Going on an exchange program is a very profound experience, it is something that you can’t really describe in words or be shown through pictures. I do not want to spoil the experience by going too much into details, but just some heads up for those that are considering becoming an exchange student.
Exchange students tend to stick together.
All my exchange student friends stick to each other, including me, and so do other Malaysian exchange students in other countries. This is because exchange students understand each other, probably not though language, but they definitely understand what you’re going through, the situation you are in, the problems you are facing. When you suddenly join a whole new community, it takes time for people to get used to you being in the group, it takes time for people to get familiarized with you, and that’s what happens when we, exchange students first arrive in our host country. Exchange students understand that, so naturally you will feel more comfortable around them and slowly it will become an international family.
The word that you will say the most is “yes” in your respective host country language.
“Yes” in German is “Ja”. I say it all the time, be it when I’m called, or when I’m answering a question. “Ja?”, “Ja!”, “Ja!?”, it’s really convenient. There was this one time when I was in my Arts class, the teacher suddenly took a pencil and started explaining the design of the pencil, like why is it in triangular shape etc. She suddenly looked at me and asked me a question in German. I didn’t understand anything, till now I still don’t know what she asked back then. The only two words I understood were “Malaysia” and “Deutschland”, how did I reply? “Ja!”. I couldn’t even recall the words in the question, so I just assumed she was asking me if there were pencils in Malaysia, of course there are pencils in Malaysia.
Exchange students are fascinated with everything.
This might vary from person to person, but for me, I was really fascinated by everything. Everything I see seems so cool and amusing, despite having seen it before in Malaysia or just something normal. Hence the quote from Bill Bryson,
I could really relate to this quote because when I first came, everything was new, I was doing everything for the first time in a new country, let it be sleeping, taking a shower, eating a meal, everything was new, everything was fascinating and it still is.
Exchange students look dumb.
Exchange students are NOT dumb, but we look dumb. Why? Because of the language barrier. I remember when I was in my Mathematics class for the first time, I didn’t understand a thing (I thought there would be more numbers than words, but there weren’t). It took me a week to realize the teacher was teaching about probability which was a topic I already learnt in Malaysia. After that, I aced the test, just kidding, I just didn’t fail, but still worth celebrating right? A lot of the times when I was asked for help, given an order or just asked a question, it would take me 2 seconds before I respond because I needed time to process everything. Simple orders suddenly become so complicated and hard to understand. For example, “Put it on the shelf” becomes “Legte es auf das Regal”.
Exchange students will start doing things they never thought they would do before.
One or two months past your exchange period, when you look back, you’ll realize so many things that you did, you would never do back in your home country. It may be because of the new opportunity or the circumstance that you are in, but it’s really rewarding when you think about it. I never cooked a meal all by myself in Malaysia. All I did was assist my mum, I bake, but it wasn’t really a meal. After coming to Germany, I started cooking, from buying groceries, to preparation, to cooking the meal itself, all by myself and I enjoy it. I guess you could say I could have done the same in Malaysia, but maybe because we are so used to our parents preparing meals for us in Malaysia, we would never think of cooking a meal by ourselves. And now, I can’t wait to go back to Malaysia to cook for my parents. Of course there are other things as well that I do now, I would have never did in Malaysia.