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Studying Abroad Right - the Student Perspective

Date:11 January 2018
About to have an underwater date with sharks and turtles at 'Divers Paradise'
About to have an underwater date with sharks and turtles at 'Divers Paradise'

The first semester is ending, so a lot of students are preparing to embark on one of the best student experiences: go on exchange. If you are one of these students, I bet you are feeling a bit nervous and excited, and are curious to know what to expect. If you are not, perhaps you are interested in studying abroad and want to hear a student’s perspective on what it is like. I spoke to a friend of mine, Lisa, who has just finished her semester abroad in Indonesia, to give you an insight into what her exchange period was like.


My name is Lisa and I am one of the many Germans in Groningen. I am an International Business bachelor student, and as part of my studies, I had to spend one semester abroad. I wanted to use the time more for a cultural experience that would involve a lot of travelling, so Indonesia was the obvious choice. The city of Jogjakarta calls itself Java’s capital. Here, life is pretty much the opposite of Groningen and prices are extremely low, so here I am, enjoying myself having just finished my semester at the Gadjah Mada University in Jogja.

What’s been the highlight of your exchange time?

That’s super hard to say, but we snorkelled with manta rays and washed elephants in the jungle - where we also saw wild orangutans - during a three-day trekking tour. Those animal encounters made a huge impression on me and it is still hard to believe that it actually happened.

What was the first week like? Is there something you wish you had done differently?

Prior to the official semester start, I followed an additional Summer School programme organised by my host university. My first week in Jogjakarta was actually quite busy with lectures already, and since we stayed in a hotel on campus we did not get to see or do much during the first week. It was only during our first weekend that we had the chance to explore a little bit of the city, but I am still very happy I followed that course as I met heaps of new people very quickly. However, I do think it would have been nicer to have some free time in the first days for exploring and finding my feet a little bit.

What are your tips for people preparing to go on exchange?

I don’t think I have to mention the obvious things like get a credit card, insurance, vaccinations... but seriously, don’t even consider going without insurance. Apart from that, it is definitely very helpful to speak a few local words and phrases for things like ordering food (trust me, you don’t suddenly want to end up with spicy food if not ordered); bargaining; and asking for directions. I downloaded the app ‘Babbel’ and can really recommend it. Furthermore, read other people’s reports and blogs so you can mentally prepare a little for the kind of lifestyle you’ll have abroad, and how the people will act around you. Keep in mind when choosing a country like Indonesia it is a rather emerging country and things simply don’t work out as smoothly as we are used to it from Groningen. You will probably encounter some frustration along the way but all that is basically forgotten in the end as you will just a have an amazing time and that’s what you’ll remember!

What are your tips for somebody when they are on exchange?

It sounds a bit cheesy, but my main advice would be to remain open-minded and positive. I know from my experience that’s just the way to go in order to make the most out of your time. Be open to engaging with locals; try as much local food as you can; and just be spontaneous. What I found out for myself is things will always work out in the end. Just maintain a positive mindset, and remind yourself how lucky you are to be living in such a beautiful country like - in my case - Indonesia. As an example, at one point I was kind of stuck in a tiny harbour without enough money for horrendous taxi prices. There was a thunderstorm coming up, and the local bus was only leaving in an hour, maybe two. As you can tell, I was feeling a little bit stressed. In the end though, after waiting for maybe five minutes, a local pick up truck pulled over and asked whether I wanted a ride on their loading area, so off we went and it all turned out fine.

Going on exchange is a fantastic opportunity as a university student and one you will not regret. I, for one, am extremely jealous of Lisa and the experiences she had, and her experiences motivate me to also go on exchange. If you want to speak to somebody from your faculty who has already been on exchange, you should contact your international office or study advisor, and if you have any other questions for Lisa you can always write one in the comments below!


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