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Changing During Your Time Abroad As An Exchange Student

While you're away from home, a lot can change, and this is totally normal. In this is post we will talk about what changed for us during our exchange. I know for...

I had always felt small and insignificant in my hometown. I felt like I had more to offer and a much greater potential to achieve. I worked a lot on myself, and that made me change and grow as a person, I started to know myself better, have more confidence, and became comfortable with spending time alone. But eventually, I still felt stuck. I’m sure a lot of you can relate to the feeling of being a big fish in a small pond, or just feeling like you wanted to discover more than what you were able to at the moment. That’s the reason many of us do an exchange year, to explore and find out more about the world. What I think many of you couldn't anticipate was how much a year abroad changes you. I know for me, I wasn’t prepared to become the person I am now. These are just some reflections on moments and situations that changed me throughout the year. 


As I mentioned before, one of the things I worked a lot on during and after the 2020 lockdown, was spending time alone and enjoying it. This ``skill´´ grew exponentially during my exchange year. When you are in your home country you can cultivate the skill of spending time alone, such as by doing things by yourself, etc… But you know you still have some kind of support system nearby, your friends and family. During my exchange year I found that while I was okay with spending time alone, I inevitably felt lonely sometimes. There is a difference between spending time alone because you are choosing to and spending time alone because you are still navigating who your friends are and building a connection with your host family. I think those who have been on an exchange can most likely relate to the feeling of knowing people, but not having real friends. Most of us also found that this is temporary, and it takes time to build and strengthen connections with people. Along with other exchange students, we are so grateful for the social skills that a year abroad gave us. It can definitely be hard and frustrating at times, but the benefits we still get from it are absolutely worth it. There will be more content posted about friendships throughout the year (;


No matter where you are in the world, the local culture will be different from your home country, and that includes how the education system works. This part will be focused on the U.S since that was where I had my experience, but it could be applicable to other countries as well. Coming from Spain, the education system is pretty rigid. Your path is more or less determined from the beginning and you are forced to make decisions that will impact your future as early as 10th grade. In the United States, schools usually have a wide range of electives you can choose from, which ignited a curiosity for some subjects. Overall, the workload I experienced in my classes was less than what it was in Spain, and that gave me time to focus more on those things I was passionate about, instead of just trying to cram everything into my brain for a test. For example, studying psychology sparked my curiosity about the human brain and behavior. News production opened the possibility of creating social media content and podcasting, and now I know I want to get a degree in communication. These realizations couldn’t have happened if I was in my hometown taking the same courses as always. Being curious and interested in things is something you should never be ashamed of. Take advantage of this opportunity to find things you enjoy. 


"Never be afraid of trying. Effortlessness is a myth"


All of this brings me to my next point: staying true to yourself. This post reflects on the ways I, along with other exchange students, changed throughout a year abroad, but one thing this year also taught me is the importance of being loyal to who you are, despite all the changes and differences you’ll be exposed to. With this, I don’t mean not leaving room for growth, or sticking to what you have always liked, I mean your core values, things that are important to you. When moving to a new country it can feel like you need to change things about yourself to fit in with the people around you, but one of the most important things I took with me is that I needed to be myself in order for the people around me to love me for who I was and what I stood for. If you create a fake persona, the relationships you’ll build around it won’t last. 


To wrap up this post I wanted to mention something more personal that happened during my year. In my high school, there was a Unified Program that consisted of classes and projects in which teens with an intellectual disability (ID) and neurotypical teens were together in classes and outside of school activities. I can’t stress enough how much of an impact this had on me. Getting to know these kids and their stories really opened up my eyes to things I wasn’t even aware of. Seeing so many people in my school be involved in this program showed me the true meaning of inclusivity. Seeing how so many kids could come together with the only common goal of being unified and spending time with one another, inspired me to want to specialize in special education once I'm in college. I know this is a more specific topic and not everyone may be able to relate, but to generalize it to a larger scale I want to say: be a good person, wherever you are in the world. Make a change for the better and make an impact on those around you. It’s possible that you may be the only person from your country that those people meet and while that doesn’t seem so important at the beginning, I now like to think that when the people I was with in Oregon see a Spaniard in the news or read about Spain’s new project, they think of me.   


"Not everyone you will encounter during your exchange year will be nice and welcoming, unfortunately, but that’s just a reminder of why you should be with everyone else."


In the podcast episode linked here, Pamela and I talk about more ways in which we changed during the year, make sure to check it out! It is seriously one of my favorite episodes of the whole season. Please let us know what type of content you would like to see and we'll make sure to write about it. Thank you for reading!

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Exchange isn’t a period in your life, it’s a life within a period…
Exchange isn’t a period in your life, it’s a life within a period…
Exchange isn’t a period in your life, it’s a life within a period…
Exchange isn’t a period in your life, it’s a life within a period…
Exchange isn’t a period in your life, it’s a life within a period…
Exchange isn’t a period in your life, it’s a life within a period…

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