I spent the last year in Glasgow, Scotland on a university exchange through the Erasmus programme. I wanted to share some questions I’ve frequently gotten about spending time abroad. Although I’m clearly speaking from my particular experience and yours might be different, I’m hoping this will give you some insight on how being on an exchange is like.
#1 “Doesn’t going on an exchange slow your studies down?” / “You don’t really have to study on an exchange, right?”
I had to do a study plan for the year for 60 (Finnish) credits, the suggested amount for one academic year, and I also completed those credits whilst abroad. So, I studied like the local students. However, I think part of what your exchange is going to be like depends on what you make of it. Being on an exchange doesn’t have to mean constant partying and barely studying. Although, if that’s what you want to make it – I mean, there are a lot of parties, so it should be quite easy – you definitely can, as long as you pass your courses.
#2 “Were you homesick?”
At times, yes. Realistically, your life on exchange isn’t going to be perfect all the time, just like life in general. It’s completely normal to feel homesick – the trick is to learn how to cope with it. For me, homesickness struck when I wasn’t feeling my best, when I was ill or dealing with stressful things and negative emotions in general.
What helped was Skyping with friends and family from back home, receiving care packages with Fazer chocolate from the parents, reading Finnish news and listening to Finnish music. Most importantly, I didn’t get stuck in the feeling of homesickness. I kept going for coffee with my friends, meeting new people, travelling and having fun. Then I got over it again, and remembered why I wanted to move to a new country in the first place.
#3 “Do you have to go for that long?”
No, you can definitely choose to go for shorter than a year. I think both options have their pros and cons. If you haven’t spent much time abroad before and feel a bit scared of being homesick, going for 3 or 6 months would probably be good. This wasn’t the case for me – I’d already lived in England before moving to Scotland. In my opinion getting a solid year of experience on your country of choice might be more eye-opening – you’ll have more time to see more places, meet more people and maybe form stronger friendships, getting a firmer grip on the culture, food, and the richness of the local language. Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye!
#4 “Did you have a good time?”
Yes, absolutely! My exchange year was one of the best in my life so far. I met cool new people, made amazing friends who I want to stay in contact with for the rest of my life, felt inspired in my studies and hobbies, saw so many beautiful new places and made unforgettable memories. I developed especially my academic English skills, discovered new ways of studying that work for me, found more confidence and courage to put myself in new situations, became more independent, and got to know myself better as a person. This may sound exaggerating, but I honestly feel it’s not. It was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I’d recommend spending some time abroad for anyone, but I’d say it’s essential for language students – the advantages of getting first-hand experience in the culture and language you’re studying seem obvious to me. In my experience, to have a good experience as an exchange student you just need an open mind, some common sense, and willingness to experience both the joys and the struggles that come with it – like when you still don’t understand what somebody is saying when you’ve asked them to repeat it twice, and you just smile.