How Being an Exchange Student Changed Me (so far)
written by myrra kate
I look at my planner and think, wow it’s already been almost three months.
Almost three months of living in a foreign land where I am considered one of the strangers. Almost three months of tiptoeing through a life that’s so different from the one I had back home. Almost three months of adapting to countless things — the temperature, food, daylight savings time, educational system, you name it. Almost three months of meeting different people from different countries and cultures and with different languages. Almost three of building a home away from home — brick by brick, one day after another.
And I think, I wonder if the ‘me’ i left in my home country – the one who I left in the exact moment the plane departed going here – would be proud of me. I think she must be. She’s in the past after all; and my past self has always been what I chose to compete with, not anybody else.My past self has always been what I chose to compete with, not anybody else.Click To Tweet
Throughout the first two months of being an exchange student, I’ve gradually taken steps farther away from my limits. In the past, I’ve always had this desire to know what’s beyond my horizons. I realize now that there actually is no horizon. You just go farther and farther and farther; but then, there’s no wall or signage that says, “STOP. You are now at the end.” Because that’s life — your only choice is to move forward. And often times, most of the limitations we have are the only ones we set for ourselves.
So, either you’re wanting to be a foreign exchange student like me or you’re somehow interested in my journey, this is for you. I am presenting you, through this post, how this exchange program has changed me over the course of almost three months (so far). This is also not to sound like bragging but rather a narration of the things I reflected about myself. And I cannot also say that exchange or Erasmus programs will ultimately be the best decision you’ve ever made but when you’re taking that step, you gotta be warned (as I have also been told beforehand): your life will never be the same again.
How Being an Exchange Student Changed Me in Two Months
I have been less afraid to speak out my thoughts.
I remember the feeling I had back then whenever I wanted to speak up or recite in classes or conversations – the fast pace of my heartbeat because I just felt so involved and interested in the topic – but did not. I’ve always had such a chaotic mind but when I get that eureka or an idea or response that I really would want to share, it’s either I a) ignore it, b) keep quiet, c) say it just to my closest friends, or d) just write it out. I couldn’t say I’m not grateful for this because, in the first place, it’s what made me want to continuously write. But it’s also somehow torturing because I know that each of our voices deserves to be heard.
Thankfully, the past two months have changed me in this aspect positively. I still cave into my thoughts every now and then but I also already know that maybe, my thoughts deserve a place in this world. I’m not frightened to zip my mouth anymore when I know that I’ve got a statement to tell or a point to argue. I can now recite in classes even if my classmates sometimes intimidate me (uhm, I’m in Masters classes, by the way ??). I can now tell my friends that their joke may have been insulting to me. But through all this, I still consider what other people may feel or think. I’m still an INFJ, after all.
(For example, I still shut my mouth when someone asks, “Where should we eat?” I let other people decide on this one because it is such an overwhelming decision to make. Hahaha!)
I have learned how to socialize without being awkward.
That’s the twist — without being awkward. I knew how to socialize then but I found that the beginnings of conversations are somehow dreadful. I oftentimes feel that I’m just pushing the fact that this person may not even be bothered to talk to me. I almost always feel like I’m so boring to talk to because I don’t let my topics go to waste. I mean, I don’t want to talk to someone for shallow reasons or nonsensical things. I believe conversations must be a way to really know someone, to befriend them, to empathize with them, to know their thoughts, and to share mine as well.
Well, basically, I could still be a boring person to talk to until now. But at least, I have learned how to turn those nonsensical topics – “the weather looks bad today” – to more meaningful conversations – “so what are you planning to do today”. Because hey, when you’re an exchange student, you’re forced to make friends and not just friends you can say goodbye to in an hour but friends who you will treasure until God knows when.
