For exchange students, adjusting to UT-Austin comes with challenges. Here’s how some navigate campus

Stephanie Adeline

New faces fill campus as more than 8,000 freshmen navigate through their home for the next four years. But for some students, their time on the 40 Acres is limited.

UT had over 600 exchange students per academic year for the past three years, according to data from the International Office. These students make up about 7 percent of the University’s total international student population.

Margaret Luévano, interim director of international student and scholar services, said many exchange students come from Australia or Europe. Most international students, in contrast, come from China, South Korea and India.

“Our exchange students are bringing this influx of cultures and experiences to our undergraduate population,” Luévano said.

The number of exchange students coming to UT usually corresponds with the number of UT students going on an exchange program in partner universities abroad, Luévano said. These students typically stay for one or two semesters, and could face challenges adjusting to life in Austin due to the temporary nature of their stay, Luévano said.

Laura Scherhaufer, an exchange student from Austria, said she was nervous about her first day of class because UT’s require more participation compared to classes at her home institution.

“In Austria, you’re just a number, but here I think it’s really different and you have to be present,” Scherhaufer said. “I hope that I understand everything the teacher says to me.”

New to Austin by just two weeks, Spanish exchange student Lucia Serrano Royo said that although making friends can be tiring, she was glad the other international students were open to meeting new friends.

“Everyone is willing to get to know people, and it’s really easy to talk to anyone,” Serrano Royo said. “But I have to say I got tired of saying, ‘Hello, my name is Lucia, I come from Spain.’ It’s the same conversation over and over again, until you make your group of friends.”

Vanessa Chua was an exchange student from Singapore last fall. Chua said the biggest challenge she faced was finding housing in Austin for six months because most places only offer leases for one year. Because of this, she turned to the UT Austin Sublets/Roommate Finder Facebook group for housing options, which can be quite risky, Chua said.

“I got there with all my things and the person who I had initially agreed with didn’t pick up my call,” Chua said. “Then I received this Facebook message from someone else who said their place was still available …. So I had a look at the place and I really liked it, so on (that) day I changed my housing situation.”

Despite the challenges she faced during her time at UT, Chua said navigating through the difficulties taught her how to be independent and rewarded her with valuable friendships.

“Having to plan and source for all these things on your own — there’s a sense of ownership that comes with that,” Chua said. “But another valuable takeaway I got was just the relationships and the culture that came with the people I met.”