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Articles > Culture November, 30, 2015

How To Master Being A Foreign Exchange Student

Alfred Chan
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My name is Alfred, born in Canada, raised partially in Hong Kong, and now an international student living in London.

It almost felt like yesterday that I was still in Hong Kong during my summer, awaiting the fate of my future at university, a big world everyone looks towards but a hurdle in most peoples lives. Thankful to be part of a family who can support me, I’ve always thought of moving overseas to study, my siblings have done the same, and so I too will follow that path.

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By Gratistography

Once I got accepted abroad, I felt a mixture of nervousness and happiness, a surge of emotions ran through my body causing goose bumps. Living my whole life with my family and suddenly being away for months is definitely a big change, for better or worse? I was yet to see. To enter a new city such as London, a cosmopolitan city with so much cultural diversity, in some ways it is similar to Hong Kong. But at the same time very different and unique. Studying abroad offers so many new experiences that you can’t try back home.

I live in student accommodation on campus with 5 other flat mates, being friendly and nice is the best way to get to know and open up to them, they will be like family to me soon. Seeing them everyday and living with them, eating with them, these are the people that will be there for you if you ever need anything. Some of them are London native so they help me out whenever I need to buy something or when I want to explore.

Being self catered; it’s a change for me to decide what meals to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And to go weekly grocery shopping at ASDA, or to remember to check expiry dates when buying fresh produce. Some people may be used to that prior to university, but for me, it was a learning experience. For example not to buy only a weeks worth of groceries for it to be fresh, and to not waste food. Back at home it would be mom doing all of this, and the price of food doesn’t really hit you because it wouldn’t be you paying for it. But now I’ve learnt to be more money conscious for food, clothes and leisure.

The percentage of international students at my university is low at only 13%, in a way I enjoyed being one of the very few students that came from Hong Kong as it makes me unique. It allows me to go out and socialize with different people from different backgrounds. Diversity enhances creativity, it not only changes the way one thinks but it also gives new perspectives.

Am I happy with my decision? Yes. I’ve never been happier. A new environment, a fresh start with new challenges to face, it gives me new goals to work towards and new things to try out. Independence away from my family has built my strong character, and it shows how well I can cope with problems on my own.

Culture shock can be a roller coaster at times and transitioning into new environments may be tough, but difficult moments will help you appreciate the good ones and mould you into a stronger person. There is no way to prepare for living in a foreign country because there will always be things you can’t anticipate, surprises can be enjoyable.

At the end of the day it’s what you make of the experience that counts, everything is up to you and it’s your decision for what happens next. As much as studying is important, socializing is another important aspect that cannot be ignored. Stepping away from my comfort zone was a risk and the results were priceless.

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