Dear Oxfess17769, from an exchange student

#Oxfess17769: “I get so annoyed at exchange students … coming here for a term or 2 … it honestly seems like you’re not here on merit, but overprivileged and here with your parents’ money to blow on a fun time traveling Europe.”


I took the liberty of fixing some punctuation errors in this high-achieving student’s message. But, seriously, what are we doing here?


Everyone has different aspirations. Some come to Oxford for the fame and glory, some come here to see if they fit in for a potential graduate program in the future, and some come here for “a fun time traveling Europe”. I came here for a mix of all three.


Often, I have ample spare time: when my friends are busy, when I’m done with my work, when I don’t want to exercise in the morning, when I’m tired of drinking at pubs… Especially if you’re studying at an American university, Oxford is liberating. In the US, most colleges have 12-week semesters plus reading period and finals. Besides, there are midterms and quizzes and problem sets that do factor into your grade. So, moving from that system to 8-week terms with 6-week breaks inbetween is a big change. With all that free time, most people end up traveling, and making some of the best memories of their lives.


I have gone for a road trip around the Cotswolds, visited Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, and London several times. I visited 5 cities in 5 countries over the spring break, and spent 3 weeks at home in Istanbul. Overall, I spent almost 60 days traveling. Here’s where the author of Oxfess17769 is wrong: I didn’t borrow a single dime from my parents.

Here’s where the author of Oxfess17769 is wrong: I didn’t borrow a single dime from my parents.

Most students come here to travel Europe, yes, but not in luxury hotels. Most people seek out low-cost hostels, or Couchsurf, or stay with friends. I found the best hostel in the world in Munich, did Couchsurfing in Paris, stayed at a friend’s house in Vienna… some, like me, don’t even take trains because it’s more expensive. I took buses throughout Europe, sleeping during overnight rides from London to Paris and from Paris to Prague. Exchange traveling is looking into ridesharing, hitchhiking, skipping meals to save up, running from one museum to another because your pass is limited by days; it’s not a luxurious cruise trip.


I can’t complain, I’m grateful for every moment of traveling. The sense of adventure, the people I’ve met on the way, the new food and drinks I’ve tasted, the new music I’ve listened to, the new accents and languages I’ve heard, all the gorgeous cities, relics, museums and sights I’ve marveled at…

However, there is a price we pay, much greater than our “parents’ money”: Loneliness. Not only while at Oxford – because you spend most your time exploring while everyone else has a steady lifestyle – but also when travelingYou meet up with people every now and then, but you’re not traveling with someone. Trying escargot was a great experience in my life; trying it by myself wasn’t. The ruin bars of Budapest are quite wonderful, but it’s a different experience visiting them by yourself, hoping you’ll meet tourists there. The memory of seeing Madama Butterfly at Vienna State Opera House with a standing ticket for only €4 still makes my blood overflow with adrenaline. However, it sucks that you can’t talk to anyone about how powerful that one scene was, or how good that one actress was. The Buda Castle and the path going up to Gellert Hill Cave have stellar views! Although, I’m sure it’s much better when you’re not constantly trying to picthe most friendly-looking tourist to ask for a photo, praying to God they don’t still your phone or camera.


Exchange is a lot of fun. I recommend it to everyone I talk to; freshers at Oxford, freshmen in the US, even high schoolers back in Turkey. But it’s not just fun. It’s an ongoing battle to find answers: Which culture do I fit in? Where do I want to live? What cuisine best pleases my palate? Can I come to terms with English breakfast?! Which language do I love hearing? Where do I fit in this strange, crowded world, where I seem to be the nomad while everyone else seems to have settled in a long time ago? When can I finally stop moving and put down roots? Which city and which people can accommodate my poor, lonely soul? Most see traveling as a means of running away from burdens of everyday life – but for us, it’s also a search for the solutions to our burdens.