What I wish I knew before making the best decision of my life

By Alysha Garrett

My Exchange Experience

Studying abroad was not only the most incredibly exciting experience that I have ever been privileged enough to have in my life, but also the most life changing. I know the concept of exchange being ‘life-changing’ seems a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I can honestly say that making the choice to study abroad was hands down the best decision I have ever made. Like, literally.

Initially, on the weeks leading up to making the terrifying, yet exciting, plunge of stepping out onto the plane and leaving everything that you hold nearest and dearest behind, made me very hesitant to say the least. However, once I got over the initial fear (and jetlag), I soon started to settle in and made the most incredible, diverse and irreplaceable friends that I will have well beyond exchange (and hopefully for the rest of my life). The universal thought of “the friends I’ll make on exchange aren’t going to be like the ones I make at home” will ring so true that it’s quite frightening. This is because the experiences you’re going to share with those lucky few people will be experiences that you wouldn’t have been able to have back home, and that is what makes your exchange friends so unique to your friends back home.

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If I could impossibly sum up my exchange experience in one word it would probably be ‘opportunity’. Never in my life have I had the vast range of opportunities to travel to more countries than I can count on my fingers, make lifelong friendships with people from all across the globe and fall in love; not only with the dirt you stand on, but the incredible places you’re exposed to and the people that surround you.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I’d travel to the particular countries that I explored, meet the friends that I made, and have a total romance novel moment and fall in love with an English fella, and eventually plan to move over there once I finish my degree. If you don’t make the initial step, you’ll never be able to take the leap of faith to change your life.

Accommodation

I stayed in student accommodation on campus at Charles Morris Hall. What I loved about Charles Morris Hall is not only its incredibly central locality to every building on campus (which meant a 2 minute walk to class), but also the option of being catered. Having a meal plan actually made dinnertime exciting, where there were over 10 options for meals each lunch and dinner, with alternating meals each day and week. Living in student accommodation provides you with the perfect opportunity to not only become great buddies with other people, but also explore the city in which you live in, and travel the world with them.

Budget

Living on campus, with a meal plan involved cost me roughly around £190 a week, which is justified by its locality and £10.70 daily credit for food. Travelling around Europe was super cheap thanks to cheap airlines such as Ryanair, staying in budget accommodation such as hostels and airbnb. I walked everywhere, so I didn’t even need to factor in a budget for transportation. I found the draining expenses were eating out, buying alcohol and travelling. My top tip for budgeting for exchange is to make as much money as you can, and don’t deprive yourself.

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Top tips

  • Don’t be afraid to give something a go, because in the end you’ll regret it if you don’t!
  • Travel as much as you can
  • You are stronger than you think! (I broke my ankle 2 months in, and still didn’t let a broken bone stop me from having the most incredible time)
  • Explore, see places you have never seen before, eat everything you find, walk around a city without a map and meet new people.
  • Make memories that will stay with you for a lifetime.

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Alysha Garrett is studying a Bachelor of Communication at the University of Newcastle and completed a semester exchange at Leeds University in the UK. 

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