always means studying and living in another language. This obviously depends on whether your native language is English, which language is the main one in the country you’re going to, and what is your knowledge of that language.
My native language is Croatian and I didn’t know a single word of Polish before moving to Łódź, but my English was fine. There was a lot of foreign students and we were all in the same situation: talking to each other in English and, well, not understanding Polish. However, because every word written in public areas was in Polish, we all got to know and understand things and even have basic conversations in shops and pubs. We were also lucky to have a language school available to us completely free of charge and we could attend Polish language classes if we wanted.
TOP TIP: When living in a country where your native language is not the main one, try to speak to people of different native language as much as you can. Don’t surround yourself only with people of your native language because you might miss an awesome perk of having to often think and talk in a different language, which is a very enriching experience.
3. New culture(s)
This is something that I definitely wasn’t aware enough before my semester abroad. Yes, you know there are all these different cultures and that your culture is a new one for other people, too. But culture is so much more than people’s general appearance and language. You will realize how much their home country actually defines everyone, on how many different levels can people have different habits, meals, thoughts and behaviors. And that’s what’s beautiful about it.
For example, I have never before realized how much does my Slavic background make me similar to other Slavic people (Polish, Ukranian, Russian and many others) and different from others. I never saw it as a piece of my identity, and now I do.
TOP TIP: You might find yourself startled by a lot of differences of all kinds you see on people around you, and it is completely normal. However, don’t let it stop you from meeting people and building friendships. Once you get to know people better, you will see how awesome it is to have close friends who are different than you and how much you get to learn from each other.
4. New friends
Of all the things I have achieved when living in Poland, this is probably my favorite one. I have met people from all over Europe (and further). I now have friends in 19 countries of the world: Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Portugal, France, UK, Ireland, Greece, USA, Canada, Ukraine, Turkey, Romania and Belarus. Let me say this once again: you might never have this chance again. This is a unique opportunity that connects people of similar age and interests, brings them from all over the world and puts them in the same place. I am SO happy to have these people in my life.
TOP TIP: If you find it hard to connect with fellow exchange students, find out if there is a local student organization, where local students almost always know about international students’ events where you can network a lot and make new friends.
5. A life changing experience
This might or might not apply to you, but the chances of big and unusual things happening to you when you go far away from home are solid. It is not something that is going to happen by any chance, but make sure to be open-minded. Why am I saying this? One of my friends who was also a foreign student in Poland eventually got married to the guy she met while studying abroad, and two other friends now started their graduate studies in Austria, after returning from Poland and finishing their undergraduate program back home. And few months after I returned from Poland, I moved to Dublin, and I was far more ready for it than I would have been before my exchange program.
TOP TIP: Straightforward and simple – keep an open mind. There might be nothing big happening out of the whole thing, but hey, if you never try, you’ll never know; life happens so fast and you never know where it might take you.
6. Independence and money-handling
For some students, going abroad might mean living out of their parents’ house for the first time ever. This means that you are independent (up to a certain level) and this is when you look after yourself on your own. It might sound silly, but when you live in a new country and new environment as an exchange student, managing your money is a challenge of its own, especially if you have to use different currency and the standard of living is significantly different than in your home country. You might find that important things like food or clothes are remarkably more expensive, or a lot cheaper. As I said – challenge of its own; if you manage it well, you really do have a reason to be proud of yourself.
TOP TIP: When planning your time abroad, make yourself familiar with life standard and typical expenses at the city you will be living in. Solid (but not definite) resources for some research are Numbeo (for expenses) and If It Were My Home (for general quality-of-life characteristics).
7. And don’t forget: all the fun!
Yes, student exchange programs are a bunch of fun. And especially in cities with dozens or hundreds of exchange students, there are A LOT of parties. You might not be a party animal (I for sure wasn’t at the point of going abroad), but if the crowd is fun, you might want to find yourself actually wanting to join them. We, for example, created a beach party in the middle of the main street, in March. But it’s not just the parties. I had the luck to be in a city where Erasmus Student Network is very active, so we had all sorts of educational city tours, photo walk, free hugs day… Where there is will, there is a way!
TOP TIP: Don’t force yourself into anything that you don’t find appropriate or comfortable, but I absolutely encourage you to try to leave your comfort zone at least a bit. You might end up having a really amazing time, getting to know a lot of great new people and seeing a bunch of fantastic places!
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