Case Study: Exchange in the UK
My first month on exchange in the UK
by Sofia from Italy
Sofia is 17 years old and has just arrived from Italy to complete a year exchange in the UK. Sofia has moved from near Bologna to a suburb of Birmingham and is living with one of our long-term host families and attending a local high school. Sofia has kindly taken the time to share some of the experiences she has had over the first month of her exchange in the UK and has reflected on the differences and changes she is facing and embracing.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you chose to come to the UK on exchange.
I’m Sofia and I’m an Italian exchange student. I chose to come to the UK because I’ve always been fascinated by the culture and the traditions, very different from the ones I’m used to in Italy.
What was it like preparing to leave for exchange? What did you do with family and friends before you departed?
Preparing for the exchange took me less time than I expected, but I had to put a lot of effort to pack properly and to make sure I didn’t forget anything. The week of my departure was really intense, I had to say goodbye to all my friends, they threw a party for me and we parted almost without tears. Leaving my parents at the airport was a little bit more difficult, especially for them, but all I could think of in that moment was that I was afraid to fly and that I was going to live an adventure.
How did it feel to arrive in the UK and meet your host family for the first time?
Arriving in the UK felt amazing, but a little bit confusing at first. I had already met my host-parents on Skype, so the family wasn’t a surprise and this way I felt a little bit more comfortable around them.
What was your first day of school like?
My first day of school was exciting and I met so many people I thought I could never remember all the faces and the names that I saw and heard and I was really proud of myself because I could understand most of what the teachers and my classmates were saying, even though I had some difficulties expressing myself.
What have you chosen to study and how does school in Britain differ from school in Italy?
I have chosen to study Chemistry, English Literature and Music, which are my favourite subjects. English schools are extremely different from Italian ones. For example in Italy we only have one classroom and the teachers move, while here teachers have their own classroom and students move. In Italy we also have much more subjects (the number change from school to school, but I study eleven subjects), while here in England you can only take from three to four subjects at A Level.
How do you feel living with your host family and going to your new school now after a month in the UK?
After a month in the UK living with my new family and going to school became routine, with both the positive and negative aspects of it. I’m starting to make friends and going out with them, but I also see some negative aspects that before were concealed by the excitement of a new experience.
What have you learnt about British people that you didn’t know?
I discovered so many things about British people I didn’t know that I couldn’t list them all, but mainly I found out that – even though they do drink a lot of tea – stereotypes are just stereotypes and people are the same all over the world, you just have to find the people that are right for you.
How have you motivated yourself to make friends and try new experiences?
I’ve never been a shy person, but I motivated myself to make friends and try new experiences by keeping on telling myself that I don’t have to waste any minute of my adventure here and if I didn’t try I would regret it eventually, so I tried to do as many things as I could, both to keep me busy and to meet new people.
What do you have planned for the months ahead and what do you hope to achieve during the year?
I didn’t plan anything precise for the months ahead except from studying, making friends and having fun. I hope to achieve many things during this experience, especially awareness of how the world works and learn the culture of a foreign country.
Sofia has started a new adventure that will be an exciting and challenging one for her. We wish her the best of luck for the months ahead and look forward to seeing her progress.