Should you go on exchange?

With the semester coming quickly to a close and my time at University of Edinburgh wrapping up, I’m feeling a little bit nostalgic. My exchange has gone by way too fast, and it’s gotten me thinking about whether I would do it over again. Was spending my last semester at U of T studying abroad the right decision? And is exchange maybe just one of those things everyone should do?

The short answer to that question is a absolutely, definitely, positively, 100% yes. If you’re too busy trying to dig yourself out from under a pile of essay writing, you can just stop reading here and go start your exchange application now.

My home for the last three months: University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh, my home for the semester. One of the perks of exchange = beautiful new campus to explore.

But if you’ve got more time, the long answer is a little bit more complicated. And a little bit more cheesy, sorry. Going on exchange wasn’t quite what I expected. It was hard and stressful and sometimes exhausting. But it was also insanely fun, exciting, and unforgettable. And (here’s the cheesiness I was talking about), it helped me grow in a lot of ways: as a friend, as a person, in my academics, and in my ability to be tough and figure things out for myself.

I was thinking about making a list of all the wonderful things about going away on exchange to try to entice all of the hesitant would-be exchange participants out there, but I realized that the wonderful things about going on exchange will be different for everyone.

Lovely friends from around the world are also a major perk.
Lovely friends from around the world are also a major perk.

There are some standard lines that people pull out when they’re talking about the pros of going on exchange: you’ll make lots of new friends from all over the world, you’ll get to experience life at a different university, and in a different city, you’ll be able to travel and have tons of new experiences, etc., etc. The list of great things honestly is endless. And I’m not saying this endless list isn’t important. But, looking back on my exchange, I’ve realized that the things people take away from their exchange are wildly different from person to person.

Edinburgh showing off. And quickly becoming my favourite city.
Edinburgh showing off. And quickly becoming my favourite city.

For me, the most valuable thing about going on exchange was the experience of living in a foreign city and realizing that I could live away from home and learn to love being somewhere new. But I did a quick survey of my friends who I’ve met on exchange, and asked them what the most valuable aspect of their exchange has been. And they all had really different answers. For some of them, the coolest part was meeting new friends from all around the world, or getting to learn about and be immersed in a new culture, or being able to spend lots of time travelling to new places. The point is, you don’t know what the greatest thing about exchange will be, until you take the plunge and go. It’s something that you can only experience yourself. And it probably won’t turn out the way you think!

So the moral of the story is this: if you want to go on exchange, but you’re hesitating about it, just go. It will be fun, it will be scary, and you’ll experience amazing things. And you’ll definitely get something valuable out of it – even if you don’t quite know what that is yet, and even if what you get isn’t what you expect.

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