maanantai 10. kesäkuuta 2013

An open letter to future exchange students

Dear future exchange students,

You might come across my letter, when you are just planning your exchange, when you are desperately   searching the internet for information about your future host country, or when you just got your host family and you're so excited you can't stop reading exchange blogs. I want to give you some advice, that I wish someone had told me before my own year (even tho I turned out just great without it, and so will you).

First of all, before you leave, make your parents (and friends) understand not to contact you too much during the beginning of your year. During the first months, if you know everything that's going on back home, you will feel like you're devided between two countries. That feeling is the last thing you want, when trying to be wholly present in your host country, to get your life going there. Also, don't leave your school grades and courses messy and your grades bad, just because, well, you won't have to worry about them until after a whole year. That time will eventually come, and it's much less stressful to come back when you know you don't have to stress about school. The most important of all is, though, if you're in a relationship, to think whether you want to go through your exchange year dating someone who's far away. If you're not 100% sure, if you're not completely, without a question in love and want to spend your life with this person, don't do it. It's not going to be easy, and I say this with experience. It will make your year so much harder and so much more stressful.

Don't stress too much about the language. If you don't speak your host language at all in the beginning, it will without a doubt be the most difficult thing during your exchange and you will be often frustrated by it. But spending your last weeks at home trying to memorize grammar and vocabulary won't change a thing. You'll learn the same amount in a week in your host country, than you would in a year in school. Instead of panicking about the language, enjoy your time with friends and family before heading towards the best experience of your life.

Then, when packing for your exchange, only take clothes that you actually love wearing. It's a real pain in the ass to carry all that extra stuff with you, especially if you change families during the year. Also, you will probably buy a lot of clothes there too, when you adapt to the weather and the way local people dress. Don't take a blowdryer or a straightener with you. Don't take all the makeup you own, and don't even think about bringing a calculator or other school stuff. Remember to bring the flag of your country, you'll need it. Then, when you're all ready to go, throw a goodbye party to see all your friends for the last time, and off you go.

When you get there, at first you will probably notice all these strange things about your host family. No matter how nice they are, they might have little things that bug you. A specific order in which to fill up the washing machine, you might have to wipe the shower doors after every shower you take. The food they eat might be super healthy or super unhealthy. The key to cope with all of this is simply to talk with them. I know some people (including myself) can hardly introduce themselves in their new host language when they arrive, but you have to try. Use the translators in the internet, or ask if there's a neighbor or a friend who speaks english, and who could translate some things you want to ask. Talking with the family might not be as simple as it sounds but try to keep the conversation going, ask them about their lives and the habits in the family, be interested and don't judge. Don't say weird, say different. Understand that the situation is new and stressful for them too. Try to be happy and smiling and if you can't, be honest and tell your family the reason for you're bad mood, if you're homesick, or whatever the reason is. If you don't, they will think it's their fault. Talking about anything also builds trust between you and your hosts, and that's one of the most important things. Also, volunteer to help as much as you can, and attend the family life. Try to go to sleep and get up more or less the same time as they do, even if only to have breakfast together. These little things make a huge difference.

When you start to know your country, the people and the customs, make yourself a list of all the things you want to do during your exchange. All the places you want to visit and experiences you want to have. Then, start doing those things immediately. The time goes by faster than you could ever imagine and you want to make the most of every day.

When getting new friends, try to go everywhere you're invited, even when it doesn't really sound like a lot of fun. Depending a lot on the country, there might be a lot of exchange students living close to you. Many people might tell you not to spend too much time with them, since you will most likely be talking in english and not your host language, but as long as you try to make local friends as well, you shouldn't feel bad about spending time with other exchangers as well. It's a richness to get to know people from around the world. For this, I have to say, I can't think of a better country than Belgium. The other students form a network of people who you can rely on, who've had the same experiences and difficulties than you. I'm extremely lucky to be a part of this amazing family.

Most people have a relatively strict budget to use during their exchange. To use your money wisely, use it on experiences, not on material things. Don't feel guilty if you spent a lot of money on a trip to the sea with your friends, but do so, if you spent the same amount for new clothes. Hold on to your budget. "Travel is the only thing you buy, that makes you richer".

Your mood will most likely go up and down in the strangest ways during the first months, when everything is new and exciting. But the best part starts only after about half a year, when your life there is settled. That is when you feel like you belong in the family and in the country, you understand the language and with the language you understand the people and the whole culture. You have routines and even though you realize everything can't be perfect you still love it.

One important thing left, documenting your exchange. This is the year of which you will want to remember every single moment, every single day. Take pictures and write it down, not only what you do, but how you feel. You will treasure these memories for the rest of your life and you'll be grateful to have something to go back to later, whether it's a journal, a photo album or a box of random things like train tickets and little items from your exchange.

This will be the best, the hardest, the fullest, the most extraordinary year of your life. Enjoy every single moment of it. Let yourself go, let yourself grow and change, let the world in.

6 kommenttia:

  1. Tää oli ihana! Oon ite just lähössä Belgiaan nyt syksyllä vaihtoon joten tätä oli kiva lukea (:

    1. Oiii oot onnekas!! Kaikkea hyvää sun vaihtoon, lähet parhaaseen maahan!

  2. Tää sun blogi on oikea löytö, kun yrittää ettiä suomalaisen blogia belgiasta. Oon ite lähössä aupairiksi Belgiaan heinäkuussa ja käyn siellä samalla myös paikallista lukiota. Olis tosi kiva jos voisit kertoa kommenteissa tai tehä postauksen siitä, millasta nuorten elämä ja käyttäytyminen on Belgiassa :)
    Tai siis mimmosia juttuja ne tekee yms.

    1. Ihana kuulla! :) Koitan tehdä postauksen, saattaa jäädä vaan siihen että oon kotona, viimeiset 8 päivää on aika pyöritystä täällä! Lähdetkö jonkun järjestön kautta, ja mihin kaupunkiin oot menossa? :)

    2. Tuttujen kautta pääsin. Sen niminen paikka ku Ollignies :)