What Being an Exchange Student Taught Me


Disclaimer: this is going to be a long one that covers what I learnt from the last year. I thought a lot about my experience to collect all of them together. And I'm writing this blog now because one can see more clear picture of something when some time passes over it.

Hey,

The ones who haven't heard about exchange programs, let me explain you briefly what they are first. When a student is registered to a university, the student gets some opportunities to take advantage of. Exchange programs are one big of them. You'll see why it is important after you read the article but basically universities make agreements with each other and then they send their students for a certain period of time to get education in the other one. The agreed universities change according to the university. For instance, in my case there were universities that agreed with my university from around the Europe like Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Sweden etc. The main purpose of this process is to give students an opportunity to experience something different.

And here's my story goes. Everything was usual back then. It was the end of 13' and I was in the third year of the university. I was thinking that I had nothing to do with this program. There were several reasons for this:

  • Most of the students were going to abroad by being a part of the exchange program when they are freshmen. This was scaring me because the more time you spend in the university, the less likely you can go with this program. It's because of some conditions such as GPA. Most of the students have their GPAs lower than the earlier years of their university life because it's getting harder and harder over the time in the university in terms of courses and the concepts.
  • I had a job back then and it was going somehow. I didn't want to break the routine at first.
  • There were so many parameters that I had to consider about such as, being able to relocate, being able to afford my life in abroad, preparing necessary documents (this is really a matter of another blog post).
  • Getting education in another language. My education in Turkey is 30% English but it definitely isn't same with the abroad.
  • Leaking of self confidence. This was the biggest part of my doubts. The former ones find their way to work somehow, I mean, I wasn't going to be the first student who goes to abroad for education ever, were I? I didn't feel comfortable at first and I thought I can't make it. Worst idea of my life.

One foggy morning, I was reading my timeline in Twitter. A tweet took my attention and I clicked the link. It was the list of students who applied for exchange program at previous year with the universities they had chosen. I scrolled over the list and thought that if all these students could make it, then I can make it as well. Because we were all the same and I was thinking it worths to try.

I saw the sign that I should definitely go abroad when I find out that the apply dates was over and somehow it was extended for one more week. I immediately started to the process and prepared necessary documents, applied for it. That day I realized a really important thing. Just take action to achieve something you want to.

After months of apply process, exams and going back and forth between offices in the university, finally it was the day that I was going to choose the country and university. I was so excited and didn't know what to do. I talked to many friends and my family to decide wisely. Here are what I learnt from that period:

  • Define why you're going abroad. If you're going for just having fun. It really doesn't matter which country you choose.

  • On the other hand, if you're going abroad to have a nice education experience and improve your skills, be wise and think a lot about circumstances.

  • Check university's education language that you may choose. If you don't speak the local language of the country, it may be a problem for you to understand courses and necessary materials in abroad.

  • Check the courses the university opens for the students and exchange students multiple times. Your home university may not accept your enrollment abroad and if that's the case, you might have bigger problems. Always search syllabuses of courses on both universities' online platforms.

  • Search for the online materials about migration and education processes. Some websites such as Study in Sweden helps a lot about learning the basics and procedures.

  • Be really careful about due dates on both sides. Some cultures and universities may really be obsessed about the dates and you may not be able to proceed any longer if you once miss a deadline.

  • Talk to students who have already been to the countries you may choose. But please first read the terms, conditions and the rules of your home university. If you ask a question to someone about an information that you can easily find online, it may not be appropriate.

  • It is really important process, that's true but try to stay calm and cool during the process. Try to schedule yourself about preparing for overwhelming document process. Just be on time and it should work fine. If there's something happens beyond your control just don't panic.

  • Never wait for someone to warn you about some documents. You are the one who should go after the process and ask to the authorities about your status. Be alerted and always track your condition on both sides.

  • Get ready for writing formal e-mails and posts. You will have conversations a lot with the authorities and you need to speak and write carefully. Ask for help from your university's EU Office if you need help about this.

I chose Sweden that day. I had my reasons really similar to above ones for this country and today I'm really happy with this choice. Unintentionally it may have changed my life. Some thoughts about the country:

  • I really had a lot of friends who previously experienced an education there and they all said really good things about the country and it's standards.

  • English was so important for me and all of the universities in Sweden offer materials and courses in English. And Sweden has 86% of English speaking population. The other country and university options can be satisfying about this matter but when I considered overall pros and cons of the country Sweden was the one.

  • Their way of doing something is really standardized. There are rules and people respect them.

  • It's a beautiful country to listen yourself, think about your life. It's quiet and respectful. During those days, while I was dealing with the documents and all those stuff, I was really exhausted because of several reasons. And I just wanted to chill out. I just wanted some peace and silence. That was exactly what Sweden offered.

  • The country gets extremely cold, that's true. But it is really a nice life experience. It is really different to experience the theoretical concepts such as difference between amount of time day and night last, that we all have learnt in Geography courses.

  • I found enough amount of courses which had equivalents in my home university.

After all exhausting months everything worked fine and a cool wind welcomed me to the town in an August evening. That was the first time I really felt how cold Sweden was. Then, it took some time to relocate fully and get used to the town. I was impressed with how large green areas Sweden has. And these were first impressions.

Beautiful Evenings

I was also impressed when I went to the office to register to the university for the first time. Everything was settled with just a signature. After that I thought about all the documents I prepared for months and laughed. The amount of documents I had prepared before I went to Sweden were really really extreme.

