What I’ve Learned From Going on Exchange

Merry belated Christmas everyone! I hope everyone is enjoying their winter holidays.

My friend Rachel sent me this graph after I posted my last blog entry, and I think it accurately depicts how it feels to return to your home country after going on exchange. After being home for 1.5 weeks, I’ve hit the “Balanced Re-adaption” phase. When I walk through public spaces, I’m still not used to the large Asian enclave in Vancouver. I’ve generally assimilated back into the Canadian lifestyle, but I have many moments where I want to return back to England.

Going on a 3 month exchange to England has taught me a lot about myself and how the rest of the world works. Since I’ve lived in B.C. my entire life, I was closed off in my own little bubble of naiveness. Having the opportunity to live on my own, adapt to a new culture (even though the UK is similar to Canada in some ways), and travel, I’ve gained more real, truthful perspectives that I wouldn’t have learned back at home. I believe I’ve learned more from experiencing things in a practical, real-world setting than what I learned in class in England. I’m not saying that I didn’t learn anything in my classes (I did!), but going on exchange helped me learn beyond just the books and added another dimension to my learning. For example, seeing and touching the Berlin Wall after doing tons of research on it for fun really helped me grasp the hardships people endured in the former East Germany. You can say seeing is understanding.

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The Berlin Wall

Some things I learned while studying abroad in England:

1) I like living on my own
Even though I love living and being surrounded by my family, living on my own for the first time was refreshing. I loved cooking for myself, leaving and coming home whenever I wanted without letting anyone know, and being forced to be independent. I found out that I’m very capable of taking care of myself and I feel like I’ve grown up to be a responsible adult (but I will always have that childish side to me!).

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How my dorm room looked when I first moved in!

2) Doing things that scare you a bit can be a good thing
And I don’t mean doing something outrageously dangerous, of course. I went into my exchange with a “you have nothing to lose” mentality and challenged myself to do things I normally wouldn’t do. It gave me some anxiety, but fully committing to a decision and following through with it successfully felt amazing. I hate public speaking, so when I presented my journal article presentation in front of my tutorial class, I was proud of myself for keeping composed while my insides were a bundle of nerves. Joining cheerleading was probably one of my best decisions I made on exchange. I had no prior cheerleading experience and I almost chose not to go to tryouts, but forcing myself to overcome the fear of rejection/anxiety resulted in forming great friendships and having the best time doing stunts.

Lift

3) Simple living is better than you think
This was something I wasn’t expecting prior to exchange. In Canada, I live with an excess amount of materialistic goods. My room is flooded with just, stuff, and I didn’t realize how it was suffocating me until I returned home. In England, due to my limited space, temporary living status and the expensive currency exchange, I was forced to live in a minimalistic fashion. My room consisted of my bare necessities, and I wore the same clothes repeatedly. In terms of kitchen supplies, I had 2 bowls, 3 plates, 1 of each utensil, a strainer, tiny cutting board, a pot and a pan. That’s it. And I loved it. I learned to be resourceful with my items and food (rationing off portions of food for the next meal became normal), had more clarity and focus when I managed to sit down and do my schoolwork, felt more creative when brainstorming my crafting goals, had space to practice doing handstands, and cleaning was a breeze. I realized that the constant appeal of material consumerism wasn’t all that great as it was made out to be. I actually felt more refreshed and satisfied with less stuff in my possession. I still abide to consumerism when I travelled and went out to eat, but I was spending money on experiences and memories instead.

4) Appreciating what was taken for granted
During the first week of school, I’ll admit that living on my own in a new country with no friends was hard. I missed seeing my family in person, felt a bit sad seeing my friends post fun photos on social media sites (FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – is a thing), and was eating bananas, bread, jam and deli turkey for every meal for a few days. I really appreciated the little things that I took for granted at home, such as coming home to food on the table and doing laundry for free. When I was away from things that added up to my happy life back at home, it helped me put things into perspective. It’s easy to fall back into old habits, so I have to consciously remind myself to appreciate the small things!

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Looking back now, I can’t believe that was all I ate for the first few days at school. There was a supermarket right beside my residence building!!

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