Five things to expect during your first month of exchange

July 15, 2016
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Take one student, put them in a foreign country, add some fabulous friends, a course-load that looks more hopeless by the minute and throw in a fair splash of alcohol and local cuisine. There, you’ve got the makings of an exchange experience.

If you’re about to jet off for the time of your life, there’re a few things to say. First, this writer’s really, really jealous. Second, all of that self-growth, those #destinationselfies and life-long friendships don’t come without a bit of stress, a few tears and possibly blood (seriously).

The first month can be the most exhilarating and also the most difficult part of your trip. Fortunately, we’re here to help set you up for the best year of your life.

“Get lost, get found.”

OK, dreamy wanderlust quotes aside – you’re going to get lost. You’ll get lost at the local fresh-produce markets, walking home from class, heading to an orientation week dinner. This can be annoying or it can be magical and exciting and everything else.

You could find a little courtyard perfect for reading in. A small bar where the patrons sit and play chess by a brightly painted mural. Maybe you’ll find the only place in Spain that sells curry paste.

Getting lost, however, can make you late. So, when you arrive at your destination, get a map and stat!

There will be paperwork

Just face it - unless you, your uni, your exchange university, your embassy and the foreign embassy have all got their shit together there’s going to be paperwork. I’m sorry.

It’s such a beautiful fantasy, to arrive and be able to just enjoy being there, but it won’t happen.

You’ll have forms from your new uni, from your landlord, possibly from your uni at home and you’ll also need to get your visa sorted out. Some of these could be in a foreign language. Don’t fret pet! This is where your cool new friends come in. They’ll help you out.

Cool new friends

It’s almost humanly impossible to go on exchange and not make at least one friend. When you’ve got orientation week festivities, classes, language nights and general student culture you’ll have so many opportunities to socialise. Don’t be afraid to take them up.

It’s quite probable that in the first month you’ll be thinking a lot about your coursework. Fair enough, though. Don’t let this hold you back from heading out with some potential new friends. Work hard, play hard.

With all due respect of coursework, you’re not going to remember that essay you wrote. You will, however, remember that redheaded Italian’s wonderful laugh.


Often, the only thing needed to bring the cool, calm and collected undone is jetlag. And when you combine that with stress, possible homesickness and unbelievable assignments it can get messy.

It’s OK to feel overwhelmed by it all and it’s OK to not be having an amazing time 100 per cent of the time.

In moments like these, Skype home and have a chat, listen to some of your favourite music or open up to a new friend. Chances are, you’re in an incredible place. Take some time, breathe, and chill out somewhere pretty. You’ll start enjoying it soon.

A good time

You’ll be discovering new food and making new friends. Exploring a city you’ve never been to before by day and night. You’ll be going to parties and hip bars and nightclubs. You’ll be drinking and later you’ll be looking after your new friends while you find the best late night kebab in town. You’re going to find out there’s so much you can do.

It’s going to be amazing.

Lucy Dean

Lucy studies journalism and Spanish at the University of Wollongong. She’d work a pun into everything if she could.

Image: Justine-reyes, Flickr Creative Commons license