Originally published in The Tab Montreal.
Yes, it is just like what the brochure tells you: studying abroad will change your life. Well, within reason. It is true, your life literally changes when you study abroad and yes, it is an adventure, but it is also normal everyday life, just in another place.
Friends will ask you what is it REALLY like and will want to know just how FOREIGN and EXCITING this new world is. You will reply that yes, it is foreign and exciting, but that it is just a place full of human beings and trees and the like.
Montreal, delightful in its quirks and confused identity, is ultimately a Western city filled with many of the same things as London, my home. There are differences, of course, but I didn’t suffer from the culture shock that I would have experienced in Cairo or Singapore, for example. Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you why you should study abroad if you have the opportunity, and why it IS life-changing.
You will discover skills and abilities you didn’t know you had. When you’re in the deep end with little to no safety net, you are suddenly the resourceful person you always wished you could be. Fortunately, I’ve had nothing worse than administrative difficulties, but friends have had to deal with some absolute nightmares. Thing is, they survived and didn’t have to go home, so I’m filing them under Success Stories.
New people, new places, new experiences etc. etc. It’s great. People from all over the world, new foods, cultural practices, even new weather. C’est cray.
You will suddenly become exotic. I will freely admit that I have enjoyed being British in Canada. Strangers tell you that you’re charming without even trying, SUCH a confidence-boost. There is also the apparently endless hilarity of discovering new words and sayings. My roommates thought something unseemly when I said that I was a faffer and endlessly tease me for calling ‘dish soap’ washing-up liquid.
Studying at a different university sheds new light on your subject. There are many life lessons that you will learn, which are probably more important in the long run, but you will also learn a lot from studying in a different culture. Brits, you will be awakened to the Eurocentrism of our education and New World folk, you will readjust your definition of ‘old.’ You will also discover how much you truly are academically capable of and will study topics from a different perspective.
It is excellent on your CV. Okay you’ve probably heard this ad nauseam, but it’s true. It shows that you have left your comfort zone, worked hard and experienced a shiny new culture. It also means that you saved up enough or that you were affluent enough to go on exchange (privilege strikes again). It is an expensive year full of insurance, unexpected fees, textbooks, flights and unnecessary spending that you put down to ‘novelty experiences,’ so do try and save, find scholarships or plead with wealthy relatives.
Some final words. If you are reading this as a North American and you are considering going to the UK, you are in for a treat. I understand that the courses are usually pass/fail and don’t affect your GPA, PLUS the UK has fewer hours, fewer courses, and fewer assignments, meaning it will be a breeze for your tired, overworked minds. Also travel around Europe is pretty cheap. What more could you ask for?
Brits, be warned, the workload is a lot higher and more is expected of you at university in North America. You will spend many a night, tears spilling onto your keyboard, trying to write something, anything, that will get you closer to the end of one of the many essays (sorry, papers) due that week. But it will be worth it. You can celebrate the end with red cups of beer and poutine, basking in the glorious difference of this brave new world.