How to Survive Your Semester as an Exchange Student at Northeastern

In the past few weeks, I’ve begun my semester as an exchange student from Australia. From the beginning, I was scared since I was moving to America by myself. I knew no one in Boston, had no idea what classes at Northeastern would be like, if I would make friends, or even where to buy cereal for breakfast the next morning. I’ve learned a lot during my first few weeks as an exchange student:

1.  Unpack your suitcase and decorate

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Boston is going to be your home for the next few months (or maybe even a year), so you might as well make it feel like one! I didn’t feel truly at home until I’d folded that last pair of socks into my drawer and sticky-tacked a Polaroid from New Year’s Eve 2015 to my wall. These homey touches not only make your new crib feel like somewhere you could see yourself cooking pasta while listening to Taylor Swift or a place to invite new friends around to watch the latest episode of Riverdale, they also help shift your mindset from that of a traveler to a student who actually lives in this city.

2.  Start jamming on your planner

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I imagined my time studying abroad would be a relaxing one; I wouldn’t be working or catching up with family and old friends, so I’d have time to explore Boston at my leisure, maybe even chip away at the countless books on my good reads list. A few days into my exchange program, I realized I was very much mistaken. There is a monstrous load of homework to complete, weekend trips to other states, club meetings, friends and family coming to visit, spontaneous trips to the cinema, ice-hockey games, gigs, and so much more! How was I going to squeeze all of it into four months? I recommend taking a leaf out of Leslie Knope’s book and get jamming on your planner! Start off by marking the dates each assignment is due, so you can see which weeks you’ll be busy studying and when you’ll have a little more free time. After that you can start slotting in weekends away, days to explore different parts of Boston, club meetings, special events, and time to hang out with new friends!

3.  Get a handle on your dolla-dolla bills

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After chatting with other exchange students, I soon realized I wasn’t alone in feeling that money was leaking from my every pore during my first week in Boston. I had to buy essentials like groceries, knives and forks, bowls and cups, school books, a fancy Thai dinner, and tickets to see Lorde in April. These are all essentials, okay? Your first week will be unusually expensive, there’s no denying it, but if you start making a list of all your purchases, you can get an idea of how much you’ll be spending per week on regular purchases and set yourself a realistic weekly budget. It’s tedious, sure, but starting from the onset will relieve some financial stress and help you not only have enough money to cover the semester, but maybe even have some leftover cash to pay for that trip to Hawaii before you head home!

4. Crawl out of your shell

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Introducing yourself to new people is scary and awkward, but definitely worth it while on exchange! Not only will making some pals help you adjust to life in Boston, but it’ll also make your first week here so much more fun. Simply start off by going grocery shopping with your roommate, a bonding exercise where you might just find out you both have the same love for Half-Baked Ben and Jerry’s icecream. Try introducing yourself to other exchange students at orientation, too – they’re in the same boat as you and equally keen to find a friend. If you’re looking to get in with the locals, strike up a conversation with one of your American classmates ("I have no idea where my next building is, could you help me find it?" is a good line) or join a club where you’re guaranteed to find people with similar interests.

5. Take a deep breath

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I was in a fluster the first day and forgot my Charlie Card, meaning I had to dash to the nearest Starbucks and ask the barista to call me an Uber because I didn’t have a phone plan yet. When I finally got to campus (forty-five minutes later than expected), I realized I’d forgotten the documents I needed for orientation that afternoon. Cue another frantic Uber ride back to my apartment to retrieve the documents, with a tearful phone call to my mum thrown in too. It’s easy to get flustered on any first day of school, but especially when you’re on exchange. Remember to take a deep breath before you begin your first day. Listen to your favorite song, or maybe even meditate. You won’t regret setting your alarm just a few minutes earlier if it means you get to start your day off on the right foot.

6. Call the folks at home

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As mentioned above, your mum can be a great relief. Even if you’re not stressed out, remember to schedule in some time during the week. Beginning to live in a new place is difficult, with many new challenges, so a familiar voice on the other end of the line will feel like a warm hug. Not to mention your family is probably missing you too!

7. Hoard your quarters

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If you’re in a building where washing machines don’t accept Husky cards, you’ll need to start hoarding these coins like Gollum ASAP. In a world where cards are becoming more common than cash, it’s easy to forget you’ll need a few dozen of these bad boys if you want clean socks. Start asking for them in your change and save yourself the hassle of running to the supermarket across the street in your slippers to beg for coinage because your clothes are in the machine, soaked in detergent, and you’re short a couple quarters. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…