Everyone who has been, are going or thought about going on exchange has probably come in contact with the KTH travel journals. While this is all well and good for the time being, they are usually written with the receiving end taken into consideration and hence fails to answer some of the question that I had and that I’ve since received from friends. It is with this background I am now writing this, in an attempt to give honest answers to these questions from a less bureaucratic standpoint.
“The application process has set rules and stages to go through.”
This was my delusion when I first decided to apply for exchange, and it could not be further away from the truth. From my own experience as well as talking to others about their applications I’ve learned that every case is unique and handled separately. In my case even more so, being the only student from CSC going to Hong Kong. KTH has amazing people for helping you through this jungle, but at the same time a lot is depending on you fixing your own case. If planning is not your forté, do not worry, I handed in everything really late in panic and still got to go. Everything works out one way or another.
“The first couple of weeks will be scary.”
Another delusion coming from yours truly. In my mind I was under the impression that I would be lonely and lost for a couple of weeks before I settled in, even more so being kinda shy and scared of approaching strangers. There’s two reasons why this was incorrect, both of which feels obvious to me now. First off the receiving school works hard to avoid this situation, with so called “buddies” taking care of the new students. Events, facebook groups, chat groups, you name it, they do what they can to include everyone and make you feel welcome, all you have to do on your end is say yes. Now I do realise that this might differ between universities, but I do still believe that most of them offers something similar and if you somehow find yourself missing this you can simply fix it yourself, which brings me to the second reason. Everyone is in the same boat! We (meaning the exchange students) are all new, lost and full of fear and excitement. We are all experiencing it all for the first time and we can all relate to that. To little surprise I have discovered this to be a great topic for starting a conversation, even though it might seem scary to do so.
“How is school?”
Perhaps the most common question I get from people back home. I’m not going to go into practical details, there are plenty of other good forums for that. Instead I am going to bring forth two discoveries I have made which I had not realized before going.
Everyone wants you to succeed. This might sound obvious but I have a good reason for stating this which differs from studying at your home university. One key attribute of being on exchange is that everything is highly temporary. From how much washing detergent to get to whether or not you should open up a bank account you always keep in the back of your mind the fact that you are heading back in x months/weeks/etc. For the professors and the school, this translates to a one-shot situation where they really do not want to fail you in their course, simply because they have little to no chance of letting you redo assignments/tests. Why they care about this? Reputation, as simple as that. I am sure that this is something that applies to most if not all universities, in a global information society reputation matters.
The second observation was made pretty early and more or less simultaneously by all exchange students; local students do not want you in their project groups. This is nothing personal, and it doesn’t even have to do with skills or background. It is simply that nobody, I would argue, goes on exchange for their first year of studies. Even second year would be an exception. To see this from the other perspective; once you have done a couple of years at your school you will probably have one or two partners you usually do your assignments and study with. Of course there is no reason to go from something that is working to taking a chance with a new group halfway through your studies. Even more so bringing in someone who does not speak your language and forces you to use english everywhere (no matter how good they say it is to practice). The result from this is that the exchange students form their own groups, something that in my mind is an advantage giving you the chance to learn about new cultures from a bunch of countries rather than just the one you have chosen to reside in for the time being.
“Any parties? Travels?”
You bet your sweet ass! Given the situation with school being as is, it gives you a lot of time on your hands. Time that is perfectly spent partying, exploring the city or catching a cheap flight to nearby countries. During the start of the semester they allow you to switch courses if you for some reason can/will not take them, if you do some research (again, which I did not, given the poor planner I am) you could find yourself having just a couple of days a week with lectures. The perfect setup for a long weekend in Bangkok sipping Danish craft beer in Mikkeller’s backyard.
To wrap things up, I now perfectly understand and agree with the choir of people saying that you should take your chance to do an exchange semester or year. It is like having a really long vacation with experiences I could never dream of, and they tell me that somehow this sums up to be something positive for your resumé as well (it’s crazy, I know).