Making The Most of Your Experience

Guest Post By: Julia Oglevie, a Junior studying Accounting. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through a Foster Exchange and Direct Enroll at the University of Mannheim in Mannheim, Germany, during Autumn Semester 2023.

Say yes, or at least don’t say no. It’s easier to feel stressed or burnt out in a new environment, given the challenges like language or different cultures. However, one thing I learned is that some of the best memories come from things you may not have originally wanted to do. Also find your people, I found an incredible group of friends while abroad, and they contributed so much to my experience that I can’t imagine it without them.

On the first day of arriving at my flat, I was mentally and physically exhausted after traveling for 18 hours. That was the day I met one of my closest friends. We were both moving in at the same time. Instead of instantly going to bed, which is what I wanted to do more than anything, I forced myself to socialize. Because of that initial interaction, I made dinner plans with someone I didn’t know and could barely communicate with. We ended up walking around the town after getting food, and that’s when we saw a poster for a concert later that night. I was hesitant to go because of how tired and overwhelmed I was, but eventually, I conceded and agreed to go back out later that evening. At this little outdoor concert, which I still remember vividly, I got to know more about Felipe. It is also where I met yet another friend and was introduced to a little German culture. That night, I truly appreciated and understood how vast the differences in people, social norms, and cultures could be. Because of that initial first step, I made a lifelong friend. Throughout my exchange, I traveled, talked, and spent so many quality moments with Felipe and my other roommates simply because I said yes at the beginning and continued to say yes throughout my exchange.

Another defining moment on my exchange was around welcome week when I went to a mixer for the business department. I initially didn’t want to go because I was so tired of having the same conversation every day and not feeling like I fit in with the many German-speaking students and the students who came in their cohorts from their home countries. Despite that, I forced myself to attend, and it was one of the best decisions I made in five months. At the mixer, I met the people who became my group, the ones I could go to about anything and the ones I could always count on. It was the four of them that made my exchange so fulfilling. They were the ones that prompted me to do so many things I would never have done otherwise. I learned about different cultures, went on trips, hung out with them, and came to rely on them. They changed so many of my no’s into yeses. It is crucial to have a community around you that can push you as a person and help you discover new things. A community I would never have had if I hadn’t put myself out there in that initial welcome week and took that first hesitant step to say hello.

I have countless memories such as these, where I got over my initial hesitation or predilections and just went for something, leading to the most magical experiences. Whether it be a solo trip to Amsterdam, walking around a forest in the middle of the night jamming out to Michael Jackson and laughing wildly with my roommates, or just going out with friends and ending the nights by jumping into rivers, talking in pubs, or simply dancing in our kitchen after sharing dinner. I have so many memories that I would not trade for anything in the world that only happened because I hesitantly said sure.

Being on an exchange is like standing on the edge of a cliff while looking down at the water. Sometimes, you have to take one small step, and sometimes, you have to take a giant leap of faith to appreciate everything life has to give. To experience the pure joy of not knowing what can come next or discovering what you are capable of. That is why I urge everyone to try when they feel like saying no or not doing something, say yes, and jump courageously and trust that the people around you will be waiting for you at the bottom.