Browsing Tag


Exchange, Study Abroad

Post Exchange Life: What you leave behind

People always talk about how hard it is to go somewhere and adapt to the new environment. Your exchange year wasn’t easy. But what happens after?

When arriving in your host country you had a certain certainty that in the end, you would go back home and even though sometimes it seemed like an eternity, the time flew by and you always had in mind. Now you have to go back and leave this life you built.

Your new life of which your friends and family at home barely know anything. Sure, you told them about it, they saw the pictures on Facebook. But they don’t know what it was like. They don’t know what bus you had to take to go to school every day. They don’t know how you got so used to your name being mispronounced.

They don’t know how deep your connection is with your fellow exchange students. They don’t know how lonely and sad you felt sometimes, but how great the experience was in the end. Most of all, they don’t know what you have to leave behind.

I remember my last weeks very well. I don’t think I have ever been such an emotional mess as I was then. On one hand, I was super excited to go back. To see my friends, my family, and my country. I had made a list of all the foods I would eat when I was back home. I was going to rob a supermarket. I was going to enjoy the weather. I was going to talk without being afraid of making some grammatical mistakes. But I was also extremely sad because I knew what I would have to leave behind.

‘Cause what you’re leaving behind is not a country. It is not the people. It is the experience. Leaving after your exchange means it will never be that way again. You can come back, but you won’t have to take that bus to go to school. You can’t text your exchange friends anymore to see if they want to hang out with you. Even with your host family, it will be different because you will probably never live with them anymore.

I know this thought is extremely terrifying. It is also really sad. I would give anything I could to go back to my exchange year, however shitty it was at times. I now realize that it was good. It had its charm and I cherish all memories I have from that time. I think I still start 70% of my stories with “During my exchange..”, which is probably annoying the crap out of the people around me, but I don’t care. Because it was amazing.

I am not someone who really likes inspirational quotes, but there are two that I would like to say that I think apply to this situation. The first one being:

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”

As cheesy as it may be, everything has an end. And we all knew it would come. It is better to appreciate the memories than to be forever sad that it ended.


Another quote I would like to add is for those preparing to go home and not knowing what to expect. I myself really struggled with this. When I was 15 I had made a trip to Ethiopia. A trip that was not necessarily very long, but a trip that was extremely intense and life-changing for me.

After I came home I felt like my life was divided into two parts: before Ethiopia and after Ethiopia. At first, people were interested but after a while, that stopped and people couldn’t understand why I kept talking about it. I got extremely depressed because nobody really understood what I had been through, what I had seen, what I had learned. Everything people sad made me angry or sad. I think this lasted for about 2 months, then I set my mind on my next mission: going on exchange.

In my last weeks of my exchange, I remembered very well the depression I was in after Ethiopia and I was so afraid of getting into a more severe depression because of course, this experience had been much longer and therefore in many ways even more life-changing. For all of you who are also afraid of the reverse culture shock, I will say:

“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best”

I was extremely afraid of going home. I had a lot of scenarios in my head of what could go wrong. How people wouldn’t understand me. How it would be the Ethiopia 2.0.

But it wasn’t bad at all. I am not going to say I never missed Panama, but in the first months, I was actually extremely happy. It was great to be back home. There were so many little things that I had forgotten about that I could enjoy now. I hung out a lot with other exchange students and I feel like that was something that kept me going even more.

I realized that there was a life after my exchange. I often say it was the best year of my life, but I don’t think that is true. Life has much more to offer, but in many ways, your exchange is extremely unique and memorable.

I went back to my host country last summer. The moment I stepped out of the airport and felt the terrible humidity I always dreaded so much, I heard some sketchy guy shout at me asking if he could give me a ride (he may have used different words).

I remembered all the things I had missed so much, and how annoying they actually were. It was strange because it seemed like nothing had changed, but of course it wasn’t the same. I sent my best friend photos of the places we used to hang out. She would call me a bitch for being there without her.

I got to see Panama with another friend of mine and we sort of did a touristy tour. It was different. It will never be the way it was. But being there again and seeing how the country and it’s people hadn’t changed at all. I saw all the things I missed and appreciated, but also all the things I used to hate during my exchange.

They made me smile, mostly because over time I had come to appreciate them but from a long distance and I knew if I would spend more than a month back there, it would drive me crazy again, just like it did before.

