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Why every student needs to go on a study exchange

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When I first wandered around the Study Abroad fair at my university and saw the sea of flags and smiling faces beaming with experiences of a lifetime, my only future plans were just humouring all of the leaflet handers, flag bearers and university officials.

The only thing I was planning was what topping I was going to have on my Dominoes that night, and how I was going to persuade my friend to get the bus home after she had finished dragging me around this fair.

Little did I know that a year later I would be one of those smiling faces brandishing free university pens and chattering about my travels, at a university on the other side of the world.

The idea of a semester abroad had never even crossed my mind as something that I would endeavour to do. I used all the excuses - I’d get too homesick, I don’t have the money, even I can’t be bothered (yes I am ashamed). It’s for the outgoing person, the kids with friendship bracelets up to the elbows, dreadlocks and elephant print baggy trousers that sit around the campfire in the second Inbetweeners movie (you know the ones).

But, I did have a dream - Australia. The land down under has always been top of my bucket list to visit, and the sight of the flag at a small table at the fair caught my attention. Still though, it’s so far away, I’d never be able to survive that long flight on my own . Plus, how would I get by without Yorkshire Tea and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway?

But when I started looking at Australian universities, I started to believe that this might actually be something that I could do. My first two years at university were some of the best of my life and I adored my degree and living in uni accommodation, so why not do the same on the other side of the world?

The wonderful thing about a study exchange is that you’ve already experienced your first freshers' week, learning the ins and outs of the university learning portal and getting lost on campus on your first day, so doing it over again is a doddle.

Eventually I made the decision to move to the other side of the world, (Wollongong, New South Wales to be precise) and study for a semester abroad as part of a Professional Training Year, and it was the best decision I ever made.

I received the warmest welcome possible when I arrived at my halls of residence in Australia, and being a part of a university community meant that settling in was a breeze, and I found a second family in a whole different hemisphere.

All of the clichés that I dismissed last year - “you’ll have the best experiences of your life”, “you’ll make friends from all around the world” and “you’ll grow so much as a person”- are now the things that I hear coming out of my own mouth whenever somebody asks me about my study abroad. My new favourite pastime is telling my Australian friends that everyone is personally greeted by the Queen upon their arrival in the UK, and explaining how much better cheesy chips are after a night out rather than a snack pack, in an effort to convince them to choose England as their study exchange destination.

In just over two months I have achieved so many life goals, made friends that I could never have dreamed of having and transformed as a person. I am more confident, adventurous and spontaneous than I ever thought I could be, and have travelled around one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

Here the weekends are for adventuring, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Twelve Apostles, meet a wild kangaroo and hike through an ancient rainforest, and still be back in time for dinner. I get to experience all the best bits of university, but with added adventure.

I have learnt so much besides Australian drinking songs and what the Tim Tam slam is. I’ve learnt independence, integrity, and how pushing myself just that little bit further could land me with life-changing memories. I’ve learnt that it’s the people that make it worth it, and no matter if you’re Australian, American, French or from just down the road in Essex, we are all pretty much the same, really. We all have the same dreams, fears and thoughts, which really makes it seem not quite as scary.

A study exchange is the perfect excuse to see the world, make lifelong friends and memories and procrastinate from leaving university and entering the real world for just that little bit longer. Working double shifts, pulling an all-nighter in the library and the emotional goodbyes at the airport will be so worth the sacrifice, and you could be rewarded with memories that some people could only dream of making.

Yes, it is terrifying. Yes, it can be expensive. Yes, it is a huge leap of faith, but as the cliché says, life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I genuinely have to pinch myself every day and remind myself just where I am, which is a pretty awesome way to spend your uni years. I never expected that I could or would do this and yet here I am, wanting to stay here forever.

So next time you’re at the Study Abroad fair, just have a skim through those leaflets and give those beaming faces a chance. The first step is opening your mind, and it could be the best decision you ever make.

 

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