By Janica Portillas, Undergraduate Student in the Business Technology Management Program, Ted Rogers School of Management
Although it feels like just yesterday, it’s been well over a year since the day I left Toronto for my exchange semester abroad in Zagreb, Croatia. Fueled by my desire to explore new places and experience new things, I decided to go out of my comfort zone and set off into the unknown.
Like most exchange students, it was my first time leaving home and living in a new country. Unlike most exchange students, however, I was a timid and naïve introvert. With this being said, I was naturally anxious and worried if I would ever make it back sane. To be honest, I even had second thoughts about going. Thankfully, the wanderlust in me dominated and next thing I knew, I was in a new city, country and continent!
Luckily, when I arrived at the Zagreb School of Economics and Management, the anxious energy I had been feeling vanished. Instead, all I felt was excitement and thrill for this new adventure. I promised myself to keep an open mind, disregard my biases, and take chances. All of this is probably what transformed my exchange experience into more than just studying abroad. It become a great source of inspiration for me now, and I’m sure it will continue to do so well into the future.
I definitely learned many new things throughout my exchange – some useful things, some just nonsense facts. Below, I describe the top and most memorable takeaways from my experience:
1. People are generally kind
Without the help of so many great people along the way, I would not have had such an amazing and unforgettable time. From the techie wrestler who offered to show us around his city, to the family of three who offered me cookies while hiking down a mountain, to the old woman who didn’t speak English but invited us into her house and gave us a glass of fresh strawberry juice. If I had let my skepticism overpower my judgment, I would have missed out on so many experiences. Of course, you should follow your gut and use your best judgment, but based on my experience, I recommend keeping in mind that people are generally willing to help and if you let them, and the kindness you receive might surprise you.
2. Do not be afraid to make spontaneous decisions
Know that not everything will always go according to your plans when travelling, so you might as well embrace the art of making spontaneous decisions. Following this way of thinking led me to stumble upon some of the best places I have ever been. When a person from the local community says it’s a hidden gem, believe them!
3. Living like a local person is the best kind of travel
When on exchange, it can feel like you’re on a LONG vacation and sometimes, it can feel like you should travel EVERYWHERE. Other times, a drink from the corner coffee shop or a stroll at the local park is all you need. But no matter where you are spending your weekend, I recommend doing things that the local people do. Try your best to immerse yourself in their lifestyle to get a more authentic feel of the country you are in.
4. Enjoy the sunsets
There is nothing more blissful and serene than watching the sunset in a new place. In addition to the glorious golden hues, there’s just always something so grand about sunsets that makes me feel alive.
6. Italy does have the best gelato
Enough said. This photo is not in Italy though. I didn’t actually have any photos of an Italian gelato because I usually just gobbled it all up right away!
7. Keep in touch with people you meet abroad
To this day, I still keep in contact with the new friends I made throughout my time abroad. Whether they’re just strangers I met on the road, fellow international students, or hostel roommates, I try my best to connect with them online – I even receive postcards from some of them occasionally. These people are going to be the ones to subtly remind you of how your exchange experience went. Keeping them in your life will also help preserve the precious memories you made abroad.