Maybe coming back wasn’t so hard for me because I expected it to be so bad. Maybe it wasn’t so bad because a year from home was actually quite a lot and my exchange had in many ways been much harder than my trip to Ethiopia, which in some way made it nicer to be home again. All I know is: life goes on after your exchange!

Some might stay active in the exchange community, others won’t, but your exchange year is something that you will forever remember and all you can do is cherish all the great memories you have.



Exchange, Exchange Student Problems, Ignorance

10 Things Not To Ask or Say To An Exchange Student

Being on an exchange is awesome and that is one of the reasons exchange students like to talk about it. However, being an exchange student can also pretty hard for a couple of reasons, one of them being the ignorance they have to deal with. I would encourage everybody to make contact with exchange students, ask them about their (host) countries, since they are some of the most awesome people on this planet, still there is an end to an exchange student´s tolerance.

Here is a list of things NOT to ask or say to an exchange student and the thought they will probably have when someone does.

In the home country

1. ¨But why are you throwing away a year instead of going to college like everybody else¨

Because I think a year abroad can actually teach me much more than sitting in class with 200 other students?
People seem to be to hung up on what you are supposed to do that at times they forget what the actual purpose of those things, such as education is. Don´t get me wrong, education is very important, but that doesn´t mean you can´t learn anything outside of school. Besides, it´s called `studying abroad` for a reason (although I think many exchange students can agree with me that this is not always the main activity)
And again, it is NOT throwing away a year. If you aren´t convinced by the 6 reasons why you should do a high school exchange, maybe the statistics of it all will help you clear your mind. For example, you are twice as likely to find a job within 12 months after you graduate. As if that isn´t enough, with that job you will on average also make 25% more than people who didn´t study abroad.
These numbers are not because making more money is a natural consequence of doing an exchange year, it just shows the people that go abroad in general might be better candidates for certain jobs. Some people are just not up for new experiences but that doesn´t mean we should be held back by that.


2. ¨Oh I am so jealous! I would love to have vacation for an entire year!¨

Yeah I would love that too! Unfortunately I already signed up for this thing called an exchange year, so I can´t be doing that anymore since I´ll be too busy learning a new language, trying to fit in with my new family, going to school, adapting to the culture and eating (don´t even try to deny it).

3 ¨I would love to go abroad but I love my parents/friends too much, I could never leave them for one year¨

Too bad for you then, but for us heartless people it´s much easier to do awesome stuff like this. Leaving everything we know just feels natural to us. We also won´t get attached to our new country which we then have to leave for an indefinite amount of time so we don´t really suffer any emotional trauma or anything.*

american horror story animated GIF

*Please note this was sarcasm. I actually believe your heart grows within your exchange year to fit in all the amazing people you meet. I don´t have the science to back this up but take it as a fact and trust me, 10 years from now studies will prove this theory to be true.

4. ¨But why would you go there

So you think I shouldn´t go to this country based on some type prejudice? You don´t really get the point of an exchange year, do you?

In the host country

5. ¨Oh so in your country they *insert random stereotype or crazy *¨

jon stewart animated GIF

Please tell me you didn´t just say that.

When you get asked an ignorant question you can do two things.

1. Explain the truth

¨No, not all people in Brazil own monkeys. I wish though¨ 

¨Trust me, I wouldn´t have been here talking to you if I had taken drugs from the Netherlands in my luggage¨


2. Exploit their ignorance

¨Yes as a matter of fact we do kill all ugly people to make sure the country of Europe only has beautiful people¨


¨Crying with blue eyes? No, of course not! Crying is for weak people¨

6. ¨Oh I heard about your country! That’s the country where *insert crazy fact or well known serial killer from your country or even worse, from a neighbouring country*. Now let me tell you exactly what your country is like because you don´t already know that¨

I am fairly certain every exchange student will meet at least one person that will tell them about your host country as if they know much better. They tell you Denmark is really an African country, they speak Chinese in Thailand or your country is very dangerous because they heard about some crazy incident that actually happened in a neighboring country.

If you tell them this isn´t true they will most likely not even listen to you. Some people just can´t handle the truth.

7. ¨Why are you doing it that way?! That´s so weird

I am weird. Deal with it.

