10 (Unexpected) Rules You Need to Know before You Go on an Exchange

1) Travel Solo 


Although the security of having someone familiar in a foreign land is too overwhelming to overlook, trust me on this one, you won’t regret going solo. Being away from home reveals your true self, not only to others, but also to you. Things you thought were never an issue to you would start bothering you and things you thought you loved doing would suddenly become irritating. I have heard endless stories of close friends coming back from abroad as enemies and enemies coming back closer than ever. We humans tend to love holding on to the familiar, and having a group of familiar faces from home on your journey would only hinder your experience and get in the way of making the most out of it. Plus, nothing really beats the joy you get in the end after knowing you’ve made it all on your own.

2) Leave your comfort zone


When once you were laying on your king sized feather-like bed eating a bag of chips while watching your favorite show, you find yourself now trying to figure out the transportation system in a foreign language after a 6-hour flight, dragging a heavy bag, a carry-on and a laptop on your shoulder, it feels great, doesn’t it?

Forget about your old ways from back home; shying away from people, minding your own business, and racing your way back to your comfortable home. You’d be surprised of how helpful people can be with strangers from a different country. People want to give you a good image of their country and they want to know more about yours, if you’re lucky enough, you’d meet a fellow traveler who knows exactly what you’re going through. Do things that make you uncomfortable, talk to strangers, walk an extra mile, get lost, live. You’ve really got nothing to lose, nobody there knows you anyway.

3) A smile goes a long way


If you come from a conservative place like I do, you’ve probably grown up thinking that the only reaction you’d get from smiling to strangers is an angry “would you like to take a picture with me?” or a freaked out person rushing away from you. A smile while you’re abroad, however, does go a long way. Everyone you meet now is a stranger and if you’re lucky enough, you would have a circle of other exchange students around you stumbling and trying to make their way in this foreign land. Smile to people, wave a hand and throw in a hello. Ask where they’re from, what they’re doing there and introduce yourself, you’d never guess how many similarities we humans have.

4) Say: “yes,” “of course,” and “why not!”


A wise man once said that life happens on the other side of fear. Now after we’ve accomplished the aforementioned points of traveling solo, leaving your comfort zone, and smiling to strangers, you really have now only two options left. Stay home wasting your life away behind four walls or do things you might feel like you don’t really want to do. Whether it’s out of fear, sloth or lack of time, just do it. Do you want to jump off a plane? Yes, please. Do you want to go to (insert city’s name) without any prior planning? I’d love to! Would you like to skip classes to go to that awesome international students party? I don’t see why not!

This is a once in a lifetime experience and believe me, once you get back home, you will regret every single “no” or “I’d rather not” you said while you were away.

5) Cut the small talk


Nobody really wants to hear about how nice the weather is today or mumble senselessly about how they are doing. Skip the “how are you?” and “What’s up?” bullshit and move on to something more profound. No matter how much time you’re spending during your exchange, there’s still not enough time to waste on small-talk. Ask them about their favorite book or their goals in life, discuss politics, philosophy, sociology, religion or any so called “taboo-subject.” After all, you wouldn’t consider someone who also thinks the weather was nice on that day a great person and knowing that another person is doing well at that particular moment won’t really give you goosebumps.

6) Be tolerant and open-minded 


Before you ever set foot on a different country, you have to understand that everyone you will meet now has a different culture, a different religion and a different set of values and beliefs. What you’ve been raised to think is right or wrong might be different to them and what you’ve been taught to never do might be completely normal to them. Try to remove your cultural-goggles and to accept everyone as they are. Trust me, this is for your own good, that is, if you want to avoid the much-dreaded culture-shock that everyone talks about. Get to know people as people, not as believers or non-believers, Westerners or Easterners, Africans, Asians or so on. We all have similar fears, we all want to love each other and want to be good to others, don’t let the slight cultural differences blind you to the vast amount of similarities.

7) Travel, travel and travel 


You’re currently in a completely different geographical area on earth that you might never visit again. Remember how everything had so much more glamour as a child? You wanted to go check that street nearby or go on a ride to another neighborhood? Wouldn’t you like to have that feeling again? Travel, explore, get to know new cultures and new people and new architectures and new histories, everything you see, hear, smell or touch while you’re away is a new experience, don’t waste it at one place. Plus, the more places you visit, the more pictures you would have to feed your social media hunger once you get back home.

8) Get yourself some extra-curricular activity 


Making international friends is easy, since you’re all new to this foreign country and you tend to find each other quickly. Meeting locals however might prove a little bit more difficult. That’s why you might want to get yourself some extra-curricular activity. Your university probably offers a lot, and I’m sure you could find many on the internet. Whether you have a passion for theater, singing, playing sports or writing and reading poems, you should find the club for that and join it.

9) Eat like a king or queen 


If you’ve found your international group of friends, this is how you hit the jackpot. If you’re still lucky enough, you’d have a variety of nationalities, Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, Asians, Middle Easterners and so on. Most of them would love to offer you some of their traditional food, break your fast on a Tortilla, have some Gyros for lunch and don’t forget the Tiramisu for dessert. An extra piece of advice, don’t ever reject an Italian Espresso.

10) Prepare yourself psychologically for Post-Exchange Depression


Last but not least and what almost no one tells you about is the post-travel blues. Coming back home is not easy, and knowing how much you miss your life abroad might surprise you. During your last days abroad you will face many conflicted feelings that range from sadness about bidding farewell to your new friends and excitement to seeing your family and loved ones again. Readjusting to a life of dependency on others after you’ve been independent for so long might prove to be a little bit difficult, just keep in mind that it’s only a phase that will pass and that you’re now stronger and more experienced than ever before. If you’re the “listen to a song until the storm passes” kind of person, you might want to  check out this list of 10 songs that could help you during that time 10 songs to help you cope with your travel PTSD

Enjoy your time abroad, make as many experiences as possible and don’t forget to study.. a little bit, if you have the time!

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