When I returned from my international exchange, my friends often wanted to hear about my experiences. I’d tell them stories starting with “When I was backpacking through Egypt…” or “It was Christmas and I was riding an Elephant through a forest when…” and they’d always marvel and follow up with “I could never do that”. I’d ask why not, and they’d come up with a laundry list of excuses. Here are the reasons why they couldn’t do an international exchange, and here are my reasons why you should anyways.
“I Don’t Speak The Language”
None of us did before we left. Your college or university is unlikely to send you to an institution where the language of instruction is not a language that you’re fluent in. While abroad, I only studied in languages that I was fluent in. Even in the city of Hong Kong, I studied in English, but still had plenty of time outside of my classes to learn Cantonese. I don’t care who you are, how old you are, where you come from, or what your IQ is; if you’re passionate about a language and you immerse yourself in it, you’re going to learn it.
“It’s Too Expensive”
You are going to need to invest some money into this experience, but it’s not as expensive as some people think. Since you’re essentially “switching places” with a student at another university, you pay no international student fees – you just pay regular tuition to your school at home. In addition, residence and housing is often at subsidized rate compared to regular housing in a particular city. I paid for 6 months in Hong Kong what a regular renter would pay in 2 weeks.
Where you’re going to find yourself spending a lot of money is on incidentals. Your flights, sure, will cost money, but often when abroad, you’ll want to travel to nearby countries, try new expensive foods, go skydiving, bungee jump off a bridge, and everything else under the sun. Just remember to budget wisely, and give yourself a few extra thousand dollars if you can for these impulsive adventures.
Here’s the best part though – most colleges and universities give extensive scholarships to students going abroad – not only your home school, but the one you’re visiting as well. My home school’s scholarships paid for my flights, and my new universities gave me plenty of money as well. It doesn’t always work out like this, but it was actually less expensive for me to go abroad for the year and a half, than it was to stay at home.
“My Program Doesn’t Allow Me To”
Book an appointment with your academic advisor. You’re paying for your education, and if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. You might have to take an extra semester, or an extra year, but for the experiences you’ll get and the things you’ll learn, it’s worth an extra ten years. I was originally told that my program was unable to do an exchange – that spending a semester abroad wouldn’t be possible; I left for a year and a half, and still graduated the same day as my classmates. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“My School Doesn’t Offer Them”
There are plenty of outside organizations that organize them. Do some research around, and you’ll be sure to find them. Just because your college or university doesn’t have partner institutions across the globe, doesn’t mean you can’t go to another school, take classes, and have them transfer back. You’ll need to do a lot more of the leg work yourself, but it will definitely be worth it. Start by talking to an academic advisor – they can help you with school-specific information.
“I Won’t Meet Any Friends”
I say this every time I go to a new place, yet I still end up meeting great friends. It’s a great challenge to go off to a place where you know nobody – but trust me, there’s always a friend at the end of the road. Exchanges place you in a unique social situation where you can talk to everyone, and everyone is your friend. You all had the courage to get up and leave your home country, so you’re definitely going to have the courage to introduce yourself to others.
You’ll meet friends in your residence, in your classes, in the campus bar, at clubs, events, anywhere. I met my closest friends in a McDonalds on my second day of living in Hong Kong. For a second, I thought about not introducing myself because they already seemed like a coherent group. I’m thankful that I got over that quickly, because they made my experience worthwhile.
“I’m An Introvert”
Plenty of my friends on exchange were. You don’t have to be extraverted to experience a new culture, new friends, and a new way of life. You have the option to take everything at your own pace – if you’re needing time by yourself, that’s not a problem at all, take all the time you need. Just remember to take as much out of the experience as you can – the last thing you want to have in your suitcase on the way home is regret.
That’s the best part about it. The fear is there to let you know that you’re on the edge of your comfort zone – and that’s where the best learning takes place. Buck up and deal with the fear, because it’s a part of life, and if you never challenge yourself, you’ll never go anywhere.
You can come up with many more reasons, but at the end of the day, you’re just excusing yourself from an adventure of a lifetime. Take a chance, catch the flight, and change your world.