I grew up in a different culture, doing things differently and it would be much more helpful if you guided me through the process of adjusting and adapting to this new culture instead of calling me weird.

deal with it animated GIF

8. ¨Haha you have an accent¨

Do I really? I had no idea.

Or even worse, when people go around and imitate your accent but in a really wrong and offensive way. First of all, if you are going to try and do accents you better get it right because otherwise (and even if you get it right) you will probably only offend people. Second of all, why don´t you learn another language before you start making fun of me.

9. ¨Oh you gained so much weight since the beginning of the year!´

Unfortunately most of us will suffer from this, but the worst part about is when people keep reminding you about ¨how much skinnier you were¨ in the beginning of the year, or even if it´s the other way around. It´s painful, please don´t do it.

the simpsons animated GIF

10. ¨Don´t you miss your family and friends though?¨

Of course I do. Some days more, some days less, but I won´t let a temporary feeling get in the way of doing something amazing, something that I really want.
Some people see it  as a potential excuse not to go on an exchange but the truth is, we will all miss our family/friends/home country at some point, but that should get in the way of the bigger picture. It´s true when they say nothing valuable comes for free, and an exchange is not only a financial investment, it is also an emotional investment, but you will always get something out of it. Something that is called ´personal growth´, which can be at so many levels (speaking a new language, being more independent, being more tolerant etc.).

So yes, I do miss them, if that answers your questions. But I don´t  mind because I know it is all for the greater good.

Exchange, Sin categoría

6 Reasons Why You Should Do An Exchange Year in Highschool

There are a lot of reasons why you should do an exchange. One – Because it´s the best experience of your life. Two – you get to know a country/culture that is completely different from your own. Three – you will make the most amazing new friends, etc etc.

The subject of this post is not whether you should do an exchange year or not, because you should. Everyone should.
The real question is, when should you do an exchange?

I did my exchange when I was 16 years old, and I have heard a lot of arguments against it. Too young, too naive,too dangerous. You will *cough* ´lose´ *cough*  a year. Yet, to be honest, now that I look back at it I couldn`t think of a better time to do an exchange year, and here is why:


1. You are not losing a year

You NEVER ´lose´ a year. This is a biggest misconception there is about doing an exchange year. Sure, the year I did in Panamá did not count for my school back home, resulting in the fact that I graduated a year later than all my friends. But I haven´t regretted it for one second. As cheesy as this is going to sound, the experience you get for living in another country is not comparable to anything else. You learn a new language. You learn to be independent. You learn to adapt. You learn to survive.

The year I came back my friends were all off to college and told me what it was like to live away from their parents, how independent they were now, but I knew it was nothing in comparison to what I had learned being abroad.

Besides, highschool is honestly all about working on yourself and developing some general knowledge, and is there a better way to learn about the world than to actually explore it?

2. You are still young

You are a remarkable age when you are around 16, because while you have your own personality and you are quite aware of the things you are doing, your brain is not fully `set´ yet. Teenagers rebel, do extreme things in order to create their own identity, and what better way to discover your identity that to go to a place where people do things in a completely different way?
The things you`ll learn at this age will probably decide the way you are for the rest of your life, and a foreign exchange where you learn to accept people from a different culture, and most of all: adapt to a different environment. This is definitely one of the main reasons why you should do an exchange year while you are still in high school!


3. It will be easier to learn a new language

The younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language. So why wait untill college?

For those of you who haven´t been on an exchange yet: if are not from an English-speaking country and already speak english, I really recommend you go somewhere else than the US, UK, Canada or Australia. While of course these are
really nice countries, I have heard a lot of people who came back from their exchange in an English-speaking country and saw all their fellow exchange students speak Japanese, Spanish or German, they could still only speak English as a second language. Naturally, they still had the best year of their life, but I have heard many of them say that if they could choose again, they would go to a country where they could learn a new language.

4. You get to live with a host family

And this is an opportunity you will probably never get again! To get to know a culture by actually living it, like you do with a host family, is a truly unique experience that can not be compared to anything else. Sure, it`s not always easy, but it is without a doubt worth it! I see so many university exchange students that merely use their host country as a playground for their lives, yet they don´t actually try to get to know the local people or speak the local language. Living with a host family you are forced to do all these things. You will encounter things that no other expat might ever encounter, for however long they live there.

