For many the prospect of going on an International Exchange can seem a daunting thing – leaving your home, friends, family, culture and lifestyle behind. Personally this was not my first overseas experience, having gone on a high school exchange and travelling during my gap year I like to think of myself as an international person. Even so, the prospect of spending a year away from my home life was – and still is – a bit nerve wracking.
I arrived to Exeter University in England, Devon on a Sunday off the back of some serious working and travelling in Europe. It was already a couple days into their “Freshers week”, similar to O-week in Australia but with more alcohol fuelled parties and encouragement to join different sports clubs and societies.
I was immediately set the task of setting up my dorm room and kitchen facilities, making sure I had sheets, towels, plates, cutlery, and the essentials to cook with. I was put into a flat with older undergraduate students and exchange students, which means we’re more mature than what seems to be the rest of the blocks. Some flats I know share all of their kitchen items and cook together / for each other, my flat are a lot more separate which works better for us. Living in UNI dorms, there are some loud parties, but at the same time you get a real sense of community for the people you live with. Some flats leave their hallway doors open when they’re having drinks and anyone can walk in to join them. Others post on the open Facebook chat when they’re having people over with an invite. When you’re away from home, and especially starting at a University where you don’t know anyone, this feels like an immediate friendship circle and support system.
Along with signing up to many societies and going to many socials during my Freshers week I also had to check off the last of my paperwork for my Tier 4 Student Visa and sign up to my appropriate subjects. On my second day in Exeter I went to the City post office where I collected my UK residence permit and then took this into the University offices for them to check the details. Shortly before arriving in Exeter I had been sent an email telling me that I could not do some of the subjects I had requested and had to pick different ones. Throughout all of Freshers week I was calling, emailing and going into the offices of the different schools at Exeter UNI to figure out which subjects I could do and sort my timetable. International students do not have an online sign up like regular students as it all has to go through the International offices. This process was made easier by the fact that I had elective subjects in my course and I could take any subject with availability in Exeter.
Exeter Uni is very big on their students joining different sports clubs and societies, and they try to make these groups as accessible as possible through social media and nights out where everyone is invited. During Freshers week it is not uncommon to have a different pub crawl / cocktails evening / picnic / club night each day of the week, sometimes more than one a day! These events are great for meeting different people and making some really interesting friends that you’ll keep for the rest of your time on exchange. I’ve already had people tell me that they don’t want me to leave when that isn’t going to be happening for another 7 months!
Yes, moving away from your home is daunting. But exchanges are set up so that you have all the support you need, and everyone else is in the exact same boat as you. As I slowly familiarise myself with my new home and get to know the people around me even better I realise exactly how hard it will be to have to say goodbye… that’s not for ages though! (Right?)