(Ex)change your life

It’s 15 degrees. I’m having coffee and marzipan cake in a cozy bakery in a small town called Wismar, in a big country, Germany. It’s been a month of studying on an exchange program in Hochschule Wismar and it’s already changed my life.

So why do students go on exchange? To improve language skills, to travel, to see how education is conducted in other countries, to meet new and interesting people, to learn something new. I wrote it all in my motivation letter when I was applying for this program. But I didn’t know that it’s going to be a lot more than that.

First of all, the atmosphere of a small town. You want to be calm here and work hard at the same time. All the stress of Saint Petersburg’s commotion just disappears. I’m not going to hide the fact that I thought it would be boring to live in a city with 40,000 population. Turned out, it’s just perfect to know every neighbor but still meet new people at parties.

Second of all, people. Neighbors, teachers, bank workers, cashiers, homeless people, very rich people, people on the street, people in the line — they are all incredibly friendly. You can always find help, support, and attentiveness. I just got out of the plane and already got help with buying a train ticket.

Third of all, friends. From the first day, I met real friends. And what really touched my heart, they didn’t wait for me to do something good for them to trust me. They just trusted me without any hesitations. I’ve been living here for only 1 month but I already feel like these people are my family. I also have a buddy here (Hello, ITMO Buddy System). Thanks to him I know a lot of German drinking games and can bargain at the flea market.

Fourth of all, having fun. I’ve heard stories about funny exchange experiences but I didn’t know how cool it is in real life. On the day I arrived, my neighbors invited me to a party. I just landed and I was already dancing and trying The Real German Beer. And it didn’t finish until now. Every weekend you may be invited for a cozy beer pong at a friend’s apartment or for a wild party on campus. And it’s not that people in Germany drink a lot (of course they do), it’s that all students are gathering around and can talk about everything, make jokes or even sometimes be wing-men for each other. It makes you more outgoing, more open when you can just approach a random person and be sure he’s going to be friendly to you.

Last but not at all least, studying. I have good teachers at ITMO University. I owe them a lot. But sometimes I feel that our studying process is too academic. Our purpose is to learn something really important, I get it, but sometimes we need practice. Here it’s all about practice. I have a course called Intercultural Project. The aim of this course is to encourage young people to vote on the EU elections. We make flyers, slides for monitors, think about funny sketches for presenting in class (I'm not sure about my actress skills but who knows). And I realize that this project may really have some input into elections. My sacral wish is to suggest some improvement in our educational process back home. Maybe I can affect it too.

Marzipan cake’s been eaten, coffee’s cold and the sun is slowly going to meet the land. If you are a student and you’re thinking about academic mobility, don’t think and just apply for it. I can endlessly talk about great opportunities for a future career, language skills and social skills. But it changes your life. And new (change) is always better.

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