My Experiences on Exchange

Originally published in The Western Gazette on April 20, 2016. 

It is hard know the significance of a moment as it's happening. Usually we find importance in retrospect. When I stepped off of the plane in Copenhagen, Denmark to begin my six-month university exchange, I knew it was a big moment. This was something that I would remember for the rest of my life.

Big moments don’t always have to be happy ones. For me, this was a terrifying moment. It was a moment in which I felt absolutely alone. I no longer had my friends and family from home to comfort me. I was faced with the surreal challenge of living in a new country, trying to communicate with a language I didn’t speak and having to do it all without anyone familiar to help me.

When I first considered going on exchange in my second year at Western, I did a lot of research. I wanted to go somewhere that would challenge me academically, socially and culturally. When I found the University of Copenhagen, I instantly knew that this was where I was meant to go. It would offer me exposure to a new language, a new education system and the incredible culture of Scandinavia. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

The application process for exchange can be quite stressful. You have to get permissions and signatures and transcripts. For anyone interested in going on exchange, I highly recommend not leaving things to the last minute. Coupled with the stress of my class schedule and extracurriculars, trying to finish my application was a large source of stress for me. Then, once I had been accepted, the workload became even more stressful as I had to apply for visas, permits, courses and housing.

The idea of going on exchange can be overwhelming and the process of arranging to live in another country is by no means straightforward or easy. There were moments (especially one in which I was convinced I would not be able to get my Danish residency permit) when I genuinely thought that it might not be worth the struggle.

Fear plays a role in everyone’s life. As a university student, I had often felt afraid of failure — whether that meant failure in a course, failure in a relationship, or failure to adapt to a situation. For a very long time I have been afraid of putting myself in situations that could end badly for me. Exchange has changed that.

After moving to another country and having to completely change my life to adapt to a new culture and school, I do not think that I will be as held back by fear anymore. I can’t imagine anything that could scare me as much as this has. But now I know that I can survive through a truly life-changing experience.

This is not to say that it has all been smooth sailing.

My first week in Denmark was a hard one. I was incredibly homesick and absolutely terrified of not making friends. I spent a lot of time exploring alone and wondering if I would actually be able to survive. I experienced a lot more self-doubt than I am used to. I wondered constantly if I had gotten myself in over my head. Would I disappoint anyone if I decided that I couldn’t do this? And then one morning I woke up and felt a little better. I started to force myself to go out each day and do something new. I went to museums and parks and tourist attractions. I started to make friends. Things fell into place. And now I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

I urge students to take advantage of the exchange program that Western offers. It is an incredible way to see the world and immerse yourself into something completely new. It is a way to make friends and try new things. It is a way to prove to yourself what you are really capable of. And, as I have come to learn, exchange teaches you the importance of home. For me, the most valuable thing that I have learned is that there is no place on earth like home. I have been lucky enough to travel and see incredible parts of the world, but what makes me truly lucky is that I know at the end of all of this I will have a place that is equally as incredible to go home to.