Here at NMBU, students are recommended to leave their home country to get advantages later in your career, and to network internationally. One often hears it referred to as the best year, where people make friends for life. There are mafny sides to these stories. One of Tuntreets journalists invites two students to talk over their experiences over breakfast one Saturday morning in October.
As the coffee is being served, and bread is being toasted, we have the students introduce themselves. One recently came back after a year in Stuttgart, Germany, who we will call Ann. and the other is a foreign student from Calgary, Canada, doing her two-year masters degree here in Ås. She also did a year in Durham, England a few years back, and we’ll refer to her as Carmen.
Is it possible to be prepared? As the two girls try to put themselves back to the time they were preparing for their exchange years, they found that some things you just can’t be ready for. Namely, the bureaucracy and entanglement that non-electronic paperwork presents you with. Even though Ann had prepared a folder with signed papers and photocopies, two weeks of “running about, fixing signature” ensued. “I drove down to Germany and moved in to my singles flat, and missed the initial contact with my assigned buddy of being picked up at the airport”, she tells us. “After that he just dodged me. It might just have been bad luck”. Carmen, on the other hand, was very happy about being invited to NMBU one week early to get registered. She was thoroughly guided, “but it’s going to be intense getting settled no matter what”.
“How did you first perceive Norwegians?” Carmen thinks for a second, then says “I found them to be polite and nice, but most often they will only talk to you if you talk to them.” She points out that we are, however, at the university and knows it is natural in any country to want to get out of class, and on with your day. “I knew from my first exchange that you need to join a group to reach people outside of work hours.” Hers has become rugby and Australian football, and she has already travelled and gotten to know people through this.
“I admire that you had a plan to get friends, because I didn’t”, Ann chuckles. The girls laugh in common understanding, because they both know: it is hard to start from nothing in a new place. Carmen tells us that she learnt from her experience, that nothing helps fighting loneliness and homesickness like good company.
What is your first afterthought for someone who is currently on exchange?”, I ask them. Ann quickly tells us: “don’t live alone and also - if you want to learn a language, get a language buddy, and talk”. She also says that, if you don’t take your gades home… have fun! She wished she had traveled more. We pour even more coffee in our mugs, and Carmen continues. “I agree, not living on your own. Then you always have someone to ask”, she says. “Yeah, and as I said about class, two hours and then everyone wants to leave - so join something”.
Both read homesickness as a sign of loneliness. On loneliness, Ann tells us that she was fine for about four months. “Then it hit really hard, for a few months. I was scary close to getting a dog, but what actually helped was going on Tinder-dates”. Carmen says that they were warned and lectured about homesickness, loneliness and culture shock, and that students in Calgary got contact information and a handbook on how to deal with this. It leads us to the subject of the prevalent glorification of exchange years. “I think it’s problematic actually,” Ann says. “There is a lot of pressure”, Carmen agrees. The girls agree that we should be careful not to make it sound easy. Ann says that though it was rough at times, it was totally worth it. Maybe NMBU should have some mandatory preparation for its students, on loneliness, customs and communication. Though Norwegians are tend to be well traveled, it doesn’t mean we know other cultures.
Exchange can make us feel like vulnerable children, we are anew learning basic communication, gestures and customs.. However, that is one of the most precious skills to make a person grow – going back to basics, to your curious sense. That is why exchange years are known to make us more resilient, flexible and complex thinkers, as we adapt to internationalize our skills. As we adapt to thrive.
Do you have an itch, far, in the back of your mind? It will not be a rosy red adventure, but you will expand your horizon, whether it be academic, empathic, linguistic or culinary. If you’re lucky, you might do it all. Though this is only a short fraction of the afterthought of exchange programs, they both agree that they came out of it a lot stronger.