After being in the Netherlands for about 2 and a half months now, I think it’s safe to say that I’m completely settled. And by settled, I mean I’ve probably only slept in my little bed in Utrecht for less than half of the time I’ve been in Europe.
I’ve traveled quite a bit since I’ve been here. I took trips to Milan, Copenhagen, Brussels, Berlin and I’m off to Switzerland in a few days. Now that I’ve experienced just how exhausting being an exchange student is, I’m making a promise to myself to slow things down and explore my own exchange country rather than jetting off every weekend. Giving myself time to unwind has provided me with the opportunity to reflect on the months I’ve spent abroad so far.
If you’re currently on an exchange program, embarking on one in the coming years, or considering applying to one, here are some tips for making the most of your experience:
1) Join international student groups
I joined a group called ESN (Erasmus Student Network). They organize events, daytrips, club nights and more. It’s a great way to meet people from all over the world while also seeing what your exchange city has to offer. The sole reason students join these groups is to make friends and have a good time. If you need a little push to step outside your comfort zone, then I highly recommend seeing what student groups your city/university has. Putting yourself out there will make all the difference. Student groups are a great way to meet hundreds of other people that are in the exact same boat as you.
2) Don’t let the home-sickness overtake your life
Yes, you will miss home and yes, it will be sad to think about being far from your friends and family but don’t let that affect your entire exchange experience. Your home routine and life will be there for you when you get back. Being abroad is all about learning to grow as an individual in an unfamiliar environment. It will be a lot more rewarding if you really challenge yourself to focus on the present, rather than what’s happening across the world from you.
3) Take control of your experience
Not everyone is going to want to do the same things as you and that’s perfectly okay. Do not wait around for people to join you. If there’s something you know you want to do – do it. It’s your exchange and your experience, don’t let anyone stop you. After all, this is an opportunity that doesn’t come around that often.
4) Be open-minded
Living in a new country means things are likely going to be different from what you’re used to. Allow yourself to try new things, explore new places, eat strange food, etc. Learn how to say ‘yes’ to things you normally wouldn’t say yes to. The more you try, the more you will learn about yourself and the people around you.
5) Don’t ignore your budget
Traveling all the time and having nice restaurant meals is great for your Instagram feed but it’s not exactly the most logical choice if your bank account is suffering from it. Everyone on exchange has a different budget and it’s important to follow yours. If you know you shouldn’t be spending as much as your friends are, don’t feel pressured. Saving up for going abroad takes a lot of time and effort. It’s important to maximize how you can use the money you worked hard to make.
6) Explore your exchange country
Take time to travel within the country you are studying in. Weekend country hopping is fabulous but so is finding hidden gems that are closer to home. The great thing about living in a new country is being able to have time to explore the parts that are far away from tourists.
I’ve been told time flies by when you’re abroad and I had a hard time believing it because six months sounded like an eternity. Now that I’m almost halfway through my semester, I’m beginning to realize that this entire thing will be over before I know it. I’m excited to make the most of my time and start exploring the Netherlands even further. Utrecht and Amsterdam are incredible but recently I decided to take a 2-hour bus ride out of the city to see the windmills. Holland is known for their windmills and although it was far, it was well worth the trip.
I’m on a mission to have as many authentic Dutch experiences as possible before I have to leave!
You can follow my exchange semester through the #RUAbroad series by RU Student Life and at my personal blog.