By Lauren Gellatly, Undergraduate Student in the RTA Production Program, Faculty of Communication and Design
Did you know that, in England, you have to pull the door handle up before you can lock it? My awesome fellow Canadian housemate and I did not. We tried for half an hour to lock our door and, when we gave up, we locked it from the inside and broke out of our own backyard like any intelligent, resourceful, and independent young women would do when faced with this problem.
I didn’t find there was a lot more than this level of culture shock in England. As a people, they’re pretty similar to us – a little more sarcastic and way cooler in terms of accents, but they also say sorry excessively and love talking about the weather.
I had been dreaming of going on an exchange for a very long time – since I was thirteen. I started putting away my babysitting money for my big trip around the world. I was going to live in a new place I’d never been to before. I was going to see famous places and eat lots of delicious food. I worked non-stop and saved as much as I could to go. As I got older, and started looking at universities, I highlighted three things in each university’s booklet – what program they had, what scholarships I could get, and where I could go on exchange.
Waiting at the airport felt surreal. The thing I had been dreaming about for years was finally happening! I’ll admit I was a bit nervous in the weeks leading up to leaving. Was I really not going to see my family or sleep in my own bed for months? But the loudest voice in my head was my thirteen-year-old self telling me to go for it.
And she was right. My six months in England were the best six months of my life. It was everything I ever dreamed of and more. Looking back on it, there was one small period where I was a little stressed – but not once did I wish I was home. I know that I am the luckiest person in the world to have had this experience. I got to visit nine different countries with both new friends and old. I lived in a place I’d never been to before, and it felt like a second home in a very short time. I saw famous places and not-so-famous places, and was blown away by both. I ate so much good food, especially in places like France, Italy, and Spain, I thought I’d have to be rolled onto the plane home.
My advice to anyone who is just starting their exchange, or who is going next semester – remember to make the most out of your experience, whatever that means for you. Make friends from around the world, including your host country. TRAVEL, especially if you’re in Europe. Their discount airlines will become your favourite guilty pleasure websites. You’ve gone this far, so see all of the places you want to see! Don’t fail, and don’t waste your learning experience at a new school. But, don’t bury yourself in schoolwork and forget to experience your exchange.
And, if you’re in England, don’t forget about those doorknobs – pull up, then lock.