September means summer is coming to an end.🌤Classes begin and for students📝, life goes on as normal.🌱 However, for some, September means the start of a whole new experience.💫Some people have spent their whole last year preparing themselves for this moment. Some have dreamt about it for years.📍For these people, September means the beginning of their exchange program – a unique period in their lives that nothing will be able to replace. 🌎
Why do an exchange program?
“If everyone would go study abroad, I think that world would be a little bit better of a better place. People would be more open–minded and understand other cultures better. Going to university, getting your drivers license, getting married – they are all necessary life experiences, like Erasmus. You cannot substitute something else for this experience. You just have to do it.”
Irene Calvo Leiva, 20, from Alboraya, Valencia, Spain. Studying Education.
Many people only experience the world through a cultural lens they grew up with.✈ Going on a vacation to a new country can give you a glimpse of how others understand and interpret the world around them.🗺 But immersing oneself fully into a wholly new environment and being surrounded by people who have had different cultural experiences can give you a whole new perspective on life. ⛵
What has impacted you the most from this exchange experience?
“Definitely, seeing the all cultural differences has really impacted my life. The first few days I did not know if I should give two kisses [ the Spanish way to greet] or just shake hands. From this, I have learned that we have to understand people’s different ways of thinking and of doing things. Instead of judging people for behavior that we find rude, it is important to keep in mind that for them, it is probably normal. That`s what living in a multicultural environment means – you have to be able to recognize differences and respect them. You cannot expect everyone to be like you are.”
Mar Sanfeliu González, 20, from Alboraya, Valencia, Spain. Studying Education
Each year, thousands of students around the world choose to cross borders.🚶🏻♀🏃🏻♂They choose to physically distance themselves from the friends and family they know to go to a new university in a new country, where they will discover they have almost everything to learn. 📚
What has this exchange program meant to you?
“Everything. It has marked a before and after in my life. I have learnt a lot of things, things that I was not used to doing or at least not used to doing by myself. We arrive to a new place with one piece of luggage for five months or more. You probably won’t know anyone. You don`t know how the public transport works, what the cheapest supermarket is. Any problems or difficulties in aforeign country means you also have a language barrier. And the simple fact that the people and the culture are different in your new home means that you must adapt to this new situation. However, when you manage these things you feel proud and you can feel how much you’ve grown. Suddenly, the small world that I used to know, with my life-long friends and family, has expanded with new people who could be with me forever.
Marta Martín Castell, 21, from Sant Joan Despí, Barcelona, Spain. Studying English Education.
In a residential building in Utrecht, Netherlands, flat 109🏢🌲 housed twelve people with seven different nationalities – Egyptian, Canadian, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Dutch and Hungarian. Ahmed, Mar, Marina, Mille, Kristina, Marta, Katya, Paul, Nicole, Berni, Irene and Marisa lived this experience together. 🇭🇺🇪🇬
How has living with 12 people from different places influenced you?
“The past three years at my home university, I had my own flat, my own apartment and I did not have to share anything with any other students. So this is the first time that I lived with people coming from different cultural backgrounds. I think it was good because I learnt a lot of things that I didn’t know before. Living with a person tells you a lot more about them than when we just see them outside or meet them at the bar or something. Spanish people have different timetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and that is very different from mine.”
Has this experience changed you in any way?
“Yes. Before I used to be picky about friends. I used to try to choose my friends wisely. I can see who I wouldn’t match with or who has different characteristics than me. So I used to just try not to meet them or to avoid being friends with them. But coming here, alone and not knowing anyone, I had the chance to actually be open about meeting people from different cultures and to speak with different kinds of people, no matter where they are from, or how they act, or what their hobbies are. I learnt that you have to not limit yourself to certain stereotypes. You have to give anyone a chance in order to make friends and to build a community around you and make a new family.”
Ahmed Khaled Ahmed Alí, 22, from Cairo, Egypt. Studying International Business.
For six months, they shared a space that would to turn into their home🏡. One kitchen, two toilets🚽🚽, and two showers🚿🛁for twelve people.
You are sharing a room, how has that been?
“Sometimes I cannot get things, like privacy, when I want them. But you have to be ok with that. This experience also makes you pause, look around the world and see how lucky you are compared to many others. Then when I catch myself complaining about sharing a room, I think ‘there are people who don’t even have a roof over their heads.’ Sharing a room is something that makes me just pause and be grateful that I’m here. Also, I have a really wonderful roommate who I am sharing something really special with and I know I’ll always have that with me.”
How has studying in Europe been for you?
“I had never been taught much about what the European Union is. I just thought of Europe as a continent which makes every country on this continent, European. But when I think of Spain, I think of Spanish people and when I think of France I think of French people. There’s this difference between the all the countries because their cultures are all so unique.
What I find incredible is how small and close all of these countries can be to each other but how culturally different from one another they are. That blows my mind. When you think of the countries that your new friends came from, it makes those countries closer to you because you have a personal connection to that place now.”
Nicole Proano, 23, from Edmonton, Canada. Studying Journalism and Political Science.
Day by day, they learnt a bit more about the cultures each of them came from. 🇨🇦🇪🇸
What have you experienced, living in this big flat? Any tips for those who have never lived in such a situation?
