Reflecting on a month of studying abroad

Lessons on how to avoid exchange nerves

Eva Stein and Sydney Sheridan, both ArtSci '20.
Credit: 
Supplied by Eva Stein

The start of a semester abroad is dominated by a mix of excitement and anxiety. Many Queen’s students will soon experience that when they receive their exchange acceptances and become filled with questions about their journeys overseas. 

I’ve been on exchange at the University of Oslo (UiO) in Norway since January. Here are some details from my experience and those of other Queen’s students currently studying around the world. These stories can hopefully provide answers to some of exchange’s seemingly daunting unknowns. 

Arriving abroad

I flew to Oslo alone and was met at the airport by students from UiO, who gave me very clear instructions on how to get to the main train station. Met by more students at the station, a group of us were escorted to pick up our room keys and go to our various residences. The entire process was very straightforward and I never felt like I was floundering in a strange city. 

Sydney Sheridan, ArtSci ’20, studying at the University of Edinburgh, initially thought her fears of a difficult move-in process were coming true. When she first moved in, she was given a card with the same room number as someone else and worried she’d lost the single room she’d been promised. However, after discovering she did in fact have her own room, Sydney learned to remain calm and let things play out before jumping to conclusions. 

Even if your arrival doesn’t go as planned, don’t panic because there are always ways to improve your predicament. 

At the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Evan Latsky, Eng ’20, wasn’t happy with his original living situation. The apartment he was first placed in grouped him with locals, who were uninterested in the kind of tourism Latsky hoped to experience as an exchange student. But by speaking with his university’s administration, he was able to move into a new apartment with other exchange students. 

Managing culture shock

As many warned me, culture shock is real. But it’s also manageable and not always jarring. 

This is my second time studying abroad, having spent my first year at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC). As a result, I had some idea of what it’s like to show up alone in a foreign country. 

I didn’t experience much culture shock at BISC since everyone around me was Canadian. But studying at UiO is a very different experience from Queen’s. 

At first, it was strange to be in a city where English isn’t the primary language. However, I’ve discovered all it takes to get over this barrier is the confidence to speak to people in English and not be worried whether or not they’ll understand. Be polite and friendly, and people will be happy to help.

Ofir Rabinoviz, ArtSci ’20, studying at College University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, experienced some cultural differences upon her arrival to Holland, but was pleasantly surprised by how friendly Dutch people were. 

Rabinoviz observed many of her classmates can be blunt, which, despite good inentions,  might come across as rude. For example, when someone asked a question in Rabinoviz’s class, one student audibly replied, “Google it!” While this initially made her uncomfortable, she realized it isn’t actually offensive in the Netherlands, and now takes less to heart. 

Meeting new people

Basic anxieties you haven’t considered since first year, like making friends, will probably creep back in during the start of your exchange. In general, I’d say exchange students are some of the most fun and welcoming people you’ll meet throughout undergrad. Exchange programs attract students who are eager to explore and try new things with new people.

It’s also important to know that your friends may change over your time abroad, and that’s extremely common. It’s hard to be sure who your closest friends will be from the outset—don’t be reluctant to bounce around different friend groups. Give everyone you meet a chance, as you may be surprised by who you gravitate towards.

Staying mentally healthy

Studying abroad is a large step out of your comfort zone, and it can be difficult to keep your emotions balanced. I’ve learned the best way to make yourself comfortable in new surroundings is to take advantage of where you are. Go to exchange events and mingle, and get involved with different programs at your host school. Making friends is key to keeping a positive attitude away from home.

It’s equally important to give yourself time to explore places independently, acclimate to your new home and check in on your emotions. This will help build your confidence while reducing your stress and anxiety.

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