Students writing at high-school exam teens study campus academic class


5. It shows well on your curriculum

Of course it does! First of all, you might speak another language, which is of course always a plus. Secondly, it shows you are independent and not afraid to get outside of your comfort zone.
Need to write an essay about your life and struggles for your college application? Write it about your exchange and the things you have had to overcome to adapt to your new family/country! When colleges have to select students they want someone who stands out, who has an interesting story and who is brave enough to something extraordinary. I know people who got accepted to their university immediately just because they had done an exchange year.

6. You might not get the chance again

¨Maybe when I`m in college I´ll do an exchange¨ Yeah, maybe, but I know how that works. You already have so much other stuff to do, suddenly things are getting sort of serious with your boyfriend/girlfriend, you have a job now. And once you finish college, you will not have the age or the ways to do an exchange in some kind of institution that does not involve work.

No excuses, just do it! Whenever you get the chance, grab it with both hands, then hold on to it tightly and do not let it go!

And as a bonus
7. Doing exchange year is the best decision you will make in your life. Period.

Is there any way I can make this sound less cliché? Unfortunately not. But it´s the truth.
You will make the best friends you have ever had. You will learn to appreciate everything, from family to the way things are organized in your home supermarket. You get to know yourself in a level you couldn`t possibly have imagined before. Being an exchange student you are automatically one of the most awesome people in the world. You will get amazing people skills. You will learn the most random, stupid things yet in some moment of your life you will use it again and you realize it somehow all had a purpose.

Need I say more?



Exchange, Panama, The Netherlands

The Nutella Syndrom


The Nutella Syndrom: 

liking things that you used to hate in your homecountry,
just because it’s something you know and they remind you of home

Having been on an exchange I stumbled upon this odd sensation. It’s probably a very well-known feeling for exchange students and I am sure that we will all suffer from this at one point, some more than the others.

At home, before I went on an exchange, I was never much of a patriot. Maybe I was even the complete opposite of a patriot. I pretty much thought everything from my country sucked, and other countries did everything better. Yet being on an exchange, all those things I used to dislike, I now love!

For those who have no idea what I mean with the Nutella-syndrome, let me explain. About 2 years ago we hosted a girl from Italy. She had been in the Netherlands for 3 months already, and when she came to us, her former host mother told us that she was very picky about food, but she loved Nutella. So we bought her a ton of Nutella and I asked her jokingly ¨So does the Nutella here taste better than the Nutella in Italy?¨ Then she told me that back in Italy she never ate Nutella, but coming here to the Netherlands it was something she knew, something that reminded her of home, so she liked it!

Whenever I see a Heineken commercial I suddenly feel a very patriotic feeling and I just can’t help it to tell everybody that it’s from the Netherlands. It even happens with the beers that are ‘importada de Holanda’ (imported from Holland), but that I have honestly never heard of before, like Amsterdam, Hollandia, and Breda. And that while at home I never even drank beer.

It’s just these little things that remind me of home, that make me proud of where I am from. Apparently, the Netherlands won the Baseball World Cup in 2011, in Panama. I honestly didn`t even know we had a baseball team until my Panamanian classmates told me about it, but I take much pride in the fact that we beat Cuba (which according to my classmates is a very very good team). And as I was reading the history book of my sister, desperately trying to find some Dutch painter to say “Look this is from my country! MY COUNTRY!”.


Another example: Robin van Persie. Oh I used to hate him so much, I am not even sure why, but thanks to him, some people at least know the Netherlands is a country, and when I see his interviews he has the same accent I have, which makes me feel like I am not the only one that makes awkward mistakes trying to speak another language.

Somehow it`s oddly comforting to think that we both live abroad, but have the same history, walked the same streets, watched the same TV channels, speak the same language and most of all, shares a culture with you.

They say exchanges are about getting to know and love another country, but it’s also about getting to know and love your own country, and I think the Nutella Syndrom is a part of this*

And when I say “No soy gringa, soy Holandesa!” (“I am not American, I am Dutch”) I say it con orgullo (with pride)!


*note: after going back home I experienced RNS, Reversed Nutella Syndrom, when you start missing the things you hated the most about your exchange year.