Some people turn a blind eye on exchange programs, questioning the benefit over cost and time spent. I beg to differ as I find the experience and network gained during my exchange program ultimately rewarding. It has been almost five years since the day I started the program in 2013, yet the advantages are still relevant to date.
Everyone has his/her own story, but here are some of my takeaways as someone pursuing bachelor degree in Indonesia, prior and after the exchange program:
1. Participating on an exchange program enables you to quickly grasp the differences between your time in Indonesia and abroad
Exchange programs are generally shorter in length in comparison to full time study program, and this enables you to maintain the versatility of living in two different places. You will meet new faces, hop on new transportation system, and as time goes by, living differently according to local customs. However, as you realized you have grown accustomed to the local norms, it’s just another week until going back to Indonesia. Upon arrival, the damp weather will make you long for that drier climate and the dynamics of traffic movements in Indonesian big cities shall get you frustrated. Worry not, as it is just temporary and you will be ready up and running to live your life in Indonesia once more, only now with broader perspective, wider network, and deeper self-consciousness.
2. It challenges you to adapt and make the most out of your time there
As exchange programs are usually shorter in length than a full-time study, it is imperative that you adapt to new environment, people, and way of life rapidly. This is the one thing I really like about being in an exchange program. At my first full-time job, I was always demanded to be highly adaptable to different clients and tailored the services offered accordingly. I believe the exchange program has sharpened my adaptability skills even further by exposing me to various kinds of people in a wide array of projects I did in Europe.
3. It doesn’t let you settle down
When you just get used to how things work overseas, it’s just about time to go back and readjust. This will prepare you in some ways to constantly challenge the status quo and fuel your drive to move forward when time gets mundane. After a few years returning to Indonesia, the relentless thrill of chasing something new, motivation to work on different projects and take different responsibilities have defined me and some part of it I owe to my short time of living abroad. In a world of fast changing trend, you need to embrace changes and it would be a lot easier when you have already been exposed to it early on.
4. On the other hand, you get to expand your network and reduce the risk of losing your friends back home since you won’t be away for that long
Some people who spent years abroad and then went back to Indonesia would need to start over and their readjustment would be much harder. Since my exchange program fits comfortably within college years, I needed to go back for another year to finish my degree. It helps me to rekindle with my friends and most importantly reconnect to activities, clubs, part time job and a nonprofit project I left when I decided to embark on the program. It also allowed me some time to explore job opportunities and other post-graduation possibilities like graduate school preparation, for instance.
5. It’s also really good on your career prospective post-graduation, without the administrative hassle
Hiring companies usually put you to an advantage when you have spent some time abroad, be it for a project, study, or a non-profit cause. However, when applying a job in a public-sector organization, an overseas degree can put you to some disadvantage. There needs to be an adjustment of your graduation certificate to some national standard which adds another process to the application. When you earn a degree from an Indonesian academic institution, it is easier to apply for those positions and the exchange program taken may add further strength to your job application. Several colleagues of mine actually used their bachelor’s degree certificate even though they have earned master’s degree from reputable universities abroad.
There will always be pros and cons on whether you should go for an exchange abroad or not. At the end of the day, it all depends on your goals and how you want to achieve them. As for me, my semester abroad has opened doors to experience living independently, make friends from all over the world, travel to different places, and bolster my chance of survival in a cutthroat job market. Furthermore, living in France also helped me practice my French skills to an extent where I am able to speak confidently with natives, despite some grammatical imperfections.