Ever since I joined Meridian as an Atlas Corps Fellow, I have told everyone how excited I am to work on exchanges instead of being a participant in them. It has only been a little over two months and I have already worked on two consecutive exchanges- Emerging Leaders of Pakistan and Community Engagement: Art for Social Change.
After being a part of different exchanges and international programs, and after working on the aforementioned exchange programs, I have four tips for everyone who is going to be a part of an exchange program at some point in their life:
No matter how long your program is, there is always a point when you feel overwhelmed by all the information, all the people you meet, and all your notions that are challenged. In short, you feel exhausted by everything you learn. The only solution to organizing your thoughts is by writing them down. So much information is shared with you during your exchange program that if you don’t document things you will forget them. One of the best ways of doing this is by blogging. If you blog during your stay, you are not only documenting your thoughts and opinions but are also sharing them with your family, friends and colleagues back home. Besides, you are more interesting to others when you are away from home on a prestigious exchange program as compared to when you are back home with thousands of pictures and a ton of stories to tell. So why not tell everyone on social media that you met a celebrity like Jamie Foxx or learned about “Community Organization” using art!
2. Sustain Connections
The organizers of your exchange program make sure that you meet people who are relevant to your field. You are encouraged to network, exchange business cards, and make as many valuable connections as possible. So what do you do? A few hours or even the next day after the meeting, you send the people you met the day before an email telling them how glad you were to see them and hear about their work. Well this is just the beginning of a conversation; you need to maintain the connections that you make by sending them an occasional email telling them about your work and how you have been inspired by them. If your connection is one of the people who sponsored your program, it is important that you share with them your success and achievements after the program.
3. Enjoy BUT be Professional
Whether you are a high school student or a politician, it is quite simple; you need to be professional. Be on time in the morning, do not fall asleep during the meetings and most importantly, do not miss a meeting. It is only natural to go out at night and explore the city that you are in (maybe go to Time Square in NYC or Georgetown in Washington, D.C), but do not forget that you have been brought to be a part of an exchange because you are special and different from your counterparts and your sponsors believe that you can change the world and make a difference in your communities. The biggest mistake that you can make while on an exchange is by not being your best.
4. Post-Exchange Blues
I wish someone had told me about this when I attended my first international event, the 5th World Youth Congress, Turkey.
I guess the technical term for post-exchange blues would be “reverse cultural shock”. Even if you are on an exchange for five days, you will suffer from this. You will miss your colleagues and friends from your program and will think and even dream about them; as a result you will all be writing on each other’s Facebook walls (even two years later) that you miss them. Moreover, you’ll notice that when you go back home nobody is interested in knowing what you did on your program, and probably only a couple of people want to look at the 3000 pictures you took. The simple solution to overcome this takes me back to the first point- blog!
As a participant of multiple exchanges I always took for granted the amount of work that was put into developing the concept, arranging of relevant workshops and meetings, and the follow-on of the program. After working on a couple, I now realize how challenging and exhausting it can be. So a huge shout-out to everyone who works so hard to develop exchanges for international visitors and make sure that they have an experience of a life time!