To begin with, let me introduce myself. My name is Alena. I study International Business at JAMK University of Applied Sciences, and have just finished the 3rd year out of total 3.5 of my degree programme. I totally enjoy learning and living in Jyväskylä, which is, in my view, very close to a perfect city for studying. The opportunities offered to students here are huge indeed. You have everything you need for being a productive, enthusiastic, motivated and active learner: big library, access to a great variety of databases, stimulating environment – a lot of space for studying, including computer rooms, exciting study trips, inspiring company visits, classes by various guest lecturers from all over the globe, as well as a great choice of courses, including the language ones, and much more! All things considered, I am enormously happy to be here. In the future I am going to tell you why in more details, but in this post I would like to share my exchange experience, which I had in France.
When expectations meet reality…
For me this academic year was exciting and amusing, but tough and frustrating as well. In August 2013 I left for exchange to Paris for 5 months. This was quite an experience for me. In the beginning I was blindly overwhelmed by the idea of moving to Paris, thinking that life there would be easy and exciting. My expectations were really high, everything looked promising. So I found the tiniest studio apartment and moved in.
I suddenly found myself all alone in a totally alien, huge and noisy city, more than 2000 km away from my home and family, where nobody cares about you. I did not speak a word of French; nobody spoke English, including my landlord. I felt so lost and terrified. Excited to move to a new place, I was not prepared for that at all. Things got better when the school started: I met some lovely people and we became friends. However, I was still in a deep culture shock. After living in Finland for two years, where everything is in order, France seemed a total chaos. It took a while for me to finally start feeling comfortable: I learned the basic language quite fast, learned about the French and their culture, and was able to survive. Consequently, my love-hate relationship with Paris finally ended on love. Paris is an amazing city, but visiting it as a tourist is totally different from living there. It is not always welcoming and friendly to you; it is not always beautiful and romantic as it is thought of. But I am very happy and incredibly grateful for this unique chance to go through that…
Today I look back to my time in Paris with a smile and a feeling of sadness and regret that I did not stay there for the whole year. I wish I were stronger, being able to adapt faster, focusing on the positive sides: the beauty of the city, wonderful places, interesting people living there, the world’s best food…
To conclude, I would like to give you some advice. If you are going for exchange, firstly, as soon as you get accepted and your study place is confirmed, start learning about the country you are going to, its norms of behavior, traditions and lifestyle, focusing on practical things. What is most important, try to learn as much as possible of the local language. Even if you do not speak fluently, people very appreciate when you put effort in trying to speak their language, and are willing to do anything to help you. Show some respect, and you will see the output. Secondly, it may sound weird but when you are already there, try to make some effort to enjoy your time! If you feel that you are having culture shock, do not lock yourself in your room, try to resist isolating yourself from the world around. Go and dive into it, immerse yourself in the culture deeper: go for local food, meet new people, go out, communicate, share – it will fasten the adaptation process, making your experience a lot more positive.
I am leaving you at this point, wishing you luck and courage. Stay tuned!