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Semester Exchange: Why it is a Must Do!

Thalia recently completed the GLP and graduated with a Bachelor of International Studies. She has returned to Macquarie and is currently completing a Double Masters in PICT and International Security Studies, and I’m also undertaking the Postgraduate GLP program.

GL X01 – Exchange or Study Abroad (semester or year) from the GLP’s Experiential Credit table, may look like a daunting activity. However, for those of you who are contemplating it should definitely do it and see where it takes you. This journey will be one of the most exciting, nerve-wracking, and rewarding experiences of your life.

I undertook my exchange at the University if Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland in 2014. This was a brilliant opportunity as it was in the hub of international politics, science and humanitarian aid. Geneva acts as the headquarters for the Red Cross, The United Nations Human Rights Council and CERN. It was amazing being centred among these organizations and having the opportunity to see some of their work first hand. Additionally, Geneva is at the heart of Europe; therefore, I made sure I had a three-day weekend so that I could travel constantly- a luxury not possible from Australia!

The process to prepare for exchange was a little overwhelming. Prepare to do exams in another language (only applicable if you’re doing a language exchange), preparing to travel, and having the units approved through University was not an easy task. But it was definitely worth it!

Prior to my exchange I thought that I had a higher than average level of intercultural competence because I was studying International Studies and that I lived in Australia where we pride ourselves in being multicultural. Due to this I was not initially worried about being adapting to cultural diversities.

However, my exchange quickly challenged this. I had to quickly adapt to “Swiss Culture”, a multi-lingual country where almost every person could fluently speak at least three languages and living independently for the first time. The first couple of weeks were not easy. Everyday I was exhausted because I was speaking, listening, reading and writing in French in all aspects of life. It was comforting to come home and Skype with family and friends in English.

Nevertheless, I made sure that I fully adapted myself to the Swiss culture, trying to interact with domestic students. Through this, I increased my knowledge of Swiss culture – slang, social etiquette “bisous” (kisses on the cheek) etc. that later helped me to settle in and feel less foreign!

All in all, Geneva was an enriching experience for all aspects of educational and social life. It has lead to a lot of cultural self-awareness and has definitely sharpened and improved my ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures. I have noticed that I have developed:

  • Knowledge about other cultures and other people’s behaviors.

  • Empathy and the ability to understand the feelings and needs of other people – I have become more tolerant.

  • Self-confidence – a self awareness of my own capabilities and emotional stability.

  • Cultural identity – an increased knowledge of my own culture.

I hope this has inspired you to take up a semester abroad! Living and studying in a foreign country will give you a number of incredible experiences and you will learn so much about yourself.

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