By Valtteri Manninen | June 3, 2019
The final stretch of exchange has snuck up on us. I’m not sure when or how this happened, but this is the situation in which I now find myself. I had my last classes and presentations last week, and now I just need to muster up the strength to write one final report before signing off on Friday. I’m lucky in that I don’t have any exams this period, but I’d like to wish good luck to all of you who do—You’ve got this!
I’ve also effectively run out of travel money, so no further trips have been planned for the foreseeable future. I spent a lovely weekend in Malta a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I’d illustrate this post with some scenic snaps. They have nothing to do with the subject matter, but Malta is beautiful so there you go.
(I also burned my skin pretty bad on that trip to the point where a classmate I had never talked to came up to me and asked if I’d been in the sun lately. I refuse to believe that it is common knowledge you have to reapply sunscreen several times a day?)
Looking back, my semester abroad has run fairly smoothly and has all in all been an overwhelmingly positive experience. However, there are a few things which I feel like I should discuss to help those of you considering going on exchange (which, by the way, I absolutely think you should do).
In preparation for my exchange, as so many of us do, I attended an event at my home university where students returning from their semesters abroad told us about their experiences. I remember vividly one person saying that exchange will be the best and worst time of your life. Yeah right, I remember thinking. How bad can it be? I was already studying outside my home country, having moved to Scotland when I was nineteen, so I assumed exchange would be nothing new under the sun for me. I was mistaken.
Culture shocks are inevitable when moving to a different country, whether you have done it before or not, as I discovered. There are many online resources that describe the experience of culture shock far more eloquently and in depth than I intend to here; generally speaking, however, you tend to go through different phases.
When you first move to a new country, you are usually excited and bewildered: you suddenly have a hundred new friends, and you have no time to miss home as you are busy taking part in fun activities, such as the ISN Arrival Week here in Maastricht. Everything is new, exciting, and wonderful. This ‘honeymoon’ phase lasts a while—maybe weeks, maybe months—until everyday life kicks in.
As time passes, you inevitably start missing your home, family, and friends. Everything in your host country is stupid and everything back home is better. It is good to recognize that this is just the way the human mind works. What has always helped me in these moments is getting together with other people from your home country and venting about everything that’s wrong about the host country in your own language. It really does help to let off some steam. Eventually, you will find peace of mind and come to accept that the way things work in your host country is not necessarily worse, just different, and you start to appreciate both places for what they are.
Towards the end of exchange, you might start to experience a surreal, bittersweet feeling of being torn between two places. You might be excited to go back home, but at the same time, you feel sad about leaving and having to say goodbye to your new friends, some of whom might literally live on the other side of the planet, as is the case for me. I can see that many of us here who are leaving soon are trying to make the absolute most of our remaining days on exchange.
Another important—and sometimes difficult—thing to accept is that when you return home, things will not be the way they were before you left. I somehow always assume that time at home has just stopped and will not resume until I get back. Depending on how long you were away, some things might have changed drastically. Keeping in touch with friends and family back home throughout your exchange will obviously prepare you for this to some extent, but it will always feel a little bit strange to go back home.
As you can see, the title of this post is rather deceptive as I’m not really offering a whole lot of solutions here. We are all different, and it’s important to find the ways to manage stress and feelings of homesickness that work for you. Call your mum. Skype with your friends back home. Establish new routines in your host country. Exercise. And most importantly, enjoy your exchange because it will be over before you know it.