Five Things to Remember When Planning Your Exchange

An exchange: to go or not to go. It’s a difficult decision and there are so many factors to keep in mind as you decide. It comes highly recommended, but it’s not for everyone. If you’ve made the initial decision to leave your home country and university to move abroad, congratulations!

I’m about a month into my exchange in Aarhus, Denmark. So far, it’s been scary, embarrassing, anxiety-inducing—and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In this first month, I learned a few essential things you might find helpful as you plan your own exchange!

I see London, do you see France?

Big cities, they’re the key. I chose to travel to Aarhus because I told myself that I wasn’t going to do a lot of traveling outside my host country while on exchange, but it was a lie. Other than the U.S., Canada is pretty far away from the rest of the world. And being so close now, makes me itch to see more of it. But the city I’m living in doesn’t come with the main benefit of large-scale European cities: super cheap, short flights. I only have two days of classes at the moment and now would be the best time of my life to travel; but, tickets are still too expensive and always include a stop-over. If there’s any part of you that wants to see a city or attraction that’s not in your exchange destination, make sure you can easily get there. Now is the time.

When Choosing the Exchange Location, Don’t Ask for Advice Until You Have a Top 5

It’s okay to break from the norm. Everyone goes to Europe, more specifically, the U.K. and it’s okay if you’re headed there as well. But if you chose this location for any other reason than passion, don’t go. It’s scary moving to a place you’ve barely heard of, but it’s also an incredible adventure. When I told my family that I was headed to Denmark, everyone assumed I would be living in Copenhagen. When I corrected them with Aarhus, I was met with confused faces. No one had ever heard of this city before and they questioned my choice. Before settling on Aarhus, I had considered quite a few other countries, some that were less “safe” than others. I was constantly reminded of the dangers of going to certain countries and was pushed to choose a more familiar, possibly central European, English speaking country. This is what my family and close friends considered to be safe—but most importantly, they thought it would be easier. I ended up choosing a very safe country, but you don’t have to. I highly recommend making a list of the most important factors you want from your exchange. Forget things like attractions—focus on the things you want to learn and how you want to grow and develop as a person. Then, search for a country and choose the one that can help you reach these goals.

An English-Speaking Country is Not Your Greatest Worry

Danish is an incredibly difficult language. It’s got letters I didn’t know existed and don’t even try pronouncing the words. This sentence: “Rød grød med fløde,” which translates to, “Red pudding with cream,” is an accidental Danish tongue twister and I’ve been practicing for weeks how to say it. But, to the point: living in a non-English-speaking country has been difficult. However, English is the international language, meaning we have an immense advantage. All international students coming from countries that speak a variety of languages come here and speak English, not Danish. And, everyone I have encountered here speaks English very well. While this may not be the case in all countries, most large cities whose first language is not English will be able to accommodate this language. And if not, get the Google Translate app—I use this every day to do groceries, read signs and have conversations with those of my friends whose English is not as good. My point is, not speaking the national language is the least of your problems and can actually provide a much-needed icebreaker when meeting new people. Be confident and willing to learn—and you should be fine! This should not be the reason you choose your host country.

If at All Possible, Don’t Live in International Student Housing

Housing in Denmark is not easy to find, but when weeks went by without any word from university housing letting me know if I was accepted or not, I panicked and looked elsewhere. I lucked out and found an amazing sublet where I have three Danish roommates. While living with international students would make it easier to bond due to the common lack of close relationships, living with Danish people has really allowed me to integrate myself into the unique and rich culture that Danes have and love to share. Plus, whenever I have a question about my host country—and I have many—I have three willing Danes to ask. And let’s be honest, moving back into a dorm is not always equated with living the dream. That being said, if you have enough stressors on your mind and are offered university housing, I advise taking it—it’s a lot easier.

The University Itself is Not the Most Important Factor

Personally, the academic part of my university career is super important to me. So, when I was researching exchange destinations, the university I would be studying at was an integral part of my decision. But, like I said before, I only have two days of classes at the moment, and while these classes are revolutionary in teaching style and I’m really appreciating the information, I spend the majority of my life here outside of the university. If the classes you’re taking are electives and you’re not particularly interested in worldwide education systems, choose the country first, then the university. After all, an exchange is so much more than just taking classes in another country.

All in all, I highly recommend going on exchange. The choice in and of itself is already a huge one, but don’t be afraid to be adventurous. Go to a country you’ve never heard of, set a goal of learning the national language, and most importantly: be open-minded and you’ll adapt in no time. Stay safe, friends, and have the time of your life!

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