By Siobhan Fletcher, March 29 2018 —
Stepping onto a nine-and-a-half hour flight to the other side of the world alone can be a daunting experience, especially when that flight is taking you to a foreign university where you don’t know anyone for several months. Not to mention the thoughts like, “What if I don’t make any friends?” that creep into your mind.
That was exactly the situation that I — like so many other international students — found myself in on Sept. 2, 2017. I’m from the United Kingdom, where I study American and Canadian literature, history and culture. When it came time to pick where to go for my year abroad, Canada always won out. I applied to the University of Calgary, enticed by the Banff National Park, snow and a desire to experience something vastly different, which I am glad to say I found — though I could have done without the sub-zero weather and the midterms.
The U of C has been a welcoming community to join, especially the International Student Services department that is willing to make sense of anything that could trip a student up along the way. In addition to organizing multiple fun trips, they also provide ample opportunities to encourage other students to visit new countries. Along with fantastic resources like the Students’ Union Q Centre — which is not paralleled by anything I have ever encountered on campuses elsewhere — there is definitely a sense of belonging and inclusiveness present on campus here, which has been eye-opening and encouraging for me, because I can now take these ideas and help implement them across the pond.
However, it is worth noting that being on an exchange for an entire year is a mixed emotional bag, full of unbelievable highs and lows — much like life in general. Contending with being so far away from everything you know is something you should consider if you want to do a year abroad, as it’s no small feat. My fellow exchange students and I were warned before we departed that there would be culture shock wherever we went, but I didn’t believe that Canada would feel too different from home. The reality is that whenever I hear an accent that I recognize instinctively here, my heart soars.
Despite the challenges, I could not recommend doing a year abroad enough if you ever have the chance. I have met incredible people from all over the world who I otherwise never would have had the pleasure to know. I have tried things I never would normally get to, like snowboarding and tubing on real snow, having a genuine Thanksgiving experience and going to the theme park inside West Edmonton Mall.
Most importantly, studying abroad gives you a sense that you have achieved something tangible, especially if you step outside of your comfort zone and do it alone. I can say forever that I travelled thousands of miles away from everyone I know and managed to thrive for a year despite the ups and downs. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have the chance to study elsewhere for a year, make sure you take the plunge.
Articles published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.