Reflections on a Year of Studying Abroad

My exchange is finally coming to an end: I had the final class of my exchange on Wednesday, and this is my final blog post! It seems bizarre that things are wrapping up already. And while I’m happy to be done with schoolwork, my feelings about being done with my exchange are much more mixed (and by mixed, I mean SAD).

I thought I would spend my final post telling student life readers all of the reasons they should go on exchange if they get the chance. But then I realized that list would be way too long. So, at risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, if you want to do an exchange, just do it!

Instead of writing you a thousand-point list of the wonderful things about exchange, I think I’ll just sign off with a slightly jumbled post about my reflections and musings on my exchange experience. Without further ado, here are my big three takeaways from doing an exchange:

  1. A school year is a very short time. When I finished the first semester of my exchange in December, I wasn’t planning to stay in Edinburgh for the year – I had only registered for one semester of exchange. At some point though, I starting panicking, feeling like four months wasn’t enough time. I decided to extend my exchange, but now that I’ve finished my second semester, I’m having the exact same thoughts! Exchanges go by so, so fast. Which is great – it means you’re having fun! But it also means that time passes a bit too quickly for my taste.
  1. Even though a school year is short , lot’s of stuff changes. Mainly, you! That might sound a little bit cheesy, but it’s true. You learn a lot by going on exchange, you have a lot of amazing, new experiences, and you gain new perspective. But other things change as well: the school you’re going to, your academic interests, the city you live in, your relationships with your friends and family. For something that went by so quickly, my exchange managed to pack a lot of change in. The great news is that most of that change is a good thing.
  1. Living in another country is really, really cool. And hard. And Scary. And super fun. And a million other things. I’ve travelled quite a bit, and I’ve lived short-term in other places, but I’ve never really lived for a significant chunk of time, alone, in a foreign country. It took me by surprise how different it was from just travelling somewhere or staying for a short time. You get to know another culture much better than you ever could visiting, and you make friends you would never meet otherwise. You also have to deal with a lot of curveballs and homesickness and hard things, but I think that comes with the territory. Living abroad is something that is really different from any other international experience you can have – and exchange is probably one of the greatest opportunities you’ll ever have to do it.

I hope that gives you a taste of what you can hope to get from going on exchange. And I secretly hope that it also convinces anyone reading this that they should absolutely, without a doubt participate in an exchange if they want to and if they can. Keep in mind, these are just my experiences – yours will probably be different, and I think everyone takes something different away from their exchange. But I think the universal thing people take away is a huge collection of new experiences that they’ll look back on and be really happy and grateful for. And in my case, I’m also taking away a pretty impressive (if I say so myself) ability to do a Scottish accent. Mission accomplished.