The Truth About Going On Exchange

The first question anyone will ask you after coming back from an exchange is “how was your exchange?” And as they await an answer, the only thing you can think about is how on earth are you supposed to sum up x amount of time in a few short sentences.

The truth is that you’ll never fully be able to explain to someone what that experience was like. There is no way to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly without giving someone the wrong impression about what truly happened.

This article is for my fellow exchange students who have been asked the same difficult question. Here is the truth about going on exchange:

The hardest part of an exchange is that so much happens that is different from everyday life back home that there are no words to describe how unique each experience truly is. The nutritional information on canned food (aka my everyday lunches) is different, the pace that people walk at is different, even the traffic signs are different! Personally, I couldn’t get over the differences in food packaging. I found it difficult to cook because I was always second guessing if it was really what I thought it was - even when I went out to eat. There was never a sense of normal while I was travelling. All in all, every story has a link to these small things that are different than what people back home know.

Now, let’s talk about location. When you say which country you went to, everyone immediately thinks of the most popular city and assumes you lived there. I went to France for my exchange, and no, I didn’t live in Paris. I lived in a much smaller city known for having a soccer team and a university. It had a small town feel - the exact opposite feeling someone from Paris would have.  It’s hard to explain how not all regions in the same country resemble one another and the lifestyles can vary between cities.

Next, the good. There are so many memories and moments you wish could last forever, but don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean you’d like to stay there forever. It’s fun and exciting to share certain experiences, but it’s simply impossible to describe it in the detail that I wish I could. The good, more often than not, will be something that only the exchange student themself will understand.

And now, the inevitable: the bad. It’s not that we aren’t completely thankful and blessed for the opportunity, it’s just that it can be hard. Just because you’re doing something incredible doesn’t make you invincible. An exchange can be really hard. Although I want to express some of the difficulties that I faced because it was an essential part of my experience, I don’t want it to define my exchange. It was difficult for me because I missed my family more than I thought I would. I always wanted to be talking with them, and I often felt left out because I wasn’t back home doing our normal summer activities. I don’t think I ever want to leave my family for that long again!

My exchange wasn’t all good or all bad - it was a mix of both, much like the everyday life we live.

The next time you ask someone “How was your exchange?” just know that there is so much more to share than what you may expect. The person you ask isn’t being rude or purposely holding out information from you - an exchange is such a surreal experience that it can be hard to know where to start describing it.