Being an exchange student enriches. A lot. Not only because of what is being taught in a completely different environment or the new experiences one gains, but especially because of the cultural aspect. Working together with foreign and domestic students supports the educational, personal and social perspective, which makes ‘going to college’ a way more vibrant experience. On this, I will elaborate with personal findings in regard to my exchange.
A Boy’s Dream
“It is our pleasure to inform you that you have been selected for an exchange program to Northern Arizona University in the second semester.” Rarely have I been so thrilled to receive an email. My stomach turned upside down, as if I was freshly falling in love. And to be honest, I guess I did exactly that. United States, here I come!
First of all, it has always been a boy’s dream to go to the U.S. Only I would love to immerse into the culture, really, so just a trip of two weeks would not cut it. This program is perfect for it! I come from the Netherlands, the country that is internationally known for its clogs, cheese and mills. Being used to its hectic environment for 23 years sparked the interest of going abroad. Away from it all. Towards new influences. Before I realized it, my ass was flown over the Atlantic Ocean for what ended up to be a 25-hours adventure.
In the first days after my arrival, astonishment was all I could feel. Everything looked so spacious, people were vastly kind and it was all just so totally new to me. Orientation week would enable oneself to get in touch with other exchange students from all over the world, who were all about to live in Campus Heights – better known as International House. In only one week I got in touch with students from United Kingdom, Scotland, France, Spain, Ecuador, Finland, Sweden, Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, India, Korea and China.
Culture is everything. According to Live Science, “culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.” To me, seeing how we all have different habits and beliefs whilst we are so similar at the same time is the most beautiful thing there is. I very much enjoy listening to how foreign students speak, what their sense of humor is and what triggers them in life. ‘In my country this, in my country that…’ I love it. It is inspiring to see how each of these students pave ways towards their futures under support by the programs offered by NAU.
On the other hand, talking to U.S. students helps to shape an image of U.S. citizenship. They know how things go down here. They know the best places to visit. They know how the system works. As an outsider, I find it important to get in touch with these people. In all honesty, I must admit that one needs to overcome the comfort of surrounding oneself with other exchange students – as most of them live in the International House – in order to take steps towards domestic students. But, once getting there, it is the very aspect of the semester that makes me feel connected to the U.S. more.
We learn from each other. Inside and outside of the classroom. Whereas some students apply their knowledge gained at internships or apprenticeships, some others provide memorable highlights from their years in college. Doing projects, studying for exams, working on assignments… all ingredients come together when students collaborate. In my case, I am fortunate enough to do lots of exciting assignments, like taking portraits of the owners of a historic Route 66 memorabilia shop in Winslow, exploring tons of different ways of studying the Spanish language, and completely outhinking how I can realize my very own documentary – all of which cannot be realized without the help and dedication of others.
Try to think about non-college activities as well. Give thought to ordinary aspects like cooking, grocery shopping, doing laundry, road trips and parties. Being among others helps to not feel lonely, but belonging. It deepens the experience of what otherwise would be ‘just college life.’ Personally, not one minute is wasted during this incredible yet intense semester. As proposed by Exchange Student USA, “everyone should experience being foreign at least once.”