Everyone says that University ‘is the best time of your life‘ and that during that time ‘the world is your oyster‘! Slightly cliché things to say, however I find that clichés always seem to be clichés for a good reason – because they’re true! Perhaps you, like myself, are already completed university or perhaps you’re in the thick of things right now. In either case, I wanted to share the highlight of my university experience – my exchange – and why I think it is important for everyone to try it at some point.
I will kick things off with a little background before I dive head first into why I think an international exchange is so important. My university exchange was to Thailand, mind you, this was not my first rodeo! I had done exchange a couple times before; once to France and once to Quebec. This was the next big step for me to go completely out of my comfort zone. I lived in the most populous city in Thailand for a semester in my third year of university; Bangkok. It was so different than school in Ottawa, that was for sure! We wore uniforms, lived in fancy dorm rooms that had a pool and had the ability to travel to anywhere in South East Asia at the drop of a hat! This was my kinda place 🙂 The university I attended was Chulalonkorn, this was the ‘King’s University’ because it was found by King Vajravudh of Siam. From my semester there, I made a heap of friends from around the world who I still keep in touch with today!
Why you should go on exchange:
Forces you out of your comfort zone
I think the BIGGEST learning experience is when you make the effort to do things that you’re not comfortable with. I am not saying you should always be uncomfortable, but it is so healthy to push your limits and grow. By going on exchange, or simply by traveling, you learn so much.
You learn things that you wouldn’t naturally pick up in a classroom setting and you become more comfortable with things in the world by pushing yourself. Some of the things you will learn are traveling alone or eating a meal alone, relying on yourself and only yourself, being resourceful with the items that you packed and taking that time to journal and reflect on your journey.
I find that at home it is so easy to fall into the same pattern of going to the same stores, same cafes and the same places of entertainment. When you’re traveling you should try new things and see new places the whole time, otherwise why are you there? This pushes you to pay attention as to how to get from point A to B.
Things have changed since I went on exchange or first started traveling. For one, I did not have the ability to take a smart phone everywhere and use wifi! I had to use maps and ask people for directions! Having said that, if you’re using a smartphone take the time to understand the map and how the area is laid out. I think that this skill builds an inherent compass and builds confidence and independence!
Ahhh money, everyone’s favourite topic! Unfortunately the tough truth is that travel is on the more expensive end of hobbies. HOWEVER if you’re smart about it, there are so many ways to save money!
The first stage of learning comes when you’re booking your flights and accommodations. Do your research! See where you can save and where you’re okay to splurge a little. The next big lesson comes when you’re on the road. I always found this was a bit of a test for myself. I would set aside a budget of what I would allow myself to spend for the entire exchange. From there, I would budget for things on the go. To me it was much more important to spend the money doing ‘mini’ trips in South East Asia and seeing more places, than going out for fancy drinks or dinners in Bangkok. I figured I could do that back in Canada. Mind you, if your goal is to stay in one spot and see and do as much as possible, then you adjust your spending that way. Budgeting is a KEY skill for life in general and traveling makes you learn it real quick!
While travelling, most people that you will interact with on a daily basis will have a completely different background and upbringing than you have. There is something so special and exciting in learning about other cultures. Being open, aware and even embracing the differences is healthy and quite fun! Be open to change; it is rewarding.
Time management / organization
Finally, you learn LOGISTICS! From the very beginning of your exchange you will need to be booking flights, figuring out accommodations, sorting through all the documents of your university; there are so many things to organize! Sometimes it can get a little overwhelming. But, once you master multitasking and time management you can take these skills with you into any job for the rest of your life. Each time that I travel to a new place I need to get my ducks in a row – with transportation, budgets, planning out things I want to do and see, planning out the best route to take and so on and so forth becomes a true act of planning.
What do you think? Are you ready to push yourself outside of your comfort zone? Have I missed an amazing reasons to go on exchange? Let us know in the comments below!