Being in Sydney for a year is the most rewarding experience in my student life. Studying in a totally different place from Hong Kong means I have to learn a different set of survival skills. One of the skills is ‘fighting against “loneliness”‘. By ‘loneliness’ I mean it’s difficult for people around me to understand what I’m really doing. When times get rough, say, writer’s block or stress kicking in, your family and loved ones are so far away. That’s what I mean by ‘lonely’.
I feel lucky to have good supervisors and classmates, whom I can meet weekly or fortnightly at seminars and consultations. It is really the time to discuss with them, share ideas and thoughts, voice out concerns and stresses, and so on. After the Friday seminars at University of Sydney, classmates and colleagues would go to the Lawn Cafe for an extended discussion. Through all these experience, I can summarise three actions that a ‘lonely’ exchange student can and perhaps should do:
- Socialise. This is paramount. It is not just for fun but a chance to talk to people, listen to their ideas, and connect with them meaningfully. Imagine drinking with the scholars whom you knew only through their work (usually addressed by their last names and the years of their articles). Even if you aren’t drinking, going to the seminars, seeing all those names in their fleshes and listening to their real-life interaction is all worthwhile.
- Ask. As you can see those stars of academia in person, seize every opportunity to ask questions, or tell them what you do (to see if they understand what you mean). These interactions are more important than reading their works: what can be better than having them explain their research and theoretical interests in front of you?
- Listen. Studying in another country or city naturally meets people with different ways of thinking. They may not be correct all the time, but their opinions and ideas always have certain values and are worth listening. Don’t be overly defensive; listen and choose what to accept and what does not go along with your principles.
What else do you think are important for an exchange student to adapt to a new academic culture and environment?