You’re about to go to an entirely different country, maybe for the first time. It’s exciting and exhilarated and you're full of anticipation, but you’re also a bit nervous. I spent the coming months so excited but when the day came to drive 5 hours to the airport and leave my parents, my nerves kicked into overdrive. I was so afraid but I printed my ticket, said goodbye to my parents, and walked through customs. The more I waited the more anxious I got. But one thing that helped me was talking to a friend that was already on her exchange and she told me to sit back and take 3 deep breathes and that everything was going to be okay, and everything was.
This experience may seem long but it goes by fast, like a rocket. So make goals for everyday or every week before you go and keep a journal to log if you’ve done it (google bullet journals). Goals like trying something new every day, traveling on your own to the market, or listening to a stranger’s story.
This may seem like a no-brainer but trust me, sometimes it may seem like things are moving so fast that you want to just chill by yourself. Don’t do that! Spend every moment you can making plans with them. Go shopping, watch a movie, go for a walk, have them introduce you to their family. The more connections you make, the more you’ll immerse yourself into your experience and the culture.
This experience is going to be a roller coaster; it will have high ups but every up will come with a down. You will be challenged and you will get frustrated and you will feel like screaming or crying at times. Embrace it, it means you are feeling. Take three deep breaths, talk to a housemate, go for a walk, meditate, accept it and move on! Remember that this experience is short and it goes by fast, how do you want to remember it?
You may feel like a tourist but trust me, I wish I would have taken more videos and blogs. So be in the moments and enjoy it, but also document it and then you can bring it back and make a short film or a collage to show off to all your friends and family about how great your summer was!
This was one of the hardest things for me, I did well the first few weeks but eventually I got so busy exploring and teaching at my project that I came back to my house and passed out like a light. I wish I would have kept a more steady journal because it’s great to come back and, 6 months later, read your journal entries and laugh or smile at the memories. So much happens in those 6-8 weeks that it’s hard to remember it all. It’s like 19 years worth of experiences jam-packed into two months.
Like I said, a lot happens in those two months, so you want to take time and reflect on what you’ve been through and how you’ve grown. Think of the good and the hard times. The times that were pure bliss and the times that really tested or challenged you. This is where a journal really comes in handy. Believe me, you will grow in so many ways and develop leadership skills but you won’t realize it unless you reflect on it. Go through your inner and outer journey.
What-if’s and regrets are the worst things to leave with. So seize every day and every opportunity presented to you. If the kids in class ask you to sing a song for them, sing a song! If the interns you're living with ask you to go zip-lining or white-water rafting, do it! It may scare the crap out of you, but that’s when you really live. You’re already taking that fearless step by going on this exchange so why not make the absolute most out of it?
This was something I wish I had done, I didn’t research much before but now, after my trip and after I fell in love with the country, all I do is research it and watch youtube videos and I’m even taking a class on it at my university! Now I want to go back and appreciate everything even more and ask more questions. Also research your project. My project was quality education and I taught kids, so I brought a few gifts and a few books to use but I wish I would have researched more so I could have brought more specific materials for the class.
The people you meet and the friendships you make with your co-workers, host families, and the other interns/volunteers are going to be so real and so strong that you need to keep in touch with them. No one else will possibly understand what you’ve been through, the ups and downs, besides these people. You’ll come back with this new mindset, outlook on life, and experiences. You will have changed a lot but odds are that the people you left at home haven’t. This is when it’s best to reach out to the friends you made. You may not talk everyday and maybe not even every month, but trust me, they will be your friends for life. Maybe you’ll even be invited to each other's weddings.