Probably the only thing that nobody can ever prepare you for about exchange is the exhaustion. It first rears its ugly head in the days after you touch down in the form of the dreaded jetlag and why wouldn’t it? After all, your body suddenly finds itself in a new climate, a new environment and a completely new time-zone, which in my case was a full 10-hours difference. But, of course, jetlag is nothing new at all. It isn’t even the hardest type of exhaustion when it comes to exchanges outside the Anglosphere.
You see, it’s not enough for your body to betray you and physically drain you. When you decide to go to a country where the language is not your native tongue, and you decide to be taught within that tongue, your mind will do the same thing simply because stepping into that new place is like falling through the looking glass. Suddenly, east is west, a basic sentence becomes a solid effort and an articulate request becomes a grunt. So what is this type of exhaustion? Mental exhaustion.
After only four hours of classes on my first day, I found myself utterly wiped out purely from the effort of trying to comprehend what was going on around me to the point where a simple explanation in Spanish became difficult. Ever felt your heart sink when the professor tells you there will be group work? I never have but boy is it fun to experience for the first time on the other side of the world in a different language. Ever felt a trembling sensation in the pit of your stomach when they tell you there will be an oral component? Everybody has but it’s even worse when you know it will be in another language (and worth 30% of the overall grade, I might add).
All of this contributes to what we know as culture shock, amongst other things. But here’s the thing: we put our bodies and our minds through this not because we know we can do it or because we know for a fact that we’re going to enjoy it. We do it because we hope that it will change us in some meaningful way. It is this hope which drives us forward through the exhaustion and luckily for us, with each day it recedes. Gradually, all of those trials and tribulations become part of that great story which makes us who we are. That time that you accidentally ordered a euphemism instead of chicken? You can laugh that off now. That time that you had to mime out exercise because you forgot the verb for it? Water under the bridge, my friend, because ultimately, this is all a part of you now.
You may have fallen through the looking glass but you discover that the world into which you have fallen is infinitely more enchanting than you ever thought it could be.