I have become more confident. (Connected to number #1)
Somehow, no matter how many times I remind other people to chin up and keep their heads held high, I always end up doing the opposite. I think that, maybe, a reason for this is that I am such an overthinker. Random thoughts would come up to my mind saying, maybe the strangers in front of you are laughing because you look stupid in your outfit or maybe you will slip and hit the floor and it will be the most embarrassing moment of your life.
You see, those thoughts are hard to push away, let alone escape from. But this exchange program experience has really taught me to stand up tall, walk and talk like you know what you’re doing and saying, and be confident with myself. It actually didn’t teach me; rather, it forced me. And in that process is where I learned how to own myself.
When you’re alone in a city that does not speak your language, a place you cannot call your own, you need (and are required) to be, or at least look, confident. This is so that people will not underestimate you or look at you like you’re different from them. You have to make them feel like you belong. By doing this, you’re lessening the chances of harm that might get to you. Remember the quote, “fake it till you make it”?
I have become more independent.
My Mom has trained me to become independent ever since I was a little girl. I grew up away from her and even though I was living with my relatives who still did some chores for me, I did have the full control over where my life is heading. I made decisions for myself and my Mom was just guiding me through them all.
Until now, I can’t say that I am fully independent. I am still relying on the allowance my parents and my scholarship provide for me. But in the case of traveling, I now know better than just sulking in a corner and worrying about what to do endlessly. I can now navigate the streets of random places alone without being so frightened (and get lost but still find my way back ? Note: Google Maps is life). I am now more responsible for the tasks and chores that I have to do. I can now budget my money and try not to shop impulsively. The list goes on. And I know that it’s all a part of growing up but this exchange program has clearly made me grow as an individual faster than if I haven’t taken this opportunity.
I have learned how to love cooking.
Speaking of budgeting my money, I find that cooking is the best way to save money as an exchange student, or generally as a college student. On my first month here, I spent way too much on food as I was still meeting new friends, going out with them, and trying out new restaurants. Gradually though, I realized that it’s better just to cook my own meals. Besides the satisfying feeling I get whenever I eat something that I made myself, I could save a few euros already. Mind you, every cent of a euro is precious to me. (Note: If you’re an exchange student, money conversion is probably the most painful part.)
I have become more adventurous.
It seems like being adventurous has always been in me. I guess it runs in the blood. Both my parents love traveling and are always on the lookout for new things. Well, same as me.
This exchange program has been a greater level of an adventure though. There are so many opportunities to cross out a lot of things on my bucket list, try out new and different things, travel to different places, and just do things for the first time. It’s amazing, really. As a student, I must have my focus on my studies, of course, but it is almost inevitable to take the chances of living life to the fullest and facing your fears and the uncertainties ahead.
And finally, I have never been more scared of the cold.
This is not a drill. I used to think the winter season is my most favorite season (although of course, there’s no winter in the Philippines) because all the pictures I see on the internet is just so captivating. So when I went here, I was confident that I can survive the cold. Hell, if I survived the early morning freezing cold showers in the Philippines and if I can bite and swallow a cube of ice, then maybe the cold would never bother me anyway. (Quoting Elsa of Frozen film here because why not).
It turns out that I couldn’t be more wrong. The truth hit me right in the stomach. Winter isn’t a joke. The cold isn’t a joke. Especially here in Trento where I’ve been told that the weather really is extremes – when it’s hot, it’s super hot and when it’s cold, it’s freezing cold. So if you are planning to be an exchange student in the winter season, please take it seriously. Bring your Uniqlo heattech (not sponsored but it’s just so helpful) and a bunch of sweaters and long sleeves you can mix and match. That way, you won’t find yourself shaking in the middle of the night or day.
That’s it for this post, loves! Thank you for reading, as always. I hope this post made you realize that every opportunity knocking on your doors brings lots of changes – some of them good, some of them bad. But in the end, they’re always worth opening.
Are you planning to go on exchange? If so, where?
I'm Myrra Kate.
I help female entrepreneurs scale their income and impact by launching transformational online courses.
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