Advice to Newbies

Thought it would be nice to write a post about things I wish I would’ve known before I came on my exchange. Also just some advice about being an exchange student. This is for the newbies from Australia going on exchange this month, and maybe for the ones who will go in the fall too. I’m on exchange in Sweden, but you should be able to apply this information to wherever your going on exchange!

Pack lightly. There is so much stuff I don’t use and don’t need here with me. The fashion is different where you are going and you will most likely want to dress like the people in your school, so you will end up buying stuff in your host country. For me coming to Sweden from America, I found that they wear a lot of black and neutral colors, really basic. They like to wear bright colors when they are working out but other than that, not so much. It also seems like everyone here has a leather jacket, converse, and black jeans. None of which I had with me.

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Nothing is “weird”. When I arrived here and saw something that was different from at home, my first instinct was to say “Oh that’s weird”. I always had to and still have to stop before I say that and think before I speak. It’s not weird. It’s probably completely normal for the people living here, but for you it’s something new and just because it is new does not automatically make it weird. It is just different. You also don’t want to say something is weird, and then end up offending someone by saying that. Everything I have said that to when I first came, I now think nothing of it, it’s become normal to me too.

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The prices of things in your country. I didn’t know that makeup was more than twice as expensive here in Sweden than it is in America. Fortunately for me, I brought everything I use with me, so I haven’t needed to buy anything, but my eyeballs still bulge out of my head whenever I calculate the price to the USD. That being said though, everyone here pays for it and doesn’t think of it as being so expensive. Here in Sweden the prices of things and living are a little higher but they also get paid a lot more. So it’s pretty even for them. The best way to find out what could be expensive and what could be cheap in your country is to ask your oldies. They would know better than your host family the differences, your host family would just think it is normal.

It’s not a bad thing to study some of your host language. You don’t need to be fluent before you leave for your host country, but know some basic sayings and words. And when you get to your host country, try to use them. Even if you pronounce them wrong, your family or whoever you’re talking to will appreciate your effort, and they won’t laugh at you, I promise. When I came to Sweden I had studied some, maybe not as much as I should of but I knew all the basics. I found it helpful to watch movies and listen to Swedish movies to help learn the language. You probably won’t understand ANYTHING at first, but without knowing it you start to pick up the melody and flow of the words, so when you learn enough words to start talking it will be easier. I listen to Swedish music now almost every day (tip look on Spotify for what’s popular in your country). Now I am able to sing along if I want, and I was in a Swedish choir recently (Lucia). Hearing a language you have never even been exposed to before is hard at first. But it definitely gets easier the more you heard it and try to use it, especially if you are really dedicated to learning it.

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Make native friends, don’t just be friends with other exchange students. For me this is kind of a big one. Where I am in Sweden, I am the only Rotary exchange student in my district (the closest is a 24 hour train ride/10 hour drive by car). I have to make Swedish friends, and it is a great thing. Sure exchange student friends are awesome, but you are trying to learn the Swedish culture, and you can’t really do that with exchange friends. I have learned so much already from my Swedish friends and host sisters, and I think they have also learned about where I come from. I’m not saying never hang out with exchange students, but definitely don’t do it every weekend. You need to go out and make native friends. For me, they didn’t come up to me and ask me if I wanted to do something. They were all very shy, very nice also, but just so shy at first. I messaged many of my classmates on Facebook asking them to fika (a great way to make friends) and now I have gotten to know many people and I have made some very close friends. It’s a good thing to know exchange students pretty much become best friends when they meet, at least most of the time, so you will still even have friends all over the world when you leave. Sure other exchange students know what you’re going through, and it is just easier to hang out with them, but you will be glad to have lots of native friends in the end too!

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Take nothing for granted. Live in the now. For me I am still awestruck sometimes. I walk by the local mountain everyday, and I still have to stop and just look at it and take pictures. I want to take in every second of it. My Rotary club bought me a season ski pass, so I can go whenever I want, as many times as I want. This was so nice of them, and I don’t have anywhere to ski close to me at home, so of course here I am  taking the opportunity and am going at least 3 times a week to ski! Also try not to think about the time, it doesn’t help any just makes you sad. Just do as much as possible while you can while you have the chance to. I think that this teaches us something valuable. Not everything can last forever. Sometimes, like in this case, you know it won’t, but in other cause you never know. Do as much as you can now. Don’t wait until later because then it might be too late.

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Make a bucket-list. My friend here who was an exchange student last year gave me this idea. Have your friends in your host country help you write a list of fun things to do and try to do as many as you can before you leave. It can be anything, trips to places, just random fun things. On mine I have added stuff such as, go to the Ice hotel, and sauna then jump in the snow. You can give a list to your Rotary club maybe, and ask if anyone wants to do any of it with you.

Never say no. As an exchange student you’ve probably heard this term thousands of times before you left. Or at least I know I did. I don’t really live by this, and I haven’t really used it much, but it’s true. If someone invites you to do something, do it. I don’t know why anyone would say no! I have never been put into a situation where I haven’t wanted to do something here. Okay, maybe the tabata class I wasn’t really looking forward to. My legs did hurt for a week straight though, but it was definitely worth going.

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Don’t worry about getting fat. Everyone on the exchange student page is always complaining about getting fat. Even if you do get fat, it’s worth it. It’s not like if you get fat you are going to be fat forever, you can always lose the weight. You are getting the chance to experience new food, if you like it, have seconds! For me, my favorite food here is reindeer. If I have the option to eat it, I eat it, and I eat a lot of it. We don’t have reindeer at home, this is the only time I’ve got to eat it! I am going to eat it here, and love every second of it. Now should you stuff yourself full of anything they put on the table? Well no, that’s not necessary (but you should try a little of everything they put on the table). Just live comfortably if you like it, eat more. It’s as simple as that.

