Going on exchange involves a lot of planning. You plan where you’re going to live, what classes you’re going to take, what flights you’re going to book to get there. Subconsciously, you also make other, less concrete plans about things like the friends you’ll make, the trips you’re going to take, all the cool new experiences you’ll have.
You guys can probably already see where this is going, right? You arrive on you’re meticulously planned exchange, ready to put those plans in action, and then….all of those plans fly out the window.
Sometimes it’s great when this happens. The things that you haven’t planned for can be the best kinds of things: spontaneous trips, or friendships with unexpected people. But, I’m not going to lie, sometimes things not going according to plan can feel like the end of the world. Especially when you’re thousands of miles from home.
In my first semester of exchange, it seemed like some kind of dark force was conspiring against me to make all of my plans go wrong. I can look back on it now and laugh it off, but at the time, it was hard. The house I rented was full of mould, and I had to find a new place on super short notice; I spent weeks rearranging my schedule and trying to get into all the courses I needed; I got really sick early on and missed out on lots of activities; a box of things that I had shipped never arrived; and doing everything from getting a bank account to a cellphone turned into a weeks-long battle.
I had a little bit of a meltdown when all of those things went wrong. With hindsight, it wasn’t so bad. But when you’re away from friends and family, in a new place, trying to have fun but also trying to solve all kinds of problems, life can get really, really stressful.
I know this post sounds like a big downer, but there is a bright side! I promise! The good news is that now, a few months later, I know that everything really does work out in the end. The problems got solved, things fell into place, and pretty quickly, I was having the awesome time that I envisioned exchange would be. And I don’t want to sound too much like an after school special, but I feel like I learned something from all that stress.
The problem is that, in the moment, telling yourself that everything will be fine eventually, or that you’ll learn something from hard and stressful times isn’t so comforting. So I thought I would write this post to give you some outside reassurance that even when you’re wonderful, exciting exchange plans go awry, it’ll all work out in the end. And whatever way it works out, the experience might just be cooler because it’s not what you were expecting.
I think maybe the best advice in this area came from my mom, when I called her in a panic at the start of my exchange: embrace your plans not working out! Some other cool thing will happen instead. In the meantime, if you’re stressing out about your exchange plans going wrong, I can highly recommend some ice cream and TV watching to help you through. It works no matter where you are in the world.