By Nooa Karlo, (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
There’s a common and stereotypical image of exchange students as these endlessly spirited and energetic creatures that will take every and any chance to find new experiences and opportunities. They’re people who are always smiling, going out, organising and participating in activities, partying, exploring and experiencing. Sometimes this also includes studying hard, sometimes not. In any case, it has been clear to me from the beginning that I did not fit well into this image. I’m introverted, sometimes almost reclusive, suffer from intense social anxiety, and love the comfort of my own room. However, I am also adventurous, nature-loving, persistent, and fascinated by other people and their thoughts. I love travelling and just walking around, sight-seeing, and trying new foods, but I’m generally okay with doing it alone. It doesn’t mean that I dislike being with others. In fact, I love getting to know new people and deepening bonds with old friends. It’s just sometimes very energy-consuming for me.
Now, what does this burst of introspection have to do with being an exchange student? I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to not fit the stereotypical image. Probably nobody does, some people more and some less than others. Your energy levels might also fluctuate, so one week you’re filled with energy and ready to travel around the world in three days, and the next you can barely get out of bed to your lectures. It’s alright. It’s completely okay to feel tired every once in a while. There are many obvious and less obvious things that might stress or tire an exchange student out. It’s also good to remember that there is support available usually from your exchange university as well as from Manchester. So if you truly start feeling like you can’t cope with the pressure, ask for help as soon as you can. It’s better to do so sooner than later. However, it’s also good to be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that it’s okay not to ’do everything’. It’s okay to have time to yourself, and sometimes do things that others might find boring and a waste of your time on exchange, if they are things that you really enjoy. For example, going to a new cake shop and buying a type of bun I haven’t tried before is for me a small and unstressful way of trying out new things. It’s something that wouldn’t be available to me back home, but it’s also something I can find the energy and time to do even when I’m overwhelmed with schoolwork etc. It’s also okay to sometimes just stay in your room for a day or two, if that’s what helps you relax. Going on an exchange is a great way to break out of your comfort zone, but you don’t have to do it all the time. Don’t feel bad about going back to that comfort zone every once in a while. Your exchange period is your exchange period, and you decide what you want to do during it.
Now, I don’t want to give the image that I’m trying to justify not having left my room for a month for anything else than bakery, so I guess I’ll have to talk about the ’usual’ exchange student experiences I’ve had so far. Earlier in March, I visited the 10 000 Buddhas Monastery. It was a very nice place to visit, and there weren’t too many people. While going there I also realised how convenient Hong Kong is, size-wise. It only took perhaps an hour to reach the monastery, and I started my journey from practically the other side of the city. And no, I did not count the buddhas. But there were definitely a lot. I’ve also had a friend make a visit from back home in Finland, gone hiking in some of the many mountains of Hong Kong, and walked around the city without a proper destination. It’s a good way to get an idea of what a place looks like in general. If you only visit temples and mountains and restaurants, you won’t really get a good view of local everyday life in my opinion. I also tried to climb up Victoria Peak, but, uh, I got lost. Yeah.