When I landed in Sacramento Airport seven months ago at the beginning of my exchange year at UC Davis, I was all confused. I didn’t lose my luggage on the trip halfway across the world, I wasn’t interrogated when entering the U.S., my flights weren’t delayed and I even managed to let my parents know about my safe arrival (although I had to borrow a phone from a very nice Canadian person as mine didn’t work). I was confused because I wasn’t freaking out. Not enough, that is.
If you are friends on Facebook with a foreign exchange student, the endless location updates from different places in California and the constant stream of pictures from house parties, football games and picnics on the Quad might make you think that we do nothing else but travel, party and sunbathe. Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg as there is so much more to studying abroad: It’s about meeting new people, being immersed in a different culture and experiencing a new learning system. For many, it’s also the first time living on their own.
It doesn’t sound that much different from a normal college experience, though. So what is so special about being a foreign exchange student in America? After all, thousands from all over the world choose to come for a year abroad nowhere else but here, the U.S. While as students we might be very similar, our time here is nothing but normal. Try squeezing four years of the (American?) college experience into one extraordinary year — or one quarter! No wonder that there are plenty of reasons for freaking out.
In addition to homesickness (the 10-hour time difference does not help either), we are freaked out by the sheer amount of work we need to do for our classes, by TAs giving unnecessary Cs, which will mess up everything back home, by planning weeks-long trips across California without a car and by the prices of textbooks and study materials. But most of all we’re freaked out by the thought of going back home and leaving everything and everyone (in America? Davis? California?) behind.
I’ve experienced this twice already. I am from Lithuania, but I chose to go to university in the UK as I found the quality of higher education at home insufficient. So for two years before coming to Davis I’ve been studying ecology at the University of Edinburgh. This makes my experience here both more exciting and challenging. Davis has a much better climate and the feel of a small town, which is new to me, but at the same time I am not only homesick but also Edinburgh-sick!
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I could not be happier that EAP, the UC-wide Education Abroad Program, placed me in Davis even though it was once my second choice. Studying on campus in California has been just as amazing as I imagined it would be when watching the now-cancelled TV show “Numb3rs” and marveling at shots filmed on location at CalTech. A rather embarrassing reason for coming to California, but completely true!
During my seven months here I’ve traveled across beautiful California and taken a 20-hour train ride to Seattle to see the different landscapes of this vast country. I celebrated my 21st birthday, went to countless house parties, had s’mores, celebrated Thanksgiving and have been a proud Aggie — all while being a straight-A student.
Something that will stand out from this freakishly fast-paced year, however, is the friendships that I’ve made. Going to Burgers & Brew with fellow exchange students, ordering real cheeseburgers and sitting there for hours chatting, laughing, and listening to them speak in English in all these different and funny accents and then taking another hour to split the bill and calculate the appropriate tip — it’s a memory that for me will perfectly blend the international and American experiences.
Being on exchange is some sort of rite of passage: You get to do things you might have never done before and it is a scary but also very exciting and all-encompassing experience. I still have three months left to truly make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I don’t mind some more freaking out along the way.
To discuss international living in Davis in more detail you can reach KRISTINA SIMONAITYTE at firstname.lastname@example.org.