‘Spending a year abroad is an amazing experience, that teaches you a lot of things.’ I am sure among you there are lots of students who have said this to themselves, considered the possibility of studying abroad, but then never followed up on it. This post wants to make you reconsider this possibility. Studying abroad sounds all exciting, but what exactly are the benefits of being an exchange student? Here are just a couple of them.
- You get to visit a new country and experience a new culture.
This is one of the main reasons why people choose to study abroad. Living and studying in a new country is a thrilling experience, through which you can expand your horizons. You become familiar with places that would have otherwise remained unknown to you. You also get to know a new culture, new customs and bits of the history of the country that becomes the second-home for you during the year or semester that you spend there.
- Everything is new and exciting.
We all love beginnings, and this is exactly how starting a year abroad feels like. Everything around you is new and fascinating. You see new places, you meet new people and you learn to manage new situations. The difference in culture adds to the fascination of this experience. Every small cultural difference make you say ‘wow’, or at least ‘that’s interesting’ or ‘strange’. (I remember my shock when I found out, for instance, that in the Netherlands they give presents to children when Saint-Nicolas is celebrated, on the 6th December, more than they do during the actual Christmas days. It was like finding out again that Santa Claus doesn’t exist!)
- You are put outside your comfort zone and learn to adapt.
Whilst everything new is exciting, you will also have to deal with not so pleasant things. Not knowing your way around the campus or the city, or how to use the library search engine, or where to go when your bike broke – these all can add up and make you feel like you are struggling to fit in. Worry not- this is not probably the case. It is normal not to know how everything works in a place that is totally new to you. And when this gets frustrating, just remember that this is part of the beauty of being abroad. You are forced sometimes to go outside your comfort zone and adapt to certain things, and learn to do things that you’ve never done before. And believe me, if you’re always playing it safe, than you’re never going to learn anything.
- You get to study your subject from a different perspective.
By this I don’t mean that they are going to teach you a new way of calculating the pH of a solution or a new constructivist theory. The authors, the facts, the calculations and formulas will probably be the same. But you are definitely going to learn how to approach them differently. Every university has its own way of teaching students and this does make a difference. In the Netherlands, they use the PBL method, which is somehow similar to the tutorials discussion method that we use in England. However, the discussions tend to be more intense and there is also a student who chairs them (a different one for every tutorial). For me, therefore, PBL was easier to adapt to, but exchange students coming from Italy, for instance, found it more difficult because in Italy they only have lectures and no tutorials at all. And even if it is not a case of experiencing a new teaching method, just the simple fact that you are in a group of people which are less likely to have a similar background to yours makes the discussions take way more unexpected turns.
- You meet people from all over the world.
This is true – especially if you come to Maastricht. I have never seen such a multi-cultural place. This is one of the reasons why I love this city. Walking in to my tutorials, I expected to meet a lot of Dutch people, but I was surprised when my colleagues were coming from Germany, France, Belgium, Slovakia, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Colombia – just to list a few. And even if you go to a city where the ‘locals’ have the majority, you will still get to know all the other exchange students, who come from so many other countries.
- You learn a new language.
Or not. It all depends on you. But since you are going to live in a different country for at least a semester and be surrounded by a certain language, you are probably going to end up knowing the basic phrases even if you do not put any effort into learning the language of the country. However, my advice would be to take advantage of the fact that you are in that country and that, if you are an ERASMUS student, you are going to get a free language course and certificate, and actually put some effort into learning a new language. It is worth it!
- You learn to value home.
Homesickness is inevitable when you are abroad. There are going to be moments when you just want to give it all up and go home, hug your parents and friends, and never let them go again. You are going to miss the food, the customs, the TV shows from back home – everything. You are going to feel lonely and that’s okay – it is absolutely normal. Moreover, it is important that you experience this, because this will make you understand how important is having that place that you name home and who are the persons or what are the things that you value the most by associating them with ‘home’.
I tried to keep this list short, but there are tens of reasons why you should seriously consider studying abroad. Anyone thinking about it? Let me know if you need any help! 🙂