INTERNATIONAL STUDENT EXCHANGE EXPERIENCE
By Megha Bajaj
I have mixed feelings while writing about my exchange experience at the University of Granada in Spain. Going to Granada as an exchange student was a great learning opportunity for me. I still remember the day fresh in my mind when I received the acceptance letter from the University with a fully funded Erasmus+ International Scholarship that covered all of my expenses for a 5-month stay as an exchange student in Spain. It was definitely a proud moment for me.
My journey as an exchange student started in early February 2020. I flew from Thailand to Spain with the urge and belief to learn and experience the wider world as a student, before starting my professional career. The southern Spain city of Granada was a completely new place for me. As soon as I arrived, I went to the international office of the university and, luckily, my path crossed with a girl from Albania who was also an exchange student in the Faculty of Economics and Business. She was very generous and friendly and offered to guide me all the way to the main university, which was located somewhere on the other side of the city. The university is located on an enchanting spot where you can witness spectacular views of the city. Its buildings are really beautiful and rich in history and the campus exudes and ambience of deep cultural heritage and traditions. Granada is definitely a destination that receives a number of exchange students who come to cherish the culture and the beauty of life that Spain has to offer, along with the quality education.
I am a student of Natural Resources Management but because of my curiosity and thirst for learning from the perspective of Business and Innovation, I choose subjects such as Economic History of the World, Innovation and Technology, and International Relations, all of which really helped me to understand the world from a different perspective and the importance of history in shaping the present world. There were five different campuses located around the city, and to attend classes of International Relations I had to go to a different location in the City Centre. I used to prefer walking, and I would take new paths back home from classes every day and cherished the beautifully decorated alleys, the music, local culture, and relished trying different cuisines. Having the chance to elevate my knowledge in areas completely new for me, getting to meet people from different countries every day, getting to travel, exploring the alley ways of the streets and admiring the little things about Spanish life – it brought a sense within me of: “What more I could ask for?”
Although there were initial struggles of adapting to the new lifestyle, new culture, language barrier and the intensive classes, I quickly coped and life became normal. Most of the students were European, and they were always ready to help. Along with the Europeans, the staff of the university assisted me very well. I am really thankful to them for their guidance and aid. I was staying with three European friends from Italy, Spain and Ireland. At first, a sense of hesitation was there to communicate due to the language barriers. But later, we became close friends and I helped them to learn English and they helped me to learn Spanish. This made me realize that the sooner we adapt to the circumstances and changes in life, the stronger we become as individuals. Learning a new language is never easy, but I got to practice and recall my Italian language skills that I acquired through my past experiences.
In Granada, the majestic mountain views of the Sierra Nevada was an eye-enchanting scene visible from half of the town. Likewise, the world famous Alhambra fortress was located in the City Centre, where people would hang around in the evening to enjoy a walk, a drink or to catch up with friends. Life in Granada is mostly influenced by the Mediterranean culture. The food is loved by one and all, so the city attracts many tourists. Spain also has amusing local festivals and I was able to witness one of the famous carnivals where youngsters get dressed up in different costumes and dance along the streets.
Somehow, I managed to travel to Barcelona just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Spain badly. Barcelona is a magnet for tourists with a stunning beach, rich historical architecture, famous sports and countless interesting things to see and do. A small world in and of itself, the city was very different from Granada in all aspects. I have travelled to couple of European countries in the past but the mesmerizing beauty of the “La Sagrada Familia” Catholic basilica just captivated me. While on my way back to Granada from Barcelona, around early March, I saw the news that Italy was suffering from the coronavirus crisis. A couple of days later, I learned that cases had begun to rise dramatically in Spain, and soon the global Covid-19 pandemic would hit Spain very badly. This proved to be true, as the situation worsened within only a few days.
AIT was very worried about its overseas exchange students in European countries, and I started receiving calls, e-mails, texts from AIT and the people who really cared for my safety. I was in an unfortunate situation, and this would force an end to my exchange program journey in Spain after only 40 days. It was then that most international flights were being cancelled, and I only had uncertainty in my mind. So taking all things into consideration, I quickly decided to return back to AIT. I felt a sense of relief that AIT was so worried about my safety, and was trying to do everything possible to help me from Thailand. No doubt, this is why students often say AIT is like “a second home.” When I reached the airport early in the morning to take the flight from Granada to Madrid, I saw that other scheduled flights were being cancelled and the only flight that flew that day was the one I took to Madrid. At that time, Madrid was the hotspot in Spain for the coronavirus and I had to transit in the airport for 5-6 hours before flying to Doha and then onward to Bangkok. This felt like forever, because you have to be careful and maintain social distancing and not move around much.
On my return, the AIT Covid-19 Task Force arranged quarantine quarters for me and, being a responsible individual, I stayed in quarantine for 21 days and followed the rules and procedures. By this time, the entire semester’s classes had shifted online and I was lucky to be able to continue my courses online from Bangkok. Online classes, books and internet surfing helped me to ease my stay back while in quarantine. The year 2020 has shown us that life is full of uncertainties and we should be ready to cope with any kind of situation. I am glad that I experienced this moment of time to explore and learn new things. I got a chance to visualize life from a different perspective. I will cherish those memories and experiences received through this exposure, which helped me to adapt to the dynamic circumstances and become a better and responsible individual.
During this unprecedented time, the dream of a foreign education and international exposure might be a question mark in many international students’ minds. But without any doubt, I would recommend students to choose AIT as the best and safe option. I was really very lucky to escape the coronavirus crisis while in Europe and travel back safely just before the full wave of pandemic. Right now, life has become so disruptive and we don’t know when things will get back to normal. Of course, life is full of uncertainty, but it is also extremely important to look at everything through a positive perspective. My international exposure and experience was a roller coaster ride that has helped me in many ways. And I would like to thank the AIT Office of International Affairs, University of Granada, and my advisor for letting me grab this wonderful lifetime opportunity!