Exchange / Short-term Living Abroad in a Nutshell

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At first I’d like to say you guys that I’m super happy of all my short-term stays working, studying, living or just traveling abroad. However my best advice to myself planning all these would be stay at least 6-12 months. Below you can see why.

What happens in your life, mind and relations when you’re abroad (my experience below is from moving to Finland to US. There is time cap of 7-10 hours between these countries but at least the culture is pretty similar and I have studied English for about ten years):

Week 1: Your super excited and full of energy, having fun. However because of jet lag you cannot sleep enough – at the daytime you keep exploring your new environment and at the night you don’t feel like sleeping. You’re not tired yet though.

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Weeks 2-3: Jet lag really hits you. You finally start to sleep when your supposed to. You feel tired and when you’re tired everything in your new school or job might seem weird and frustrating just because your lack of sleep. Take a deep breath, go out for a walk and sleep. It’s helpful to know that feelings you’re going trough will disappear.

Weeks 4-10: Normal life, figuring out how everything works, getting to know new people better. In this stage you’re still little unsure of the norms, language and other people around you. You don’t exactly know how you’re supposed to work and you might not have best friends forever kind of people in your destination but at least you have people to hang out with.

Weeks 11- : You start to feel home. You have friends, you know all necessary to survive. You don’t anymore remember what jet lag felt like. If you’re sick you definitely have someone to call and get you some chocolate. You could be tutor or mentor to someone new in same place. You have got used to local foods, language and culture in general. Anymore you don’t feel that local habits are wrong, you have realized that they are just different.

… 3-2 Weeks to leaving: Goodbyes. No, you don’t want to think about goodbyes yet. However you start to go through process of leaving your destination and everything & everyone you met there. You might feel sad and want to just walk alone or you want to go out and see everyone and do everything you can. Part of your mind might already be planning your come back – little stress of moving, flights, housing back home…

… 1-0 Weeks to leaving: Goodbyes. You cannot hide from them anymore. You just have to back your stuff and find out how you’ll get to airport and should you send some of your stuff. What to do during last night? Should you give something to your new friends so that they’ll remember you. Should you close your banking account or quit phone contract. Where to leave the keys?

My first time in States was 15 weeks and second one was 20 weeks. When you go back to stages above you realize that on both times I just started to know some people little better and learned to work or study in that society when I already left. Of course, second time was a lot easier because I already knew some language and American way to work, live, eat, drink, etc. But campus life in Ohio is still not completely same compared to working in Wisconsin. And of course, rules and people are different.

I’m pretty sure that because of my studies in Finland I have to leave for short-term again next time. However further in future I would rather live 6-12 months in one place at the time. That’s also what I recommend to you if you can choose. Anyway month is better than a week and three months is better than three weeks.

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Happy travels! 🙂

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