STUDENT LIFE / MAY. 11, 2014
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How to Make the Most of Being an Exchange Student

Studying abroad is just about the best thing you can do in college. It’s a fascinating removal from your regular environment, and it’ll help you broaden your identity. During my junior year I had the fortune to study in London for a semester. It was a memorable time in my life and it helped me learn a good deal about myself. Here are some tips on how you can make the most of your time as an exchange student.

Get Out

As a student, it is important for you to stick to a routine and try to fulfill your academic obligations. But, the time you spend abroad as a student is a bit different. Most colleges structure exchange programs in such a way that you have ample free time, because they know that their young people will want to go out and about and experience their surroundings even more than usual. So don’t spend too much of your time obsessing over your studies.

When I was in London, I had an hour long class in the morning and the rest of the day off. Yes, it was a little slice of heaven. The program filled the rest of our time with trips to art galleries, the theater, and trips out to the country. And then, there were our own personal forays out into the world during the evenings.

You should really push yourself to be more outside oriented during your study abroad time. It’s the only time in your life that you’ll essentially be subsidised to experience a new location abroad. Spend time outside your apartment as much as you can.

Mingle With Local Students

I wasn’t associated with a local university during my stay in London, but I wish I had been. Local students will know the lay of the land better and will be able to point out great spots to hang out and watch the days pass. They’ll help you avoid tourist traps and give you information about your new land that only a resident could know.

It’s also interesting to see the difference in approaches that students on a different side of the world have. Personally, I felt like a European approach to school was more “Dear Professor, bless me with knowledge”, while our American mindset was more “Yo Teach, my parents pay your salary”. It was less an issue of respect though, and more a difference of orientation towards the learning process. While questioning your elders assumptions were important to the different people I met, they did it in the sense of expanding their mindset instead of challenging older people because they were untrustworthy buffoons.

But Don’t Shun Tourism

Though you’re an exchange student and not a tourist, you shouldn’t ignore tourist hot spots. These areas are popular for a reason, and even though they’ll be overloaded with people snapping photographs, you’ll gain a deeper sense of your locale by visiting these famous sights. The point of your time abroad is to see as much as you can. Ignoring tourist spots won’t help with that.

Lose Yourself in the City and Revel in Anonymity

I recommend that you become an exchange student in a large and vibrant city. It’s a great experience and a great way to observe the different parts of urban life.


If you’re in a gigantic and popular city, a really fascinating experience of melting happens. You become intensely anonymous and that anonymity can be both frightening and freeing. On the one hand, I remember wandering streets alone and going to listen to blues jams by myself as well. I’ve done these same things in smaller towns since, and it never compares to wandering a busy city street. In small areas, there’s a sense of recognition that will haunt you, particularly if you don’t feel entirely comfortable with yourself. In big cities, your presence is simply absent. It’s frightening but it’s also remarkably freeing as well. Making a drunken fool out of yourself in a busy bar and getting blacklisted doesn’t really carry much weight, because there’s hundreds all around, each with their own group of strangers.

Integrate Your Personal Experiences into Your Academics

Find a way to relate your experiences in your new country to some of the classes you’re taking. If you have a good program and good professors, they will have already done that for you, structuring their classes in a way that complements your exploration. If you don’t, have a chat with your professor and try to find a way to write an essay that will explore a conception of your new geographical location.

This sort of integration is a great way to sum up and learn to articulate what you’ve felt and learned in your months abroad. It’ll help you puzzle through your own personal assumptions about culture and your varied experiences.

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