You got accepted in an exchange program abroad. Congratulations ! Are you panicking about how you are going to live there, how you will adapt ? Take a deep breath, you will be more than ok.
Plan Your Stay
The excitement or the fear of what is coming is not making you think straight. You have a lot of questions about what is going to come. But do not worry too much because other students have been there before you and you can seek their advice and knowledge about the exchange term and how to enjoy it as much as you can.
What To Bring or To Buy ?
Since you are going to another country, chances are that you are going to fly there. If you are going to do an exchange close to your hometown, you will not be limited in your luggage choices but you can still benefit from this list. These can be brought or bought when you arrive. Your first month will probably be the most expensive of all because of everything you will need.
- Linens for your bed and pillows : your bed will be the most comfortable furniture you are going to need. You can buy that arriving there too.
- Toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, soap,
- Flip flops : always needed especially if you plan to travel and visit the country you will be studying in. A must have in any backpackers inn or hostel.
- Rain coat,
- Hangers for your clothes,
- Unlocked cell phone,
- First aid kit.
Think about the fact that other exchange students have been there just before you and they will some of these behind. If you can get in touch with them, try to get all the essentials at a good price.
On the moral support side, you will need objects that will make you feel home. Bring you favorite photos, posters and decorations, your favorite Teddy Bear, no need to bring all of them. Do not forget to get some blue tack to be able to remove your personal decoration without damaging the wall.
The First Days
The first thing when you arrive should be to discover your new environment. Start wandering outside your room. Assuming that you do not live alone (and that should not be the case since you are in this new country to learn about the culture and the people), go and meet your flatmates. Go to them and say "Hi !" and introduce yourself.
It is also important to make yourself home in your room. Start putting your photographs and decorations up on the walls. Personalize your new environment.
Living On A Budget
You're a student and most of the time, it means that you have to be careful with your money. Your expense will be broken down in food, visits, travels, office supplies, restaurants and bars and miscellaneous expenses.
Eating take-outs everyday is not the best solution to save money. The most common way to savemoney eating is to cook. Do your grocery shopping knowing what you will need and stick to it. Get some recipes on the internet or from your parents, write down the ingredients you will need and other essentials. Do not get tempted by the junk food that will just make you spend extra money.
Restaurants and Bars
Going to the restaurant once in a while with friends is fun and hitting the bars is really common. Make sure that you can afford to spend a night out without damaging your bank account. If you cannot afford it, turn the event into a house party or a potluck. It does not have to be expensive to spend a quality evening with friends.
Museums and Visits
Look for student discounts, special days where the museum is free.
One of the most useful website to spend less and still enjoy your city. You can get some good deal on restaurants, meals, hairdressers and even on wine. Sign up for your city Groupon.
Know you campus resources : peer helping, clubs
There are going to be times where you will miss your home country, your family or friends. There is nothing to be ashamed of and that is perfectly normal. You can share your impressions with your new friends or you can use resources on your campus.
Join some clubs at the beginning of the year to meet people with the same interests you have.
Making friends is essential. These are the people that you will share your unique experience with. Most people back home will not be able to understand what you are living as an exchanger. It is so special that even if you try to describe it, they will still have the stereotypes of the country you are in in mind.
Your new friends will become your family in this different setting. The emulation created by the group will make you feel like you can rely on them as they can rely on you.
If you think that you have to study to pass your class, that is justified. You may have chosen a country where they do not speak your mother tongue, the classes are not the same level you are used to and the methods can also be different. But keep in mind that you are not coming to another country to hide yourself in your room studying. Sure it is important to study but the opportunity to be in an exchange program is really uncommon. You have to manage your time.
Know How Not To Over-Socialize
Once you have made your friends, one of the hardest decision you will have to make is to know when not to go to parties. Your friends will likely try to make you go to that exceptional once in a lifetime party that will never happen again. But that is what every party will be like. You have to say no to that beer pong event in order to study for your midterm or exam.
That is part of the surviving at university. There is always something going on and you cannot attend everything. You have to prioritize your time. You really want to go to that trip organized one weekend in two weeks but you have a paper to hand in ? Plan your writing in advance and motivate yourself to finish it to attend the trip. You can have it all but you have to organize it.
Keeping in Touch With Your Home
As much as some may feel glad to leave home with Mom and Dad, you will realize how easy it is to have someone cooking for you, doing the dishes and going grocery shopping. You will miss some specialty from home : the French miss their wine and cheese (true story), the Dutch will miss their pastries and licorice candy, the Aussies will miss their parties on the beach. Being homesick is part of living in a different country and you might get hit really hard or adjust really well.
We live in a world where internet helps everyone with communication. Use the technology to keep in touch with your friends and family. A tip for the students who have parents that cannot use a computer, install Skype with automatic launch and explain to them how it works. It is free and very convenient. Prepare everyone to email and chat with you.
If you like to write, you can set up a blog and update everyone at once. That will also be a good diary to recap your best moments in the end.
What You Are Going To Learn From that Experience ?
There is always that studying part that you are going to learn but be aware that it is only the tip of the iceberg. You have an incredible opportunity to study and live with the locals and see the world in another point of view.
But you will also learn a lot about yourself. In the end, you may realize that living in another country is not for you and that is fine because an exchange term only lasts a few months. It is better to have tried it than wonder about what could have been. Or you can also realize how you love that country, the university, the people and every single detail of your stay. Most exchange students come to the conclusion of wanting to stay longer, extend the dream and that is how it should be : an unforgettable life experience.