In the second year of my undergrad, I was lucky enough to get into an education abroad programme that allowed me to attend the University of California Berkeley for a semester. It’s scary being on your own in an unfamiliar environment but I persevered, enjoyed myself and, in the end, I learnt so much. Maybe some of the things I learnt will help you navigate your own semester abroad or your regular university life. Either way, I’m here to help.
- Don’t be afraid to make the first move
This advice could be applied to various situations but, for now, I’m talking about making friends. When you’re halfway across the world, surrounded by people you don’t know, making friends can seem like a daunting task. In reality, most people want to make more friends anyway so you really have nothing to lose! I found that the best way to do this was to be the first to say “hello”. I made one of my best friends from exchange from doing this at my first club meeting and we ended up doing everything together – I even got to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family in Los Angeles!
- Ask for help when you need it
If you’re feeling lost or confused, there are always people around to help you. Talk to your friends, your RA, your classmates, lecturers or the friendly people at help-desks around campus. I found that talking to my roommate really helped me – she told me about good deals at campus stores, where to get a job, and how to take the bus without ending up in Oakland (again)!
- Document everything
Whether it be keeping a journal or updating a Facebook photo album, documenting your exchange experiences is the best way to keep the memories alive. Maybe I’m just a sentimentalist but I found that the best way to appreciate everyday was to take some time to write it down and reflect at the end of each day.
- Always speak up if something bothers you
Once again, this could be applied to various scenarios. For me, it was about hand-washing. I saw someone leave the bathroom without washing their hands (also, they didn’t shut the cubicle door when they were in there but that’s beside the point). Aside from complaining about it to my roommate, I kept it to myself. But when it happened again, I needed to do something. Look, I ain’t no snitch but people’s health and safety were at risk, okay! Anyway, long story short, my RA reprimanded me and I left the floor group-chat. I don’t know how this helps you but it felt good to do the right thing and I regret nothing!
- Celebrate the little victories
Taking time to celebrate your little victories will make each day worthwhile. Did you get to your 8am on time? Good job! Get through the day without crying? Fantastic! Remember to check that your pants aren’t inside out at the gym? Hooray! Give yourself a pat on the back after a hard day and think about what you’ve achieved, no matter how small. If you’re celebrating with ice cream just bear in my mind that you can, in fact, eat too much Ben and Jerry’s. You heard it here first, folks!
Exchange can be a really stressful and difficult time but it’s also the best opportunity to have fun and make mistakes. If anything, find comfort in the fact that everyone is winging it. Remember, this experience is meant to push you, but it is completely worth it and will allow you to grow exponentially – you’ve got this!