The aim of this article is to explore the perceptions and attitudes of Turkish university students about to embark on a European exchange trip. This qualitative study sheds light on their hopes and fears about travelling to and living for a period of three months in a western country. The article shows how participants shared common aspirations for their trip to be self-developmental and culturally educational. However, it also reveals a high degree of trepidation about their immersion, as Muslim students, in a country in the developed western world. This study thereby makes an important contribution to the international education literature in its identification of concern in students resulting from the current tension between Islam and the west and from perceived discrimination over economic status. The important link between macro forces and the micro experience is revealed. © The Author(s) 2012.