Being an exchange student is a totally different thing from being a regular student abroad. When you first decided to pursue your undergraduate study overseas, you planned it for a long time. You took English courses since senior high school to improve your English. You studied months, maybe years earlier to prepare yourself for the TOEFL/IELTS test. You attended many international education seminars, exhibitions, and workshops to get more information about studying abroad. In your mind, you already have this goal that you will continue your undergraduate study in a particular country. Being a regular student abroad, is a long-term plan.
But being an exchange student is not like that. It’s a thrilling rollercoaster ride! After you graduated from senior high school, you enrolled as a regular student in an Indonesian university. You meet your friends, listen to your lecturers, and take final exams as a normal student. After class, maybe you hang out with your best buddies, join organization activities, and then at night you go back home or your kos-kosan. It’s a normal life as a normal Indonesian student! Maybe you feel bored of this routine, or you accidentally see an advertisement about the student exchange program at your university. You pull up your courage and try applying for it. Then suddenly, your life change. After completing the application process, you are now officially accepted as an exchange student. In a blink, you are going abroad! You are going to leave all these routine life in Indonesia and move to another country, and start your new life as a student in a foreign university.
When I first received the news that I got a Global Korean Scholarship to go exchange in Korea, it seemed unreal. For the past two years, I am a regular business student at Binus University. Every day I go there, study, meet my friends, do home works…and then boom! The next month, I will be living in another country! It was like a dream. Today you are here, but the next month, you will not be here anymore. Everything will change in an instant!
As an exchange student, we ended up adjusting to a whole new life altogether. Living a new life wasn’t easy. We become a stranger in a strange land, with a foreign language that is not our mother tongue. We have to learn new cultures, new environment, new language (if you go to a country that doesn’t use English as their main language), new faces, and a new home. Everything is strange, unfamiliar. It could be frustrating at first because it is so different from what we are used to.
But time passes by, and we learned to enjoy it. We learned to laugh, enjoy, make friends, and stay awake for countless nights to finish those assignments. The new friends we met became our best friends. We eat together, hang out together, play together, go for a trip together. We build so many memories with them. We become used to our new life there. Now everything is so familiar, so comfortable. Before we realize it, our new and “strange” country already feels like home. But suddenly it was already the end of our exchange period, and we had to say goodbye to everything we’ve built. Our roommate, our best friends, our university, our life… our everything.
When I first arrive to Korea, I didn’t think it would be so hard to say goodbye in the end. But I was wrong. For me, saying goodbye was the hardest thing of being an exchange student. I cried when I saw my friends packed their things and finally left. Seeing how their room suddenly became empty really made me realize that this life will soon be over. I didn’t feel so sad when I left my family and friends in Indonesia because I knew that after 5 months, I will see them again. It was just a short farewell. But parting with your exchange friends, I don’t know when I could meet them again. It could be never. So this goodbye could be the last time I could see them. I broke down into tears when my Korean roommate accompanied me until the bus station to the airport.
When you arrive at your home country, you will feel all sorts of emotions mixed up. It’s like a rollercoaster ride. You’re happy to be back and then sad that your exchange period has ended. Because it resembles those bumps of culture shock, it is often called as a reverse culture shock. It describes the ups and downs which those returning from an extended period overseas have in common. You may be uncertain how to adjust the experience overseas with the life you “left” back home. Many things might have changed while you’re gone, and some changes may be more notable than others. You might feel “new” to your old group of friends. You may discover that you have grown apart. Perhaps your old best friend now considers someone else their closest friend. You have spent time away from each other, and because of this, you need to catch up with what the other has done. You might feel shocked because of your home country’s culture, weather, or maybe the transportation system.
After you return and get back into the routine of campus, your nostalgia for your exchange life may come up. Despite a busy schedule, you can’t stop thinking about or missing your time overseas. You look up to the photos, videos, and any other memorable things you had. You start to compare “this” life and “that” life you had there. The task of integrating that experience with the life you lead at home can prove stressful but this is an understandable and even normal part of the study abroad experience. You are readjusting.
So, how do you combine the old and new? Well, as an exchange student, you have lived among a different group and experienced different cultures and values. The longer your stay, the more likely you will have adopted some of these “new” things as your own. The trick for you is to find a balance. Don’t forsake habits acquired while on exchange in an effort to ease the transition to life back home. Implement the good values and habits you get from outside. This makes you get the most out of your experience and be a multi-cultural person.
So..are you ready to take the exciting ride?
“Being an exchange student means letting your heart be divided into several small pieces and let them be taken to every corner of the world .. and hope that one day they all meet again.”-NN