If you’ve ever held a conversation with me for more than five seconds…
…you probably know that through 2011 and 2012 I spent a year on exchange in Freiburg, a little city (by German standards anyway, Australia would never dignify it with anything more than ‘town’) at the foot of the Black Forest. It was the best year of my life so far, and I was able to branch out and do a lot of stuff that I just wouldn’t have imagined was possible even after having travelled solo through the same country. So I figured I’d give you a few reasons as to why it’s a great idea.
1. It opens your mind
Exposure to other cultures is one thing. You can go to Cambodia for a week and not learn a thing (trust me on that). But if you go on exchange you’re essentially forced to soak up some of what’s around you. And whilst sometimes it can be confronting, more often than not you find that you learn from it, maybe not immediately, but eventually. I was privy to a lot of things overseas that it took me some time to get my head around.
It can be different perspectives to life, money, politics, relationships, gender, race. You name it, and there’s someone out there that will have a different opinion to you on it. And just because it’s not your opinion, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s easy to discount someone as silly for saying something you certainly don’t agree with it, and immediately exclude them from a list of potential friends. But hang around them and you might just learn something about the reasons for their stance on whatever. You might even learn something about your own stance.
Buuuuuut: I’m not saying this is always the case. If some Welshman tries to convince you that mothers don’t belong in the workplace and the blacks and Muslims are the reasons for all of Britain’s problems, you might want to finish the beer and split.
2. You make new friends!!
Might seem obvious, but some people get worried about exchange. They reckon they’ll be alone.
It’s virtually impossible to not make new and amazing friends whilst on exchange. Why? Because everyone is in the same boat as you. Everyone’s new, people are out of their comfort zones. Everyone’s been thrown into the cold, and whilst some people might be wearing a skivvy, they’re all looking for others to huddle with. Analogy game, wut.
The other cool thing is that you make friends with people you might not necessarily make friends with back home. That initial desperation to meet people can land you with some pretty interesting characters. It’s ok to be wary at first (two of my best friends admitted to me halfway through our exchange that they thought I was a complete putz when they first met me), but be open to everyone and you’ll find friends for life.
Buuuuuuut: You only have a year, and need to decide who you want to hang out with. More on this in later blogs.
Locals just don’t have what the Germans call Lebenslust. They’ve got this mentality that they can do it whenever, so why go now? It’s the same in Australia, and anywhere else. You ask a class of people here who’s been to Europe, half the class raises their hands.
“And who’s been to Cairns?”
Two or three people. Everyone’s country has amazing things to see and do, but you don’t notice it until you’re there and YOU ONLY HAVE A YEAR TO SEE EVERYTHING!!!!! You find that on exchange, you travel more. Even if you don’t have money. You find a way. Someone knows someone who’s going to San Francisco this week and it’s in a ute and it’s only going to be 20 bucks there and back! You in? Of course you are! I went for weekend trips to Prague, Barcelona, Berlin, Norway like it wasn’t nuthin’ but a thang. Then I get back to Australia.
“Hey Sam, want to come to Apollo Bay?”
Trust me. If you go on exchange, you’ll find yourself wanting to see everything. You go from “Oh god can’t you give me two weeks notice?” to “I AM A TARDIS COME WITH ME”.
Buuuuut: Spontaneity is fun, and so is adventure, but hitchhiking through the Black Forest by yourself still isn’t the smartest thing.
Part 2 to come.