Sunny Days

It was the best autumn and winter I've ever had. I had many memories. I travelled, I tried different food. Met a lot of cool people. It's charming to adopt to a different culture, live in a different culture. More importantly, I have made a lot of decisions about my career and life.

  • I was a not open minded person until then. I was thinking most of the things are not possible. After all these days, my ideas changed. I was more open to new things about my life, about opportunities and many more. I have learnt that there is no barrier or obstacle can stop you if you want and ask for it enough.

  • I found out how it was to live in quiet. Sometimes, I was opening my window and listening the silence. Looking above to sky, enjoying the beautifully crafted color palettes. And Scandinavia is a must see. Natural events occurring and happening in the area is really incredible.

  • I wasn't that hasty person anymore. The culture affected me slowly during my time there. I was given enough amount of time to do my assignments and tasks, so why would I hurry? I was questioning myself. Why one would hurry instead of stopping for a second and enjoying the very moment.

  • There was no pressure. Even in the examinations, we were given enormous amount of time. I have never had an exam lasted longer than four hours. For instance I didn't spend longer than four hours even in the exams of my life, university entrance exams in Turkey so called YGS and LYS. So there was a difference. In Sweden, there was a separate examination building and all the exams were taking six hours. Yes six hours! I was thinking what to do in that time. Because I wasn't educated that way. Anyway, I was so relaxed, solving questions one by one and didn't care about the time. This was the one of things I really miss.

  • Until then, I have never found how I wanted to proceed with my career. Name of the one of the courses I enrolled was Artificial Intelligence for Industrial Applications. It was a tough one. I had no experience and knowledge in the field and the course was a master degree course so I hardly passed that course in my second try. After I came back to Turkey I enrolled in some other related courses such as Introduction to Expert Systems and Statistical Data Analyze. And it turned out that I've been educated all the base knowledge about the field in that course back in Sweden. Because it was an overall course including, Heuristic Optimization, Neural Networks, Machine Learning, Fuzzy Logic, Data Mining and history of AI. I chose my Computer Project, you can think of it as a half of work of bachelor thesis, in Machine Learning. At the end I really liked the area and I am really eager to study deeper now with my bachelor thesis.

  • The information about English speaking population was 100% true. I didn't need to learn Swedish most of the time. Even in the groceries, Swedes can understand English even if some of them can't speak rarely.

  • The country is really expensive. So it may cost you a lot if you want to eat outside everyday. Therefore, I had to cook myself. Thanks to my really nice friend, I learned how to cook and bake some meals and desserts. It turned out that I like to spend time in kitchen.

  • I've become more obsessed about time. At the beginning of my studies there, they told us that Swedes really care about time and try to be on time. And that's true. So I've been trying harder and being more sensitive to be on time since then.

  • Swedish is a really nice language. I had chance to learn a little bit because I enrolled in a course named Swedish for Foreign Students. When I used to listen people speak Swedish, it was like as I was listening some sort of music. The language has it's unique harmony. Now, sometimes I miss some people speaking Swedish around me and open a Youtube video in Swedish and listen even if I don't understand.

  • Getting education in English is a really different thing. Given the fact that, my field, Computer Science, is a field that definitely requires learning and understanding English well. Until then, I have never made a presentation in English. Actually I did, but my audience was Turkish people so they were understanding me even if I talk in a wrong way. When it comes to make a presentation and try to explain some principles and topics to a different audience, things become harder. Q&A part of my presentations was the part that I was afraid of most. Because, it requires to understand the question and explain it in a satisfying way. Thankfully I've overcome this fear by the time.

  • Traveling is just awesome. Exploring something new, being at somewhere you've never been feels so different. And exchange programs are really big opportunities for this. I only had chance to visit Norway and Denmark other than the cities of Sweden but, it was awesome. No matter where you travel, just go and experience something cool. In my case Scandinavia was really cool :) It was a very low possibility for me to travel abroad until I made the decision to Sweden. So it is never too late. Just get going.

  • Making new friends is awesome, especially if they are international ones! Because every time you talk to a friend from a really different background and culture, you learn a lot. And you start to like them no matter where they are from. What a wonderful world!

  • I've learnt how a house works. From finance to kitchen, from laundry to shopping I've gained a precious experience. If you have never lived alone before, this is a really nice chance.

  • I've seen and realized how beautiful life is. Sometimes I hadn't had any clue but dealt with so little and unnecessary things before I lived in abroad. Now I know, it doesn't worth being sad about most of the things. It simply, doesn't worth to stop enjoying the life.

  • When I returned to my country, I started noticing differences between countries more. So it is really hard to relocate and get used to different kind of lifestyle and culture twice in a year. Just try to be careful about your emotions and don't collapse suddenly. Be strong about it.

As you can see from above, I have realized a lot of different senses, aspects, talents and habits of myself. I have gained once in a life experiences. If you have some doubts in your mind about relocating or being a part of an exchange program it totally worths it. Of course there is a really hard process waiting for you, so brace yourself first. If you wonder, my university was University of Skövde in Skövde. For the ones who wants to see more about our journey to Sweden, me and a friend started generating content on a blog to help and lead future candidates after relocating. I'm really thankful to my dear friend for everything. Probably I wouldn't be successful in this process if my best friend weren't with me.

After all these, now I see that this is how exactly it is supposed to be, when I look to the past one and a half year. I can't imagine the other way around. And they say everyone has a milestone in their life. A point that your life changes. For me this was the day I decided to be an exchange student. The day that I admitted I can sacrifice something I had back then, for good. And I'm glad I decided this way.

Sunny Days

(All photo credits in the article: Said ÖZCAN and Meryem Ekinci)

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