‘Where have I gone’ indeed! 🙂 The answer: Hogwarts! 😀
Just kidding!! I wish! But I did experience the next best thing, which was an international academic exchange in Britain. Hence, the staggeringly looooooong hiatus from blogging [insert face-of-shame-shame-shame here].
But I had my reasons, the main one stemming from a wise advice I took from a friend: “Just stop, take a pause, drop everything, and just GO SEE what is out there!” So I did, perhaps a little too willingly…
Anyway, you have all probably heard stories about what it was like going on an international academic exchange. People say, ‘there’s barely any real studying involved, lots of late-night-wild-drunken parties, lots of travelling experience (many of which may or may not be induced by alcohol), cool foreign friends, and the BEST time of your life”. At least, that’s what they told me before I left for the UK. Is it true, you ask?
Me: “Yes, I suppose. But that’s not all…” Don’t get me wrong, I did have one of the BEST times of my life! Yet, why that is so isn’t because of all the leisure and crazy-crazies (or occasional lack thereof, in my case). So I’m here to tell you 3 valuable yet under emphasized things about going on an international academic exchange, and why it gave the best experience. (FYI, these are my personal experiences while on exchange the U.K. Some people might have a different opinion, depending on country and disposition. But the bottom line is, I am giving my honest, personal opinion. You may take it with a grain of salt, if you wish).
#1 You will be pushed way beyond your comfort zone: If you think about it, having to leave your cozy home for 6-months to a full year entails A LOT of mental, emotional and physical adjustment. Before leaving for the U.K., I had to quit my job and temporarily cut-off all other commitments I had in Vancouver, get all my schooling prepared, prepare my money, store away my stuff, say long good-byes to all, etc. Then upon arriving to the little city of Nottingham (Robin Hood’s hood!) , England, I had to make more adjustments to settle in. Things like filling up your new dorm room, getting used to the food, weather and new/foreign surroundings are actually more strenuous than people initially think. For me, I’ve lived in big cities all my life, so having to move to a smaller university-town like Nottingham caught me off-guard, and perhaps so did other students. Not to mention the feeling of being all alone, unless you make friends ASAP!
To be honest, the first 2-3 weeks of arrival were the most uncomfortable. It’s no wonder that some students I know decided to back out of the exchange, and go back home. Some did it for health reasons, other for emotional and personal reasons. It does happen; not all exchange experiences are fun. During that time, many of us also felt ill, due to weather, diet and probably stress. Luckily, things could only get better from then on. 🙂
#2 The world is mixing. Learn to deal with it (warning: this can get a little sensitive): And by that, I mean that there really are a vast set of people and cultures out there, and we are now on the cusp of globalization. But we’re not quite there yet… One question a friend of mine asked was, “Did [I] experience any form of racism or prejudice while on exchange/travel?” It was a legitimate question. And to be perfectly honest, yes, I did experience some. But before you get riled up, let me quickly explain my opinions about this…
Racism does happen, and we are all guilty of it. I know I am. However, sometimes this “racism” thing isn’t really about prejudice, but more about genuine curiosity about others. And if you think about it, what else could we expect from a mixing/ globalizing world? I’ve learned to accept these (funny, awkward, stereotypical and often outlandish) questions about myself and background as opportunities to challenge the stereotypes. Most of the time, these “incidents” are hilarious and informative among international friends. For the few incidents that have been offensive (and there have been, for sure), I just ignore it, just because I think it’s not worth my time. But I am so thankful that my other international friends are insulted for me. Luckily, for every offensive encounter, there are a dozen other supportive and welcoming interactions.
#3 It’s not about the places. It’s the friends you meet: There’s all kinds of talk about travelling; how it broadens the mind, and how it is an investment that guarantees to make you “richer”. While to some extent it’s true, I’ve found that tourism does not compare to the social experience of being elsewhere. Of all things entailing exchange, meeting new friends was the most daunting in my mind. I was so scared of having no friends in the U.K. Yes, it’s that new-kid-in-school feeling.
Yet, after all that’s been said and done, I can truly say that I have met some of the most wonderful friends in U.K., and those connections are the most prized things I take home with me. Castles, towers, statues and floating cities are always going to be there for you to visit at any point in your life, but there is often only one opportunity to meet someone who crosses your path. At the end of the day, you will mostly remember the people you’ve met, than the places you set foot on. The pictures will remind me of the towers, halls and castles I visit. But other things like walking back home with a friend at the dead of night, or the drinks I share with three other girls, or the spontaneous birthday-cake bake-off and many more are the things I play over and over in my head.
Whew! That was a long one! 🙂 But I hope some of you found this helpful and enlightening, especially when you are also interested in doing some academic exchange, which I HIGHLY recommend. Needless to say, I had one of the most important experiences of my life. It wasn’t always easy, and there were moments of struggle, but all of it in the grand scheme of things have made a real adventure. If I could do it all over again, I certainly would!
But for now, it’s baaaaack to lovely Vancouver! ❤ Have a great summer everyone! 🙂