I write this post on a train from Florence to Venice, one week out from starting exchange in my host city for the semester: Dublin. I’ve only been out of Australia for two weeks at this point, which doesn’t really give me much authority to give advice or reflection on exchange as a whole. In saying that though, I guess more than most of the posts on this blog, I have the freshest recollection of what it’s like to leave home. So I’ll write this post about that: in hope that it’ll help at least one person with overcoming the challenge of leaving for a new country alone.
I’d like open with the cliché line that exchange is one of the greatest things you can do in life. I’ve never been outside of Aus/NZ, so maybe I’m just in awe of the parts of Europe I’ve seen so far. But the moment you set foot in a new city or country, it takes over you. You start questioning everything you thought you knew about yourself and, well, humanity. I can tell every experience I have is shaping and strengthening me as a person. With the power of hindsight I can even now safely say that overcoming any drawbacks you may have pre-exchange is totally worth it, and so far I haven’t looked back since landing in Rome.
But let’s talk about those drawbacks. For me, I had two big ones: missing six months of my friends’ and family’s lives, and committing myself to living somewhere by myself on the literal opposite side of the earth from everyone I know for an entire semester.
RE first point: the FOMO is real. It is the year of most of my friends’ 21sts, so by going on exchange I’ve essentially had to forgo half a year of milestone parties, but also in regards to my school friends, six months of opportunities to catch up with old faces that I might not have reason to see for a while (note I’m not originally from Sydney so rarely get to see them). I’ll have my own 21st while abroad, and will be missing having that and Christmas with those I already know. But you’ve got to put this all into perspective: you’ll be missing the occasional social event because you’ll be travelling the world, learning a new culture, making international connections. It’s sad, but it comparison so so worth it. And if you’re friends are anything like mine, very little is going to change in six months. You might think you’ll be missing ground-breaking events, but I already know that once I get home, it’ll be like I had never left.
Living in a new country for six months by myself, however, is something that I can only theorise about for now. My logic, if it helps, is that there are so many opportunities while living in a new country, that if one avenue to make you happy doesn’t work, try one of the others. Whilst they’re not mutually exclusive, while you are on exchange you will probably have opportunity to travel, explore your host city, socialise, join societies, work, study, etc. While obviously a mix of these things would be ideal, if one doesn’t work out you’ll always have the others. In honesty, after seeing what I have of Europe so far, my main concern is being able to fit uni requirements and everything I want to see into the limited time we have, never mind thinking I won’t have enough to do to make the time pass.
Exchange is going to be a blast. Two weeks in, I know it. Leaving to a new country for six months is a huge deal, and obviously comes with its cons. But you’ve got to put it into perspective of the experiences you’ll have and the people you meet. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Communications (Creative Writing/Public Communication)
Dublin City University