Making the Most Out of a Study Exchange

12:15 AM

I was just having quite some thoughts passing through my head after Brown Bag session at work on Friday. A lot about laziness and about being just the average was being addressed - the traits, some possible thoughts and/or thought processes that an average person would have and so on.

Brown Bag
/ˈbraʊnˈbæg/
Casual meeting that offers an opportunity for training, information sharing and dialogue among employees. 

For some reason, I kept looking back on the 1.5 years in total I've been out of the country be it for study exchanges or internships and I start to ask myself if I had actually made the most out of my time or even my opportunity. Just to give an insight:
I've worked as an intern in Binh Duong, Vietnam at 18
studied in Birmingham, UK at 21
Studied and "Intern" in Guangzhou, China at 22.

Personally, I don't regret anything that I've chosen to do at those point in time, but if I could, I would say that there were definitely things I wish I did. "If I could turn back time.." sounds a little cliche and that's impossible and since life is about learning from past mistakes, here are some things I did and would say I wish I did to make the most out of a study exchange.

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1. Befriend the Locals

Probably the most "obvious" thing to do but trust me, people tend to stick to their own "similar to me" group whether they know it or not. It was exactly what the whole group of us did when we were in UK but thankfully a mistake that wasn't repeated when I was in China.
If you're up for the most authentic food, to immerse yourself in the culture, know the best deals/tricks, the local recommendations, then there's no better way. Having local friends transformed my entire exchange experience from food to places of interest to culture and even the lingo, and in fact, these are friends I would  choose to keep for life (more than my uni coursemates in fact; sorry not sorry).

2. Don't Rush to Travel
Honestly, you're there to study/work not to play (are the exact words my intern boss slapped in my face previously). Well, he's not wrong.
I've seen many of my friends going on exchange and see more than 70% of their instastory revolve around traveling. As much as the travel bug is in us to explore what the huge world has to offer or even if it was to do it for the gram and showing off on social media, take time to settle in. Linking back to #1, give yourself time to find out how to get the best deals, when is the best time to go where before jumping straight into tourist traps. I almost got scammed back in Vietnam but thank God for local budz.

3. Go and See the World

Go out and explore - make plans, schedule them and/or space it out properly. But in line with #2; DO NOT RUSH into everything. I've tried to squeeze out whatever time I could between my lessons when in UK to visit all the different towns but by the end of the 4-5 months, we were completely burnt out. Physically, mentally and financially. But, the different experiences in all the different countries thus far had been amazing. These are memories I would keep for life and stories I'll love to share all the time.

4. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
This couldn't be any more obvious - eat black pudding when in UK, eat balut when in Vietnam, eat pig/cow organs when you're in China. It may or may not sound gross but hey, you never gonna know unless you try. Don't be afraid to embarrass yourself - we spoke our broken foreign language to the gelato store boss and he was delighted, we walked into fountains in Italy and drank from them, we bathe in public naked cause that's how Iceland is, we washed up every morning in gas stations because we had no water, but these just pile onto your crazy stories that you live to tell.

5. Try a Job/Internship



I understand it's not possible for all (esp. on study visa with all them restrictions) but if given the opportunity, it truly changes your entire experience. Studying and working in any country is a whole new ball game and apart from it enhancing resumes, it opens your eyes to how things work in different countries. Especially with international expansions being so common in businesses right now, having these knowledge are extremely important to gain accurate insights.

6. Keep a Blog
I personally like to pen my thoughts down so that I can always look back and just smile to myself. Although I suck at posting stuff timely (if it ain't obvious enough), trust me when I say that you're not going to remember every single thing that happened. I saved a lot of my Instagram/Snapchat stories that I posted back then and it's the small thing like using a rice cooker for steamboat, friends throwing golden chocolate coins like 财神爷 during Chinese New Year and even how I accidentally hit my Best Friend on the head with my selfie stick while trying to take one of the snaps that you wished you remember.

7. Actively Fight Homesickness
Before you say "that won't happen to me", re-think your words carefully. At 18, I was that supposed independent girl who the lecturer told to take care of the other 3 guys I went with. Yet, I was that same girl who broke down in my own room cause I was alone, away from my friends and family. Bring photos, arrange Skype calls, or whatever you need to keep you sane.

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Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences if you've been on exchange or interned/work overseas with me as I would love to read about them.
And if you are someone that is thinking of or are preparing to go on exchange, all the best to you and remember to make the best out of it and enjoy every single moment of it.

Cheers~

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