Canada Alessandre Alonso

Challenges of exchange

Alessandre – Semester Exchange to Seattle University, USA

Semester 2, 2016

Challenges I have faced while overseas and how I’ve overcome them

The two biggest challenges I have faced while overseas have been homesickness and doubting that I was able to tackle all the little challenges on the way by myself. While travelling solo and on exchange, I really felt that my support network had been pulled out from under me. At home it is so reassuring to be able to come home to a hot meal and my own bed, and my family to discuss any issues with. The prospect of being separated from my family and friends to fend for myself in a new environment honestly terrified me. I felt extremely homesick and alone at points, and often felt afraid thinking “I can’t do this”. My best advice is to do it anyway. By pushing myself out of my comfort zone, exchange has been the most incredibly rewarding experience. I pushed myself to join the outdoor recreation club, went hiking every weekend, saw some amazing parts of Washington and met amazing friends. I challenged myself in the first month of my exchange to say ‘yes’ to every person who asked me to do an activity with them. Living on campus helped me to feel like I had a community around me and made it easy for me to get involved. There is no doubt that you will be nervous and miss home at some point during an exchange, but becoming a yes person made the experience far easier for me – I met so many new people, discovered so much of Washington state and took advantage of all the opportunities that popped up through the university.

Another challenge I experienced was making friends with American students at the beginning of my experience. I am naturally shy and I was very nervous when I arrived at Seattle University, so I really had to push myself to interact with other American students. The international student centre hosted plenty of events that allowed me to meet other international students, and so I became good friend with plenty of other international students quite quickly. Even though I was in classes with mostly American students, I was shy about speaking up in class, and I felt like I was initially struggling to connect and find shared humour and traits with people. The best thing I did was join some student clubs and go to university events, and after about a month I had a close group of American friends that I felt comfortable with.

The other element of my trip that was both challenging and interesting, was being in Seattle while the Presidential campaign and election took place. Seattle is a very left-leaning and liberal city, and there was a strong expectation that Hillary Clinton would be elected. People were very emotionally invested in the outcome understandably, so when Trump was elected there was an atmosphere of stress, anger and sadness, and there were protests in the city every day. Even though I learned so much about American politics and enjoyed debating different issues with my classmates and friends, it was a really negative week for me and most people around me once Trump was elected.