On the night the rest of Australia filled in the Census (or tried to, as it turns out), I was sitting on a bus from Salzburg to Munich. For me, that seemed completely normal, and just a part of my everyday life. For most others, however, the idea that you can travel to a different country every few days is completely foreign. As a matter of fact, it’s not as strange as you’d think. It’s simply the reality for students daring enough to go on a Global Learning exchange program.
Before my studies began at the University of Edinburgh, I spent two months travelling around Europe. During this time, I travelled to Santorini, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Lake Como, Swiss Alps, Paris, Bruges, London, and Oxford. Each of these places introduced me to a new language and culture, and never hosted me for more than 3 or 5 nights. It was during this time that I considered the concept of “no fixed address”, and how it truly applied to me.
I’ve come to realize that I was in very distinct period of my life, marked both by my
lack of postal address, and my newfound resilience. Travelling had demanded that I become “adaptive to change” as employers like to call it. Literally. I would fall asleep in one country, and wake in another. I would walk inside in sunshine, and walk out in a thunderstorm a mere hour later. Most importantly, I would make friends and meet locals from diverse backgrounds, and become aware of cultural differences and language barriers.
These experiences proved to be an excellent introduction to studying abroad, as I received a crash course in pidgin German/French/Dutch/Greek/sign language. I can now quickly mumble “thank you”, “hello”, and “beer” in many different languages. I learned about exchange rates, and which friends would feel happier in light of a good performance of their local currency.
These phrases and abilities are critical for your self-confidence as an exchange student, as there is something quite liberating in being able to sit down with an Italian, French, Dane, German and Australian, and all be able to communicate and connect with each other. It’s how you’ll make your friends, overcome homesickness, and make the memories that mark exchange as a unique experience.
Supplementary to this, of course, is the practical resilience travel provides you with. During my time backpacking, I experienced hostels, dorm rooms, cooking without a kitchen, hiking 15km while carrying 28kg of baggage, and how to navigate complex public transport systems. These experiences are completely foreign to my life at home, and there were moments where I ached for a home-cooked meal and a car. In light of that though, I built confidence in my abilities. These abilities allowed me to adapt to change, and embrace the unfamiliar, rather than run far away from it. As it turns out, that was invaluable. When I arrived in my student accommodation, I wasn’t as shocked as I had anticipated. Though I still live in a place where shower shoes are a necessity, and natural lighting isn’t abundant, I’m able to embrace it.
Travelling is an excellent way to introduce yourself to the study abroad experience, and I recommend that you try to experience it before you arrive on campus. If you have the option to, ensure that you expose yourself to as many foreign places. There will be very few times in your life where you’ll be able to claim you have “no fixed address”, and if you throw yourself into these experiences with an open mind, it will be a time in your life that will change you forever.