By Francesca Lombardo.
What they say about an international exchange is true: You don’t come back as the same person you were before you left. Whether it is for a year or six months, on another continent or an Erasmus experience somewhere in Europe, you will come back as a completely different person. Before leaving, you try to prepare yourself – reading articles after articles about living in another country, learning everything you can about that country’s culture, and talking to people who just returned from their time abroad. But nothing prepares you for the feelings and experiences you are going to have because you are a unique person, and everybody’s experience is different.
Many international students here at the University of Aberdeen think that, since they are already studying abroad for their degree, they don’t need to apply for Erasmus or Exchange in another country, and I used to think the same. However, during my second year, I started to have this feeling tugging at me every time I heard people speaking about Exchange or traveling to other foreign countries.
Then I understood: I wanted to see more. I love travelling – and I usually use every chance that I can to do so -, but this was different. The realisation that I could live in a whole different country for six months or a year, rather than just a short visit, just hit me. I immediately went to speak to my personal tutor who warned me that going abroad during the third year would mean that the grades I get at my host university would not count towards my degree. Despite the warnings and the risks, I decided to apply. My choices were Australia, Canada, and the United States.
When I got my acceptance letter for the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada, I could not believe it; before I knew it, I was on a flight to Canada, leaving Aberdeen and my home country of Italy behind. Nothing compares to the thrill that I felt once I was there. New landscapes, new people, new culture. The university was great, and the business school programmes were pretty similar to the ones offered in Aberdeen. However, the workload took me by surprise. While in Aberdeen, we are used to having only a few assignments per semester; in Canada, I found myself trying to cope with weekly deadlines for four different courses. Despite that, I managed to find the time to make friends, to travel around, to participate in social events, and to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with my host family.
Needless to say, I had to face problems that when I was in Aberdeen seemed small but in Canada looked almost impossible to overcome. For example, my bank card was lost in the post. This meant I had to use another one which cost me loads of commissions every time I used it. Sometimes, I would feel lonely, missing my family, my friends in Aberdeen, or just Scotland itself. Even though Canada is a Western country, I still perceived it to be very different from the UK and Europe in general. Like everything in life, my international exchange experience had its ups and downs. Regardless, I made good friends that I knew I would be in contact with even after coming back home and still enjoyed my university courses.
Although you don’t realise it immediately, throughout your exchange, you gain so many valuable skills. For instance, you learn to adapt your life to a new country’s way of living and to communicate with people from entirely different backgrounds. Furthermore, you face challenges that will help you become more organised and punctual with your work.
When you’re on exchange, time flies, and before you know it, you are back home, telling everyone willing to listen about how great your experience was and how much you miss your new friends. So, go. Don’t think twice about submitting your application because when you look back, you won’t even remember why you had doubts in the first place.