As a law student I had to add an extra year to my degree in order for me to go on exchange. While thinking about whether to really go through with this extra year, I was confronted by many who asked if it would really be worth “losing” a year, when I could be graduating and furthering my education or finding a job in that time instead. I had an answer for them then, and that answer remains the same now: an exchange year is anything BUT a lost year. Quite the opposite, you will gain a year of experience that nothing else can replace. And here’s why:
Studying abroad in a country where you presumably don’t have any family or friends (at least not at first) forces you to become independent quickly. You will need to take care of yourself and learn how to do many things in a short amount of time (bank account, phone contract, housing, rent, groceries, laundry – literally everything your family might have been doing for you up until now). Although this sounds like a lot at once, it’s actually a good thing. Within the first month abroad you will have learned all of this and will be equipped for the future when you may have to do it all again.
The life of a tourist is worlds away from the life of a local. Becoming a local in a foreign country means you will become familiar with the culture and way of living. It will change your perspective on the world and enable you to broaden the way you think, act and solve problems.
It will also allow you to view your home country in a different light. The customs and beliefs that you are used to can now be viewed from an objective point of view.
- Open Heart and Mind
Exchange students easily learn to become more open-minded. Being confronted by a foreign culture on a daily basis will teach you to understand and accept views different to your own. It teaches you to value and respect differences rather than simply tolerate them. This is an irreplaceable trait to have, even in future when you may be working in an international community where disputes and problems need to be solved beyond borders and cultures.
- Friends Around the Globe
Naturally you will meet people from all around the world, which also means you have even more opportunities to learn about additional countries and cultures and even more reason to travel further (chances of free accommodation are very high – I speak from experience!)
- Discover Yourself
Simply said, exchange is about growth. There will be moments when you are alone, but spending time just by yourself can really allow you to reflect on your character, beliefs, your experiences and what you have learned out of them. In the end, it is this kind of reflection that tends to produce the biggest growth and maturity.
A year abroad may not give you an extra degree title, or a label you can attach to the front of your name. But sometimes it’s not all about your qualifications. It’s about what you bring as a person: your experiences, mindset and perspectives. An exchange is literally a change that happens within you. And that is something no amount of books or research can replace.
Photo credits: instagram.com/kyufleck
Bluinse Thomas is a Law with International Relations student, currently on a study abroad programme at the University of Hong Kong.