Going on exchange is an interesting period of time. Not only do you get to meet wonderful people, travel around the world and learn so many things that otherwise you would’ve never known, but it’s also a period of self-discovery. It’s probably like first year, in the sense that you live without your parents, with zero control, no eye of Sauron checking your every move (except maybe your bank account). However, there are a few differences, at least in my case.
Back home I lived with my mom. This is due to several reasons. First, it’s common to live with your parents at the university level, unless you’re planning on studying in another city which is further than a two hours’ drive from university. I live an hour and 20 minutes from my uni and still live with my mom. Also, there isn’t a strong culture on living in residences; they’re not as cool or organised as they are here. Back home it’s just a place where you sleep. Full stop. Another reason why this isn’t so common: Spanish real estate is ridiculously expensive. You don’t look for an apartment unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’m currently looking for my own place next year and I’m seriously considering staying at my mom’s another year as the costs are outrageous… and I haven’t started looking downtown. The last reason is, well, there’s no place like home.
I have no intention to compare both educational or cultural differences, but rather to point out why coming here was such a shock for me. It’s more for you to understand where I’m coming from than a critique. When I moved here I had the experience you guys enjoyed in first year – plus the exchange experience. I did everything on my own: I took care of all my visa and university paperwork, I looked for a place. Not that I expected anyone to do it for me – don’t get me wrong – but it was the first time I had to do it. As a Spanish citizen I don’t have to do any visa paperwork back home and, even when I moved to different countries as a kid, I had no say in any bureaucratic matter. Nonetheless, I did move here completely alone. I didn’t know anyone here, not even the other exchange students from my university back home, so that was quite the experience. I’m not going to lie, I felt alone. The first three weeks here were hell and I often wondered if the rest of the year was going to be the same. Not proud of the following, but there was a point in time where I even considered cutting my exchange short and going back in during the winter break.
Despite that, I got through the difficult period. Yes, I do realize that most of you won’t see this as a big thing, but imagine the fear. The fear of the unknown, the fear of not being home, of not feeling at home and the sentiment that you are – and will be for an unknown period of time – alone. That is something we’ve all gone through. In my case I just had to move 5,531.42 km from home, to a country where they don’t speak my mother language and have absolutely no friends or means to go back to truly feel alone. Repeating everything I’ve written so far: it’s knowing and learning about your limits. Now I know that I am scared of being truly alone. Nonetheless, if in the future I get to live the same situation, I’ll be able to handle it better. Now fear has become a motivation, something I want to feel, because I know that the moment I’m through with it I’ll be stronger and wiser. Moreover, there have been situations during the time that I’ve lived here that have helped me gain a new perspective on life, to the point that I’ve changed my future life plans for the best.
In conclusion, I couldn’t be more thankful for being here, for being granted such an opportunity. I’ve learned, danced, lived, talked, laughed, partied, travelled…and I couldn’t have done it all if it weren’t for that initial impulse that pushed me to be here today. I still remember the nervousness running through my body upon taking the TOEFL, the horrible await of the rankings in order to know if you were good enough to go on exchange. The happiness of finding out you were in the top 5%, no, top 2%! The one week you had to make a choice for your exchange: Sophia University in Japan? Wharton in the United States? HEC in Switzerland? It has all turned out for the best; I do not regret my decision. I couldn’t have been happier anywhere else. Due to these reasons and many more, thank you.
Photos are the author’s own