*I am super excited to have Anne-Sophie guest post today. I love her blog and have been following her for quite a while now, so when she offered to help me out and guest post about studying abroad - how could I say no!? I hope that you gain something from her post if you are about to study abroad just as I have for my adventures! Happy Traveling! Kalee.
Hello, I’m Anne-Sophie, your guest blogger for today! I’m going to be sharing a few of the things that I learned while studying abroad for a year. Back in 2011, after a year of studying in London, I went to Canada to do the second year of my degree at the University of Toronto. I was the only person from my course to go to Toronto, and I was one of only two exchange students on the campus I went to (Mississauga). Many people asked me why I was going. They told me they thought London was exciting enough, especially for someone who is already abroad (I grew up in Belgium). For me, being able to study abroad was a really exciting opportunity. It was the chance to go to a new continent on my own (so many people from Brussels study in London) and discover a different culture.
After experiencing a Canadian winter, I never complain about the weather in London!
Before you decide
First of all, do your research. If you can choose between different countries, universities or campuses then make sure you research them all properly. One thing to consider is how easy it is to get to the center of town, and how easy it is to travel to other places at the weekends. The campus I chose was harder to get to from Toronto than I had imagined (most people own a car) and travelling to the US or to other cities was quite expensive. If I had to do it again, I think I’d go to Hong Kong instead. Also try to find out if where you’re going has a lot of exchange students. You can probably search Facebook for “City X Exchange Students” to find out, as there will be groups set up. Being with other exchange students means it will be much easier to make friends and you’ll have people to explore with. If you’re the only one, you might get a more authentic experience but I think you’ll find that local students are might not be up for going to that touristy place you want to visit, or won’t want to travel to other cities every few weeks.
The perks of studying and living on a campus outside of town!
Packing and settling in
You’re going for a long time, so don’t be afraid to go over the baggage limit with several suitcases! Make sure you bring some things that remind you of home, like pictures of friends and family. Some things you’re better off buying when you get to your destination, like snow boots if you’re going to Canada or wellies if you’re coming over to London! You’ll also want to buy a few pieces that will warm up your bedroom once you’re there - maybe fairy lights or a colourful cushion. Don’t treat your bedroom like a hotel room you’ll be leaving soon - really settle in and make it feel like home.
Travel and make friends!
Meeting people and making friends is what is going to make your experience really fun. It’s always easier to make friends in the first week of first year, so you might have to make more of an effort if you’re joining a class where everyone already has friends. I found that people were really open to chatting with me, but I often had to make the first move. If you’re a bit shy, just fake it! I was really shy before going to Toronto but I pushed myself to talk to people. When I came back to London a year later, I felt like a different person - approaching new people wasn’t so scary anymore! A top tip for making friends with exchange students is to join a Facebook group - I even did this when I was doing an internship and made so many friends through the “Singapore Exchange Students” group. If you can join in weekend trips or participate in clubs and activities, go for it! I joined the Management Club and went on a trip to the beach with them.
Toronto is like a mini New York, except people are super friendly.
To really make the most of your time abroad, you have to travel. This will be easier if you’re in Asia or Europe where flights are inexpensive, but even in Canada I was able to travel to Montreal, Boston and Niagara Falls. Don’t be afraid to travel alone either! Going to Montreal on my own while everyone else was studying for exams is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Make sure you stay at a friendly hostel (check the reviews) and you’ll meet other travelers easily. Also make sure you explore the city/region you’re in. Go to all the museums, see all the plays, sports games etc. and don’t wait until you’re about to leave! I made the mistake of putting things off (“oh, I have pleeenty of time to do all this”) and didn’t end up going skiing or seeing a game of ice hockey, which I really wanted to do. To this day, I still haven’t tried poutine!
Canada has the best blue skies.
My time studying abroad was filled with ups and downs, but it was a priceless experience that really made me grow as a person (cheesy but very true!). I’m sure you’ll be nervous about embarking on an adventure like this, especially if you’re going by yourself, but you will settle in soon enough! Don’t worry if you feel lonely or homesick at the beginning - it’s totally normal to feel that way when you’re alone in a new country. Just push yourself to talk to people and explore, and soon enough you’ll be having the time of your life! Everyone will experience studying abroad in a different way, but I would 100% recommend it to anyone. It’s such a valuable opportunity and you’ll make memories that will last you a lifetime.