10 Lessons I Have Learned Over the Last Year as an International (Exchange) Student
Living abroad is one of the most freshening and exciting thing a student will ever experience in their life. It offers a new perspective, gives a completely different view on the world, and allows students the opportunity to completely rebuild themselves. Living abroad is a one-of-a-kind experience and it requires a huge amount of courage. So, if you are an international student or you are planning to become one and you are reading this – congratulations! You are off to a great start in life!
Over one year, Austria has changed me completely in all aspects, as I have re-learned everything I knew about life and the choices I made. Here are some of the lessons I have learned that have influenced me a lot
Self-discipline is probably essential for variety of university topics, and is not necessarily related to studying abroad. However, this is definitely something I’ve taught myself over the years. In fact, I’m sure that being in another country gives you an additional amount of responsibility to stay disciplined.
What I mean by that is how you plan and approach each day. For some of us, the uni time is the first moment when we have to take our own time management seriously. Especially, if you’re keen to get involved in various extra activities outside your study programme, you will need to learn how to prioritise your effort and time.
2.) You are the one calling the shots
Once you start studying abroad, your choices shape your future. Well, that sounds easy, right? It sure does, but once you realize that what you do every day has an impact on not only your own life but the lives of others, and generally on the world around you, you start being more careful with the words you use, the things you do, and the decisions you make. When I became conscious of this, I was scared that I might do something wrong that could impact my future in a bad way. That was the moment when I sat back and thought about what I really wanted in life.
This is the moment when you need to carefully choose the values you want to uphold and figure out what you want to pursue in this life. Even if you do not have it figured out yet, do not panic. Everyone is struggling at some point, in some way or another. And everyone will find their path.
3) Friendships are like air
You might be an introvert or an extrovert, you might be afraid of speaking in public or of interactions with people; it does not matter. You need true friends – especially away from home.
Perhaps the most terrible outcome of the pandemic was the social isolation part. I never realized before how important it was to regularly meet up with people, look into someone’s eyes and talk about things you both enjoy. I've learned that I took social interactions for granted and never realized how much I would suffer due to the absence of contact with friends.
This is a hard truth, but our time here in this life is limited, that is why you must try your best to be kind and have patience with everyone you meet. Check on your friends (even if only online if not only possible during these times), see how they are doing, encourage them, and most importantly listen. There is nothing like someone making time for you just to listen to what you have to say.
4) Things will go wrong
Things will go wrong – that’s just a fact. But you’ll soon learn how to overcome these situations. Whether it’s getting on the wrong bus, being late and not catching the train, missing your station to get off, waking up late for a seminar or losing your phone/bank card, you would have to be a superhuman to survive your first study abroad semester without any of these things happening to you.
No amount of planning or organising can predict what may not go as planned during your first semester – you’re in a new environment, meeting interesting people and are likely to be busy. It’s important to remember that when things go wrong, it’s rarely to be the end of the world!
When things go wrong, take a moment to consider your next move. Can you catch the next bus back the right way? Have you tried contacting your friends or the international office? Do you have a spare phone or is there a shop nearby where you can get a new one? It can be frustrating if something doesn’t work the way you want it, but this is all part of the life and study abroad experience, allowing you to become a self-sufficient problem solver - a skill needed for many things in life!
6) Try everything!
Frankly, I strongly believe that in your 20ies, you’re meant to fail. The beautiful thing about that is, you can explore everything, even if it doesn’t work out. Try a new sport, pick up a hobby, go to new places. It’s the only way to find yourself.
7) Don’t wait to travel!
This is the most important advice I can give. Travel NOW!!! We have conditioned ourselves to think we have a lifetime, when in reality we could die at any moment. Travel teaches you more about life than any subject ever has, with memories and experiences that you can never put a price tag on, make it a priority!!!
8) Family is strength!
My family has always stuck together, no matter the times. Having a loving family back home can really make a difference. Whether I feel good or bad, whether I fail or succeed, I know that I can always call my folks back home and talk about the things I am going through. Sometimes, I wish they were here with me, seeing all the things I see and do the things I do in Austria!
Whether you have parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, and aunts, cousins, spouses, or lovers or long lasting friendships you consider family back home, keeping in touch regularly helps you and them to stay on the right track. For me, the familial relationship is the deepest and most meaningful out there. So, go ahead and call your folks, send them a message, ask them how they are, write them a letter or send them a little package with Austrian goodies. Such gestures matter so much, and they ensure that the connection between you is sustained.
9) Be present!
There’s so much about the future that we can’t predict, and everything in the past, we can’t change. Thus, the only thing left to do is live in the present. For our generation this means: put away the phone and enjoy the moment every once in a while.
10) Cook, Cook, Cook!
Take-aways can't last forever my friend. Learning how to cook is one of those skills that lasts a lifetime, even if it’s just super basic meals.