Alex – Exchange to FH Kufstein-Tirol University of Applied Sciences, Austria
Semester 2, 2016
Distance can be measured by more than just metres and kilometres; psychologically, one can feel completely isolated even if they are not physically distant.Three weeks since I arrived in Austria, I was walking in the mountains and could feel that something more than 20,000km separated me from home…
Although from Australia to Europe is an incredible distance for most people, the knowledge that you are so far from home can further increase the feeling of remoteness. Few places are associated with remoteness as much as the mountains. The peace and quiet after a while transforms into seclusion and loneliness; a feeling highlighted further by the fact that I am (like many students currently on exchange) truly alone in my new environment.
While I was hiking up the mountain, my family was sleeping at home; while I was in heavy shoes and clothes for walking in rough terrain, they were likely in clothes suitable for sleep; while I mused over the new situation I found myself in, they dreamt. Two completely different worlds.
New cultures will always appear different to us, as they should. Being in new environments will always be, to a degree, challenging; sometimes more, sometimes less, but always taking us out of our comfort zones a little. We must find our ways around new places, with new people, and new customs.
While we find our way around new people and cultures, we also find ourselves. Spending time in different environments helps us reassess and reflect. Spending time with people different to our usual group of friends may prompt us to open up more. Or not. It’s all about being given the opportunity to experience something new, which will in one way or another shape us as people. New experiences, new cultures and new friends will always leave their mark.
Being alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of course humans are social beings and too much isolation generally does not suit us. However, being given the chance to do things as you please can help you discover things about yourself you never realised, or simply never considered. Many students do not know what they want to do in the future. It might be embarrassing to admit, but even after enrolling in our courses many of us are not convinced we want to be the lawyers, accountants, sports therapists or nurses we are studying to become. Time away from our everyday routines and the usual external influences (family, friends, work colleagues, country and regional etiquettes and customs etc) can help us decide on a direction to take (or conversely, prompt us to move onto a different path). The need to be more resourceful and to exhibit greater initiative will also weigh in and likely help us decide truly what we want to achieve (if we do not yet know).
As I stood on the mountain, overlooking the beautiful city of Kufstein, I felt somewhat alone. Certainly, that was not the only feeling I felt. I was satisfied by the distance I travelled, surprised I managed it by myself, pleased I decided to do so, relaxed by the fresh air and awed and inspired by the scenery and the view. But simultaneously; isolated.
Communicating frequently with family and friends helps eliminate the feeling of isolation, as does meeting new people at the host destination. ACU does a wonderful job of keeping in contact with the students it sends overseas. Coupled with the preparation workshops we went through and all the official paperwork gone through in order to be accepted by our host unis, I cannot speak for all the students, but I believe this transforms our experience from one of uncertainty to one where we can focus on all the many positives student exchange has to offer.
There are so many people behind us that it truly is difficult to feel alone, despite the physical distance between us and our homes. Feeling isolated from time to time is normal and natural. It does not take away from our experience. If anything, it will help us appreciate those we have momentarily left behind and make the most of our lives back at home, when we return.