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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

20140930_121045

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!!

Food Differences in the UK and Canada

I can’t believe I’m leaving England in 5 days! I’ve already been here for 3 months and I can honestly say November flew by in an instant. I’m trying to hold onto every last experience and memory here and cherish everything that I took for granted throughout the term. All the little things, like being able to walk to my class in three minutes and hanging out at friends’ rooms spontaneously, are going to be missed but I think I’ll save that for a different post in the future.

I thought it would be interesting to comment on my favourite topic: FOOD! My eating habits here haven’t been 100% healthy but that’s alright. Let’s just say that’s what exchange is for. Maybe.

I’m going to briefly talk about random things I observed or experienced while in England that are related to food:

On Grocery Stores

20141128_203027


1) Eggs are not stored in fridges
They are sold on a non-refrigerated shelf beside all the other non-chilled goods. I just don’t get it.

2) Packaged food seem slightly healthier
I find that some packaged foods and canned soups have less preservatives in the ingredients list. The varied canned soups I’ve had tasted less salty and contained more substantial pieces of vegetables in it (unlike Campbell’s soup).

3) Nutrition labels
I like how nutrition labels explicitly display how many calories each portion is. For example, in a package of cookies, it will tell you the nutrition facts for each individual cookie. In Canada, the way they display portions are inconsistent and are difficult to read. Not many people are willing to put in the effort to measure how many pieces of chips equals 100g.

4) No 4L jugs of milk available 😦

Restaurants/Shops

1) No need to tip servers
Since servers get paid a decent wage, tips are not mandatory. You only  tip if you think you received excellent service.

2) Sunday Roasts
On Sundays, restaurants offer a discounted price on the classic British roast. This consists of potatoes, vegetables, roast beef, gravy, and Yorkshire pudding (this isn’t the pudding you’re thinking of – it’s bread). Typically it’s about £7-9 ($12-16 CDN) for a plate. Yesterday Michelle, Patrick and I found a place on campus that sold a generous portion of Sunday roast for only £4.40 ($7.90)! Surprisingly, it tasted better than the restaurants we went to previously.

.                               20141207_175052 20141026_173521

3) Pasties!
I still don’t know how to pronounce pasties correctly. Is it “pay-stees” or “pah-stees”? A pasty can be found everywhere in the UK and this meaty/vegetable filling enveloped in a buttery flaky pastry is delicious. They’re often no more than £1.30 and are perfect for on the go trips.

Food in General

1) Cadbury chocolate in the UK surpasses Cadbury in Canada in taste
I learned a bunch of cool facts about Cadbury when I went to Cadbury World in Birmingham in November. Since the UK has tight food regulations, chocolate has to have at least 20% cocoa solids, whereas Canada is 10% I believe. Also, Cadbury in Canada isn’t even owned by Cadbury at all! Hershey’s bought the rights to produce products under the Cadbury label for North American consumers while the Cadbury chocolate in the UK is still owned by Cadbury. I dare not tell you how many Cadbury chocolate bars I’m bringing home.

2) Lays chips are called Walkers
Packaging looks extremely similar, but they’re called Walkers in the UK. I haven’t tried Walkers yet but I assume it’s exactly the same as Lays chips.

3) Easy to find non-British food
While classic British food can be found everywhere, the diverse ethnic groups living in England brings food from different cultures. At first I thought it would be difficult to find Asian food in England, but there are a good number of Chinese restaurants in each city. Indian and Thai food is also quite popular too.

4) Afternoon Tea
A lot of British people have afternoon tea. I noticed that I eat a lot more pastries/biscuits and drink more tea for leisure (as opposed to needing the caffeine). The British culture is rubbing off on me, and I love it.

20141207_143936

Time to get working on my paper now. Hope you enjoyed my little blurb about food differences!

Late Start, But Still a Start!

Hello everyone! So I spontaneously started a blog about my exchange experience today because I’m not in the mood to brainstorm for my paper (ironically, blogs require writing). I feel like I should have started this blog before I left for my exchange to England instead of 15 days before I head back to Canada. It’s a late start to documenting my travel journeys, but there’s nothing wrong with that! Let me give you a basic rundown about my current situation:

I am currently on exchange in England for one school term (3 months). I’ve been here since October 2014 and will be back mid-December. I will have a hard time saying goodbye to England and all the friends I made here. Being on exchange has helped me learn more about myself and my capabilities, experience new things that I wouldn’t normally do, and has allowed me to gain new perspectives of different parts of the world. Up until this point, I’ve only travelled within Canada and the west side of the United States. Being able to experience European countries that operate differently than what I’m used to has been an eye opener to both the good (eg. the efficient metro system) and the bad (eg. overt racism) differences between North America and Europe. My exchange isn’t over yet, but I can confidently say that taking this opportunity to study, live and embed myself into a new culture and country was worth every sweat and tear I had to face to get here.

I will document my trips and other things in new posts. Too many things have happened in the past 2.5 months, so look forward to reading those reflection posts in the future 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just me chilling at Camden Market in London, England! Aren’t those seats cool?