I remember the day I got an e-mail from my Student Exchange Coordinators saying that I had been placed with a family in the city of Eindhoven (The Netherlands) and that I was going to be a part of this family with a mum, dad and younger brother and younger sister. I was super excited because I am the youngest here in Australia and I have ALWAYS wanted to be the oldest!
I e-mailed them as soon as I had the chance and we made a few international phone calls as well to get to know each other. After that, we skyped about 2 times before I disembarked from Australia to the Netherlands when I was 15. I had a stopover in Dubai and all I remember is walking through the terminals walking past guards, fully clothed with big guns for protection, this was the first time I was exposed to anything like this, so I quickly moved along to find my gate, sat down and got comfortable with my Harry Potter book while I called mum explaining that I was starving but too scared to walk anywhere!
When I landed in the Netherlands, I was scared to go through customs so I chose to go through a different gate which then impacted the fact that I walked straight past my host family that came to pick me up! I tried calling them, but my phone wasn’t working, so I curled up, sat down next to the information desk waiting for someone to come and claim me. Once all the drama of ‘lost Sam’ was sorted, I was on my way to where I called home for the next 5 months. I skyped mum as soon as I was there letting her know that I was safe and sound and I was off exploring town with my new brother and sister.
The first few months, keeping in contact with family and friends was hard – adjusting to time zones, my new school and learning a new language. Communication was always over Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype which was easy and convenient especially when I had a terrible Nokia phone that didn’t want to pick up any signal in the foreign country and no laptop besides the family computer which was limited when all 5 of us needed to use it!
Click here to see Charlotte’s initial experience communicating while abroad.
International education and cultural competence – one of the best things you will do in your live, but yet, hardly anyone will. There’s concerns and difficulties as to why people don’t go and live another world for a little while, and while all is okay, they don’t know what they are missing out on.
Volg and Kell, 2007, spoke about the concerns and difficulties for international students. Some things that were mentioned were:
Safety and security
Housing and employment
Visa and Migration issues
Loneliness and separation
As a 15 year old, I struggled with most issues that were spoken about in Volg and Kell’s reading this week – let me take you on an adventure.
I was 15 years old, boarding an airplane to Dubai, yes it was sad leaving my parents, but once I composed myself on my 18 hour flight, everything was looking up, free movies, food, and plenty of time to rest and dream about all the possibilities I was about to encounter. From Dubai to Amsterdam, I touched down, only to find that you could walk straight through customs with no problem, and even though the security guard looks scary, you should still go through the correct gate because otherwise you lose you host family for an hour until you eventually just sit next to the information desk waiting for someone to ask for you. As soon as I met my host family, I knew that this was going to be the best 6 months of my life. Although I was worried because Google told me that the city I was going to be living in was the city with the highest crime rate. I was ready to experience it at all costs, because I wasn’t under mum’s wing anymore, I was a free bird, still being protected though (which helps considering I’m only 15).
Days went by, jet-lag went away slowly and school was starting, I remember sitting in the big school hall for the first time, I was introduced, I sat by myself and all of a sudden I felt hundreds of eyes on me. There was a group of girls I noticed, they were wayyyy too enthusiastic and I was like okayyy, don’t make friends with the crazy girls – let me be a spoiler, they turned out to be my BESTEST friends and they supported me and allowed me to experience life just like they live.
Time went by, I had my birthday, Halloween, Christmas, New Years, school exams, I joined Scouts and a youth group and all the rest. By the time I knew it, it was time to come home, and although it was harder leaving The Netherlands and not Australia, I knew it was time. Things started to become real and I had my cousins wedding to attend to. The next thing I knew, I was at the airport with my host family and all of my class mates that I had spent the last 6 months with.
My intercultural experience was extreme, I was prepared to take the risks and explore the world, try new things. The girls and boys in my class, along with the beautiful teachers, family and friends invested so much time into my experience wanting to make it the most special one there could have been. Even though I went over knowing only 3 words of Dutch, the language barrier did not stop me from taking a chance in life. While I was there, I also connected with my blood family and was able to connect with my heritage and ancestry.
Mind you, it is important to keep in mind that not all exchange trips are just like the one I have told. Some aren’t as fun, you might not get along with the family or you might have no friends at school – but hey, at least they could say they did it. I met people just like this from Belgium and Australia and not everything was smooth sailing. I say to anyone and everyone – while you have the chance, seize the moment, go and live and do what you need to do before you get tired down and it stops you from doing it.
Marginson (2012) spoke about cultural competence which made me relate this to my exchange experience. It made me motivated, empathetic, flexible, understanding, compassionate, and the fun bubbly person that I once was. Years down the track I still talk to my family and best friends like there was no goodbye and I will forever cherish them in my heart.
I have since returned to The Netherlands and although people have moved on with their lives and the world has gone around, my cultural experience along with this great international educational experience will forever be in my heart.
It’s the best thing I have ever done, and I am sure it will be the best for any other person that does it.