Love changes everything. And so does going on exchange

Elmie in Mexico

This is the day you fall in love:

You wake up, and it’s immediately obvious you’re not in Canberra anymore. You’re in your new share-house, which has 20 rooms and just as many housemates, hailing from Ecuador, England, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, Russia… It’s hard to keep count of all the languages being spoken in the bustling communal areas.

Outside, there’s even more people. In fact, there’s more life in this one neighbourhood than everywhere else you’ve ever lived, combined. For breakfast you grab a taco from the stall right at your door and you pick up fresh fruit and coffee from the markets you pass on your 15-minute walk to uni.

In your classes, you sit in the same rooms where students who went on to become presidents sat before you, listening to professors who are so well-regarded that they’re legitimate celebrities.

In your break, you and your friends go to the free salsa class which runs every day of the week. Music and laughter and dancing. Every. Single. Day.

And then you stop and realise suddenly that you are in love.

With a country.

This is what happened to Bachelor of Science (Psychology)/Bachelor of Arts student Elmie Janse van Rensburg when she was on exchange at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México.

“I’ve lived in other countries before but I’ve never fallen in love with a country like I have with Mexico,” Elmie says.

“I can honestly say that my exchange absolutely changed my life.”

Elmie wants you – yes, you – to hear that again.

“Everyone always tells you that an exchange changes your life and you always think, ‘Yeah whatever.’

“But it actually does, it completely changes everything.”

For starters, she says, she left with a case of bilingualism.

“In the first two months in Mexico I feel like my Spanish had improved more than in the two years studying it in the classroom at ANU,” she explains (a testament to the power of immersion).

In turn, this changed her career prospects. Back home, she’s now putting those Spanish skills to work at the Embassy of the Argentine Republic in Canberra.

Elmie says she was in permanent disbelief that the amazing experience she was having not only counted as credit towards her degree, but was even partly paid for by the government and ANU scholarships she received.

“I don’t understand why every single person doesn’t go on exchange,” she says. “Even if you don’t have the money to go you can still make it happen.”

And the worst thing about Elmie’s experience? When the love affair was over.

But it turns out you can mend a broken heart.

“Since the day I had to leave, I have been planning my trip back,” she says.

“I just can’t wait to get on a plane back there.”

Where will you fall in love? Find out about what global opportunities lie on your horizon with an ANU science degree.