A new experience & five months to live it

September means summer is coming to an end.馃尋Classes begin and for students馃摑, life goes on as normal.馃尡聽However, for some, September means the start of a whole new experience.馃挮Some people have spent their whole last year preparing themselves for this moment. Some have dreamt about it for years.馃搷For these people, September means the beginning of their exchange program – a unique period in their lives that nothing will be able to replace.聽馃寧

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 openminded and understand other cultures better. Going to university, getting your drivers license, getting married – they are all necessary life experiences, like Erasmus.聽 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.鉁 Going on a vacation to a new country can give you a glimpse of how others understand and interpret the world around them.馃椇 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.聽鉀

What has impacted you the most from this exchange experience?

鈥淒efinitely, 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鈥檚 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.鈥

Mar Sanfeliu Gonz谩lez, 20, from Alboraya, Valencia, Spain. Studying Education

 

Each year, thousands of students around the world choose to cross borders.馃毝馃徎鈥嶁檧馃弮馃徎鈥嶁檪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.聽馃摎

What has this exchange program meant to you?

鈥淓verything. 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鈥檛 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鈥檝e 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 Mart铆n Castell, 21, from Sant Joan Desp铆, Barcelona, Spain.聽Studying English Education.

 

In a residential building in Utrecht, Netherlands, flat 109馃彚馃尣聽housed twelve people with seven different nationalities – Egyptian, Canadian, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Dutch and Hungarian.聽 Ahmed, Mar, Marina, Mille, Kristina, Marta, Katya, Paul, Nicole, Berni, Irene and Marisa lived this experience together.聽馃嚟馃嚭馃嚜馃嚞

How has living with 12 people from different places influenced you?

鈥淭he 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鈥檛 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.鈥

Has this experience changed you in any way?

鈥淵es. Before I used to be picky about friends. I used to try to choose my friends wisely. I can see who I wouldn鈥檛 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.鈥

Ahmed Khaled Ahmed Al铆, 22, from Cairo, Egypt. Studying International Business.

For six months, they shared a space that would to turn into their home馃彙. One kitchen, two toilets馃毥馃毥, and two showers馃毧馃泚for twelve people.

 

You are sharing a room, how has that been?

鈥淪ometimes I聽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聽I聽catch myself complaining about sharing a room,聽I聽think 鈥榯here are people who don’t even have a roof over their heads.鈥 Sharing a room is something that makes me just pause and be grateful that I鈥檓 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.鈥

How has studying in Europe been for you?

鈥淚 had never been taught much about what the European聽Union聽is. I just thought of聽Europe聽as a continent which makes every country on this continent,聽European. But when聽I聽think of Spain, I think of Spanish聽people and when聽I聽think of France I聽think of聽French聽people. There鈥檚 this difference between the all the countries because their cultures are all so unique.

What聽I聽find incredible is how small and close all of these countries can be to each other but how culturally different from one another聽they are. That blows聽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.鈥

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.聽馃嚚馃嚘馃嚜馃嚫

What have you experienced, living in this big flat? Any tips for those who have never lived in such a situation?

鈥淚t鈥檚 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鈥檓 definitely out of my usual comfort zone. Some tips could be, try to always respect and adjust to each other.鈥

Bernadett Orb谩n, 25, from Budakal谩sz, 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.馃棧From a common language, we are able to communicate quite easily and make friends that we might not have been able to make otherwise.聽馃憖

Being from Spain, how is it living with 4 other Spanish girls on your exchange?

鈥淚t鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 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鈥檚 even just one other person in the room who can鈥檛 speak Spanish, we switch to English.鈥

Marisa L贸pez Gonz谩lez, 22, from Tenerife, Spain. Studying Law and Journalism.

Sometimes, aspects of each other鈥檚 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.聽馃尭馃尲馃尰

What has it been the most difficult thing for you here?

鈥淭he 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.鈥

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.聽馃尀From this point on, the friends they made within that flat connected each other to the countries each of them came from.聽馃椇

Studies have shown that attending university, and furthermore, attending university abroad is beneficial to the development of society.馃摶On an episode of Freakonomics Radio, Dr. David Halpern said that 鈥people who go to university end up trusting much more than those who don鈥檛, particularly when they go away residentially.鈥澛狆煄

How has meeting people from other parts of the world helped you?

鈥淚 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.鈥

Do you feel different in yourself, something that has changed?

鈥淚t taught me a lot of things about the world around me and about myself.聽Seeing yourself from another point of view and how you approach聽other cultures is also an important thing to聽learn聽when you go somewhere.鈥

Kristina Havbo Kongsgaard, 23, from Aarhus, Denmark. She is studying Communication.

The media today is inundated with the difficulties immigration is creating for politicians.聽鉂岎煔犅營t is an issue that the public, in many different countries, disagrees upon and is a subject that can polarize societies.馃馃徏鈥峅ffering a new generation the opportunity to make friends across borders can help foster empathy and understanding.聽馃馃徎鈥

Ed Glaeser, professor of Economics at Harvard University, set up an experiment that showed a correlation between trust and the development of 鈥渟ocial capital鈥.馃懆鈥嶐煈ㄢ嶐煈р嶐煈ccording to Robert Putman, professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, 鈥渟ocial capital鈥 can enhance economic development. 鈥鈥楽ocial capital鈥 refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.鈥澛犮金煍

What has been a highlight of living in this flat?

鈥淚 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麓 or `she is Russian or Hungarian麓.鈥

Why do you feel that those cultural differences have disappeared?

鈥淭hey 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鈥 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.鈥

Marina Carrillo Vega, 21. She is studying Primary teacher. From San Antonio de Benag茅ber, Valencia, Spain.

Many people come back from their time abroad feeling like different people and agreeing that it was an invaluable experience.聽馃専 It looks good on a resume, new contacts are made in countries worldwide, and often, friendships are created that last a lifetime.馃懌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.聽馃彙聽馃挄

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鈥檛 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.

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Marisa L贸pez and Nicole Proano

 

 

 

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