The Exchange Therapy

Getting away from your old – and well known – context to find yourself: why is an exchange study program so unique?

Before moving abroad from everything I ever knew and loved, even though I did not knew how much I loved it back then, I made a very good research to predict what living this experience would be like-ish. I heard from almost 100% of people who had already made an exchange study program that there was nothing like it, but the curious thing is that nobody knew how to explain why and what is this singularity that only an exchange could bring. So, you might have assumed that my research was not that good, right? Well… almost.

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I was seeking this answer in endless interviews with those who had already gone through the experience, between the lines of the excellent and terrible stories (not every exchange programs are success stories, take a note on that), in the hard times, in the relaxed reflections of a pleasant conversation…, but I never found anything that explains precisely why an exchange program is so unique.

I am about to complete three years of studying outside Brazil, and I have to be honest with you: I have written a lot about it, but I am still looking for the answer to this specific question. Even though I still haven’t found it completely and clearly, I already realize how much I found myself out of my context, far from my comfort zone (trust me, an exchange program is to be, far, FAR AWAY from your comfort zone!), only by myself. Whenever I thought I had found the answer, something on the way shown me that this was yet to be found. If I was the same person I was when I left my country, I would be going mad over my lack of patience for this kind of situations, however, another thing I learned from all of the experience I am still having is not to control anything – let the unknown surprise you. Well, this is a subject to another topic, I don’t mean to get philosophical here today… Moving on!

I have always supported everyone who wants to adventure themselves in therapy, after all, mental health is an essential thing and, unfortunately, not everyone realizes it. The joke I made with the title of the article is precise because of this: it is in the exchange program that you will discover yourself as if you are opening a new window. From what I have lived so far (quite a lot, if I may say!), I learned a lot about myself in a very short time, and one of the things I really liked the most was having my own company.

How so? I will explain: not today, nor yesterday, I have noticed this joy on being alone (solitude and loneliness are not the same things, okay? It is important to make this statement). It was right at the beginning of my exchange program when this insight crowned my head. I preferred to let time pass to see if it was not dazzling, and today I know it wasn’t.

You see, in a different country, with a different culture than you are used to, no matter how similar it is to your home country, you are alone. Yes, you will meet a lot of nice people, but these people know you in their context — not “yours”, not the one context you grew up into. Well, this is excellent because it gives you huge freedom to be who you really are, free from the pressures that your social cycle imposes on you, whether you want to or not. The point is freedom!

I was very resentful when I was in Brazil, perhaps for my fear of disappointing people, and carried an image that I did not feel was so, so mine. When I was exploring my new life, those bad feelings became lighter and lighter, until one day, it disappeared. Not that I wasn’t true, or that I took on a character other than myself: none of that! I hardly knew that I could be as happy and lighter as I am today. I don’t think that you can explain that feeling when asked why an exchange is so unique – although I have tried my very best. In addition to the obvious answer that the experiences are very individual, there is this question of discovering yourself again, which is wonderful!

If you are in doubt whether to make an exchange or not, I will be extremely honest: if you can, do it! Of course, plan ahead, do everything according to the rules so you don’t have a headache on the processes and bureaucracy, and if you need to postpone it for whatever reason do it as soon as you can!

Have you ever studied abroad? Or is it something that you are looking forward to do someday? Tell me everything in the comments section and I will help you out the best I can 🙂

*This article was originally written in PT-BR — available by the Brazilian (and amazing!) website Já Fez as Malas?, first published in July 2018. It was updated to fit Airport Party in 2020.

Published by flaviastamato

Publicist and writer, a citizen of the world trying to free herself from writing cliches (but it's so tempting....)

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