Europe is the land of exchange. It seems like every student in the world who wants to take a year or term out to study abroad descends on Europe with high hopes of self-discovery and Broadening of Horizons. Within the continent itself, the ERASMUS program generates thousands of criss-crossing exchangers every semester.
Because of this, European universities have become highly adept at managing the whole "exchange" business. Exchange students can take courses in English, have accommodation found for them, and enjoy a cavalcade of extra-curricular fun and games organised on their behalf, including touristy adventures, trips to surrounding sites of interest, international party nights and so on.
For full-time international students, it can be hard to see what all the fuss is about. Exchange students are notoriously bad at integrating, tending to make friends among themselves and rarely venturing into local culture. This doesn't stop them having a wonderful time – nor does it prevent local students who look down their noses at them from themselves going on an exchange.
Exchanges can be arranged via ERASMUS, and there are masses of great materials out there to help research and organise the perfect term abroad. Actually studying abroad, for the duration of a full degree, is an altogether different kettle of fish.
There will still be things organised for you, as an international student – especially introductory days/weekends/weeks and other culturisation schemes, including mentoring in many cases. However, you will be a lot less pampered than exchange students, and will have fewer international companions at your fingertips.
This is a good thing. Studying abroad should be a truly immersive experience if you want to make the most of it, and associating only with other foreigners is not necessarily the best way to go about things. Both exchange and full-time international students are strongly advised to make friends with the locals as much as possible.
Try not to be shy, as difficult as it is, and throw yourself into the new culture as much as you can. It is especially important to be sociable from the outset – the longer you leave off making friends, the harder it gets. Speaking their language helps, but don't be deterred even if you can’t - they'll often be happy to switch to English for you.
You'll find everyone is welcoming and interested in international students, and making friends will be easier than you think. A good tactic may be to share a flat with local students – a great way to meet new people even if you find you don't like those you're actually sharing with (you can easily change accommodation if needs be).