After being on exchange for two months already, it is crazy to me how much I have changed.
(WARNING: This article is longer than usual, but I promise it's good!!)
People think this experience of mine is all fun and games. Someone asked me the other day "Are you studying? Working? Did you win the lottery?" and after reading an article last week regarding living abroad and misconceptions people have around it, I thought I should explain myself regarding this adventure of a lifetime.
As stated in the article "Why you should live in another country at some point in your life (or as soon as possible)" by Alanna Harvey, she writes: "When I’ve spoken with people who haven’t lived abroad, they have this notion that it’s something reserved for these spontaneous nomad-type people, that there’s this unattainable spark about us adventurers living our dreams." I used to be one of those people. Always hopelessly dreaming of going on an adventure for a long period of time, but never feeling "wild" enough to do so. Therefore, when the opportunity to study abroad came around, I was ecstatic. It seemed like the perfect balance between adventure and responsibility.
THE TRUTH BEHIND IT ALL
Here's the reality of it all: I was sent abroad by my home university, who chose me to represent them well abroad. They trust that I will attend classes, perform well and give their university a good name abroad. Also, they provide me with a bursary that helps me pay for my living expenses. In exchange I must pass all my courses and remain a full-time student. Should I fail one or more classes, I must reimburse the bursary entirely. So, I DO attend all my classes, give in all my assignments and do my homework. Do I travel a lot? Almost every weekend. Therefore, it is essential to manage my time wisely.
On weekdays, I attend my classes and do my homework, readings or any other work required by my professors. On weekends, I travel. While most students skip Friday classes to have 3 day weekends, I go to class and travel early Saturday morning and come back late Sunday nights. It can be a pain sometimes, but I know that school is more important right now.
Is it expensive? Hell yeah. But when I am ever going to have this opportunity again? Having this amazing chance has definitely changed a lot in the way I see the world and has improved my overall outlook on life.
FAMILY + FRIENDS
The first weeks were quite challenging for me, I was pretty homesick. Back home, I see my family a lot, we are very close. I hang out with my cousins just as much as I hang out with my friends. My friends, for that matter, are like my second family. Have been there for me through everything and have been around forever. Therefore, being abroad was hard at first, until I made new friends here.
The friends you make while studying abroad are a special kind. You share a special bond with them, all of you are in the same situation: we only have each other. Living in the dorms, we even live together and do most of our activities together as well. It is like having a temporary family here. Plus, as a bonus if I ever travel to their parts of the world in the future, I have a couch to crash on ;)
When I first arrived here, I had a bucket list of destinations I wanted to go to and a goal of 15 countries to see. 15!! Although it could have been possible, after a couple weeks here I changed my bucket list a little. Essentially, I'm going with the flow. Seeing who is going where, when and choosing where I want to go most (what I feel like doing). Instead of focusing on where I'm going, I chose to focus on what I'm doing and with whom. Some things, however, stayed on the list: going to Paris during Paris Fashion Week (check!), going to see my friends who live in Germany (check, twice), going to Ibiza (coming up soon!!) and so much more.
OUTLOOK ON LIFE
After being here for two months already, I must say: I am truly happy. This is definitely the happiest I have ever been and it is all thanks to this exchange: studying abroad, making new friends, seeing amazing places and overall, just relaxing. I took this exchange as a break from the stress back home. For the first time in my life I have been alone, without family or friends to get me through tough times. You know the expression "a room full of people, but still feel alone", well I knew that feeling all too well. For various reasons (which I will not go into just yet), I had a lot to deal with and always felt misundertood and alone, even though I was hanging out with friends and family. When no one knows exactly what you are going through, there is no one to talk to and no one really understands what you are living either, causing you to feel very lonely at times.
Here, I spend much more time alone, but have never felt more peaceful. They say that people travel or go abroad to find themselves. By being here, I have learned a lot about myself, my strengths and my weaknesses. Finding yourself, isn't a Eureka moment, as least not in my experience. I believe that finding yourself means finding that inner peace that you never knew you had, seeing that strength you always wished you had come out and being completely content with who you are at this moment in time.
A couple weeks ago, some of us international students went to a park for the day. We were playing in the playground like little kids, jumping around and climbing in web-like structures. I remember looking around, seeing all my friends, seeing how much fun we were having and thinking: this is what its about. My grandmother was born and raised in England. She moved to Canada and married my grandfather. She always says that Canada has been very good to her and that she would never move back to Europe, but that the mindset is much more admirable over here. In Europe, there is much more emphasis on living life and enjoying every moment. While in North America, we are much more focused on efficiency, working up the ladder, making more money, impressing others, etc. As much as I love living in Canada, I must admire the difference in mindset here. Living here has definitely made me appreciate my life a whole lot more.
The most beautiful thing about living abroad is that it becomes your new normal, even if just for a couple months. Watching Netflix here doesn't make me feel like I am wasting my time, it just makes me think: this is what I want to do right now, I can, I will and I'm just enjoying my time.
There are two months left to the semester amd almost every weekend is booked. For now I am focused on keeping up with school and keeping my budget in check! (Yes I have a budget to stick to!) What can you expect in the following weeks? Lots of travel articles. Spring break has started!! Can't wait to tell you all about my trip to Eastern Europe. In the meantime, you can just check out my Instagram ;)