The Funny Thing About Realisations

There’s this funny thing that almost all exchange students will experience during their time abroad. This moment – this sudden existential crisis when you realise that you are in fact, on exchange. Some would say that it’s the kind of unnerving realisation you get when you’ve gotten yourself into deep trouble and you know that there’s no backing out. Others would compare this realisation to having done the unthinkable and equate their mere exchange student situation to that of someone who sold all their belongings to live out their life as a Peruvian llama herder.

You’ll be tempted to turn around and book that first flight home – but you know what? Plane tickets are expensive! So push past those feelings of damning realisation and embrace the here and now. Because in a few days, maybe even weeks, you’ll look back and find it all rather funny that you ever felt this way in the first place.

For me, this moment of reflection occurred the other day when I was cleaning out my cupboard and came across an unopened box of instant noodles tucked away in the far back corner. I smiled fondly – remembering how I had bought it during my first week of exchange when I was convinced that my sheer lack in cooking skills would condemn me to a doomed life living on instant noodles.

No other week will quite compare to your first week as an exchange student. It’s both terrifying and exciting as you adjust to your new life abroad. You will get lost numerous times, and you will probably sit in your first few classes alone. As you stumble to find your feet, you will doubt yourself. But give it some time. Because once you’ve made it to the end of that first week, you know that you can make through to the next, and the one after that, and soon enough, you’ll wish it would never end.

You’ll look back and find it funny how the hallways were so confusing (and still are), and how the dear friends you have now were mere strangers only a few weeks ago. Often you’ll ask yourself – as I have many times – had I not come on exchange, would I have ever crossed paths with these people?

Call it fate, divine intervention, or just pure coincidence. You’ll learn to appreciate how funny it is that things just seem to fall into place.

You’ll adjust to your new home quicker than you might think. You’ll learn the streets, the best places to hang out, where to get the cheapest drinks, and how to be a local. You might pick up the slang (or even the accent), and start some crazy adventures or weekly traditions with your friends. Yet you’ll surprise yourself in how much you’ll relish the downtime you have just to be by yourself.

And while it’s rather funny that I’m painting such a rosy picture of a life abroad, there are moments of realisation that tinges moments to bittersweet. It’s a realisation that all exchange students know to be true in that once the semester is over – we part ways and go back to our separate realities.

Of course we will stay in touch over phone and social media. We might even plan holidays to visit each other. But we know that once we leave the ‘bubble’ that is exchange, we know that things won’t be the same again.

However, being on exchange is a matter of living in the moment and enjoying what we have now – not what we wished we had or what is yet to become of us. So I choose to laugh – and I encourage you to do so too. Choose to find it funny that this is where life has taken us and to enjoy this moment of realisation.