“It’s widened my comfort zone. I usually love my private space and now I have to live with 11 other people and also with a roommate. So I’m definitely out of my usual comfort zone. Some tips could be, try to always respect and adjust to each other.”
Bernadett Orbán, 25, from Budakalász, Hungary. Studying Globalizing Business
During an exchange abroad, languages can build barriers and break them. English is the prominent language in these situations, helping people who come from different countries communicate with each other.🗣From a common language, we are able to communicate quite easily and make friends that we might not have been able to make otherwise. 👀
Being from Spain, how is it living with 4 other Spanish girls on your exchange?
“It’s true that, at the beginning, I was disappointed in some ways because I really wanted to talk English and experience culture shock. But sometimes, when I really need help, I can arrive at home and talk in Spanish.
It’s important to remember that when you are in an international atmosphere and you speak in your own language, you are building a wall. Maybe the people who can’t speak your language are not interested in your conversation but you are not giving them the opportunity to be involved in the conversation or to make a comment. I like that, in this flat, we are five Spanish people but if there’s even just one other person in the room who can’t speak Spanish, we switch to English.”
Marisa López González, 22, from Tenerife, Spain. Studying Law and Journalism.
Sometimes, aspects of each other’s cultures would make themselves evident to those living in flat 109. The Spanish girls noticed they tended to speak more loudly and expressively than the others. Paul, the Dutch, was more straightforward in his method of communicating. Little cultural behaviors became attributed to each of the nationalities living in the house. But diversity was the strength of the house. 🌸🌼🌻
What has it been the most difficult thing for you here?
“The biggest thing for me was building close relationships with strangers. In the house people are kissing each other, giving hugs, dancing just because. I used to take a year and a half to get used to a new environment and to know people. I knew that my exchange was going to be just half a year so I challenged myself to build close relationships faster.”
Ekaterina Tolkacheva, 20, from Moscow, Russia. She is studying Business Management.
Something in which all twelve agreed upon, was that after living together, the way they looked at the world changed. 🌞From this point on, the friends they made within that flat connected each other to the countries each of them came from. 🗺
Studies have shown that attending university, and furthermore, attending university abroad is beneficial to the development of society.📻On an episode of Freakonomics Radio, Dr. David Halpern said that “people who go to university end up trusting much more than those who don’t, particularly when they go away residentially.” 🎙
How has meeting people from other parts of the world helped you?
“I think that I had a lot of stereotypes about people from a lot of countries, especially Eastern European countries because I did not know much about their culture or history. Meeting people from Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and from all over central Europe, has really helped me to know more about those countries and to feel interested. It has been really exciting.”
Do you feel different in yourself, something that has changed?
“It taught me a lot of things about the world around me and about myself. Seeing yourself from another point of view and how you approach other cultures is also an important thing to learn when you go somewhere.”
Kristina Havbo Kongsgaard, 23, from Aarhus, Denmark. She is studying Communication.
The media today is inundated with the difficulties immigration is creating for politicians. ❌🚫 It is an issue that the public, in many different countries, disagrees upon and is a subject that can polarize societies.🧝🏼Offering a new generation the opportunity to make friends across borders can help foster empathy and understanding. 🧙🏻
Ed Glaeser, professor of Economics at Harvard University, set up an experiment that showed a correlation between trust and the development of “social capital”.👨👨👧👧According to Robert Putman, professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, “social capital” can enhance economic development. “‘Social capital’ refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” 〽🔹
What has been a highlight of living in this flat?
“I might say the different nationalities sharing the same space. There were a lot of cultural differences, noticeable mostly at the beginning. However, after a month and a half those differences started to melt. Now, I no longer feel like `he is Egyptian´ or `she is Russian or Hungarian´.”
Why do you feel that those cultural differences have disappeared?
“They are the first things you notice when living together. But, once you start to know each person more deeply, what they like most, how are they… you start to see that both, you and they, have more things in common than not, more things that you can share instead of concentrating on the differences.”
Marina Carrillo Vega, 21. She is studying Primary teacher. From San Antonio de Benagéber, Valencia, Spain.
Many people come back from their time abroad feeling like different people and agreeing that it was an invaluable experience. 🌟 It looks good on a resume, new contacts are made in countries worldwide, and often, friendships are created that last a lifetime.👫The people in this flat recognized that they have built a family that they will always remember. All of them will go back home feeling like a different person from the one who crossed the front door of Pythagoraslaan 109 for the first time in September. 🏡 💕
What advice would you give to other students, who want to study abroad?
“The best advice I can give is: Let go of your expectations and be open to what is happening right in front of you. When going abroad you will at some point find yourself in situations, where everything seems overwhelming and things aren’t going quite as you expected. It these situations it has been worth a million to me that I have been open to the situations and curious about the people around me. Not saying that you should say yes to everything, but just be open.
A person very different from yourself might become a close friend, and what seems like a challenge might be an amazing opportunity for you to evolve. You will be amazed how some people will surprise you and how easier it gets, when you catch what is coming to you. Exchange is a unique experience and only by letting go of what could have happened and start living what is happening, can you experience the magic, it will bring.”
Mille Gissel Laursen, 23, from Aarhus, Denmark. She is studying Communication.