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Be active in what you like to do, and also try new activites! For me this is playing tennis and ice hockey. Make sure you tell your host parents and Rotary exactly what you want to do here, and they should try their best to make it happen! I was lucky that my host mom’s boyfriend had a friend who was a hockey coach, and he also used to play tennis so he knew the tennis coach. There isn’t a hockey team I can play on here in my town, but I help coach the little kids team, and practice with them. It’s so much fun and I am grateful to have the opportunity to do it. My host sister is involved in choir, and when there were sign ups for the Lucia choir (a Swedish tradition), I knew I had to sign up! I don’t sing in a choir at home, but it’s a good way to be around people my age and fun. Also as I said earlier, I started skiing here too, so fun to do once you learn it!

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Get involved with your Rotary club. For me, it’s been a little tricky. Most of them don’t seem to really care that I am here, but you just need to find the ones who do care. I have been trying to always talk to them, ask to do stuff, ask what is fun to do. At least they know you are interested in getting to know them.

Write it down. Yeah I know it might sound kind of lame to keep a journal. I wish I was keeping a more in depth one from the start. I wrote down some interesting things that happened, but not everything. People ask me “What was your first thought when you came to Gällivare?”. Well, I don’t remember really. I wish I wrote it down. It’s exciting new stuff we are experiencing. It’s crazy for me to just read what I wrote a month ago, or even just a week. It’s kind of like seeing yourself actually changing, it’s crazy. If you’re wondering what to write about, I normally write what I did that day (went to this class, someone said something funny) and then from the basics if there’s something more I just start to write it without thinking. Once you pick up the pen and start to write it just comes.

Woah! That was a lot of information to throw at everyone. I hope this can benefit at least one person, then I would be happy! I’m sure everyone is really exciting to be going on exchange, and if you are getting nervous, don’t be! This is going to be the best year of your life SO FAR, so get ready to take it all in!

I’m always here if anyone wants to talk about anything, so if you need someone to talk to and have no one else, don’t be afraid to send me a message!

Hej då, säkra resor, och lycka till!!

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14 thoughts on “Advice to Newbies

  1. Thanks for all these great tips! Our daughter is going to Columbia in Aug 2014 and we’re all busy trying to find out as much as we can from exchange students. Your blogs have been so helpful and we’re glad to hear that you’re having such a fantastic time! genießen!

    1. That’s so exciting for your daughter! I’m sure she will have a wonderful year in Columbia. I’m glad I have been able to help somehow! If you have any other questions, I’d love to help, although I can’t answer much about Columbia obviously but in general about exchange!

  2. Hi Sabrina! What a nice blog. I found it after Mats shared this on Facebook. Best regards from your last host mother. We are looking forward to having you here! Come and visit some time.

  3. Hi Sabrina,
    My daughter (http://madeleine.winnett.id.au) brought your blog to my attention when she was hunting around the internet for exchange students who were blogging about their Rotary Youth Exchange experience. We both have been reading your blog posts with interest, particularly as you blog so consistently about your day to day life as an exchange student in Sweden. My daughter created a WordPress site before she was selected as an exchange student and has been blogging regularly about her interests. Now that she has been selected as a Rotary Youth Exchange student she has incorporated her pre-exchange journey into her blog and intends to emulate your success as a blogger and blog about her upcoming experience as she begins her exchange in Germany in a week’s time. As an ex-Rotary Exchange Student myself who spent a year in Finland in 1989, I (and my daughter) found your advice in this blog post invaluable to every current and future exchange student. In particular, your advice about creating friendship groups with the locals (and not just fellow exchange students) and being proactive with initiating the communications with them was indispensable. ‘The bucket list’ is certainly a great initiative too and I’m sure can open some doors for exchange students during their exchange year. I’ve no doubt the remainder of your exchange year in Sweden will continue to be a fantastic experience!

    1. Wow thanks! That’s so cool you have been reading my blog. I have checked out your daughters blog earlier, and can’t wait to see and hear about her adventures in Germany! Thanks for this awesome comment!!

      1. Thanks for your reply Sabrina. I recently encapsulated a few of my thoughts about my daughter’s pre-exchange journey in a blog post: http://matthew.winnett.id.au/2013/12/30/an-intergenerational-exchange-journey/ where I referenced a blog post by a fellow ex-Rotary Youth Exchange student, Shawn Bird. Shawn also wrote a blog post which emulates your blog post: http://shawnbird.com/2010/07/31/how-to-be-a-crappy-exchange-student/ which you and others may find of interest too.

      2. Thanks for sharing those links! I definitely think they’re helpful. It’s really interesting to see the perspective of an ex-exchange student whose daughter is going on exchange! I guess it’s true that your exchange will always stay with you.

  4. Omg they are all true! I was complaining about getting fat! You know R Grotto’s and Bianchi’s are the best places in Ottawa! I can lose weight whenever I want.. I mean of course after Im done with my exchange program 🙂 Sabrina, i literally love your blog and post! I hope we can meet someday! Take care my exchange friend 🙂

    1. Haha those places are good! I want a Bianchi’s pizza now 😉 Aw thanks so much Zey! I feel like I already kind of know you, even though we’ve never met! But hopefully we do meet! You take care too, hope Ottawa is treating you well! 🙂

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