So you’ve heard about the exchange program and you’ve already listed all the cities you want to visit. You’re daydreaming about the incredible sights you’ll see, flavorful foods you’ll try and inspirational people you’ll meet until the thought of the associated expenses tramples you back into the reality of a student budget.
As exciting as going on exchange is, you still have to be a responsible adult (sigh) and plan your expenses, but you shouldn’t let financial fears stop you from studying abroad. Managing and budgeting your expenses (especially in a different currency) is a valuable skill that might give you a new outlook on your spending habits, even upon returning to Canada.
By Shannon Tinning, 4th Year Student in English, Faculty of Arts
When I was preparing to go on exchange to Edinburgh, Scotland, I was flooded with speeches from relatives and friends, filled with statements such as, “you’re going to have such an amazing time!”, “this will change your life!”, and “you’re literally the luckiest person in the world.” While I was incredibly grateful for the countless words of encouragement to ease my anxiety concerning this massive move across the world, I noticed that no one had discussed how different life would be once I returned home to Canada.
My experience abroad was certainly life changing and the best decision I have ever made and surpassed every expectation I had. However, returning from living in a beautiful town, enriched with centuries of history, to my small hometown (and then of course the uber urban city of Toronto) was a far bigger adjustment than was necessary for travelling to Scotland.
Perhaps it was the sheer excitement embarking on this 5,500 km journey, but the thought of returning to Canada was abruptly swept to the inner corners of my mind, refusing to be acknowledged.
5 and a half months is FOREVER to a 20-year-old, right? Wrong. My time in Edinburgh flew by in what felt like minutes. The swiftness of an exchange calls for adapting to societal norms in a relatively quick fashion. However, undoing what I had learned to be the norm in Scotland when returning to Canada proved to be far more difficult than I had anticipated. Reverse culture shock hit me with brutal force once I landed in Canada, as I will outline below.
I grew incredibly familiar with the feeling of sticking out like a sore thumb. Not only did my Canadian accent (American-sounding depending on who you asked) draw immediate attention from everyone I interacted with (store clerks, bartenders, my professors…the list goes on), but the way I presented myself drew a clear binary between myself and citizens of Edinburgh. There, girls wear a full face of makeup, complete with a fake tan, smoky eye and dark lip.
I grew accustomed to being approached by individuals asking where I was from, why I was in Scotland, and how long I would be visiting. Adjusting to sticking out in Scotland was a challenge that I found interesting and a unique experience. However, when I came back to Canada, I was immediately flooded back in to being a familiar face, with a non-existent accent. Seeing individuals wearing a Blue Jays hat, or a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater was no longer the cause for a freak out, as that is (obviously) the standard of living in or near Toronto.
The reverse culture shock of no longer being a foreigner was one I had never anticipated; I was no longer the Token Canadian at a bar.Now, I’m just the stereotypically annoying girl that studied abroad.
Another reverse culture shock that I experienced when returning home to Canada was the swift reminder of how horrid our transit systems are. In Scotland, the U.K., and Europe as a whole, the transit system is (relatively) flawless. Not only is travelling cheap (a train from Prague to Vienna cost me about $20), but the transit runs on time, without delays. Living about 2.5 hours away from Toronto, I often take the Via Rail home. Not only is Via expensive, but it often is delayed upwards of an hour.
When a bus in Edinburgh says that it will be arriving at 3:06 pm and will take 15 minutes to get to your stop, it means exactly that. When I travelled alone to Sweden (my first ever solo adventure), I, along with my anxious-ridden mother, were quite nervous for how I would fare translating the subway station’s names. Despite never speaking Swedish in my life, I was able to view the subway lines with ease. Leaving behind a reliable transit system for the nightmare that is the TTC at 9 am was a reality I was not prepared to face when leaving my study abroad experience behind.
Leaving Edinburgh to come back to Canada was simply heartbreaking. The adjustment period of the first 2 months back home was a far more difficult adjustment than when I moved to Scotland.
I was back under my parent’s roof in my small hometown of Stratford, when just a few weeks previously I had been travelling to a different country every weekend. I had known that I wanted to study abroad since I was 15 years old, preparing to study in Scotland for a year, and suddenly, that experience was over. Attempting to adjust to working a full-time position, as well as an additional part-time job after I had just travelled to 16 different countries put an immense strain on my mental health. I felt trapped, stuck in a routine I yearned to escape from.
Besides the typical, “oh you’ll never want to leave!” remarks I received before going to Scotland, no one had prepared me for how arduous this shift would be.
My advice to anyone on an exchange now, or looking to go on one in the future, soak up every minute of it. Make a list of things that you are excited to do once you return home to Canada. That way, once the homesickness for wherever you studied kicks in, you can look at a visual representation of all that you are thankful for here. Detailing (and perhaps annoying) friends and family with the life-changing moments you experienced is another must, no matter how many memes they tag you in of being an annoying study abroad student.
By Michelle Fedorowich, 4th Year student in Social Work, Faculty of Community Services
“I spent the past month predominantly in southern India and survived one of the worst natural disasters in over 300 years to take place in the state of Kerala.”
More than 1 million people in Kerala were displaced into refugee camps, the navy and military in full effect, airports, railways, and roads closed throughout the state because of monsoon rains and landslides, with the death toll surpassing 300. Now that I’m home, settled, and trying to show this jetlag who’s the boss, it’s time to share stories. I will post more photos on Facebook in the coming weeks.
I traveled with an interdisciplinary group of Ryerson University students that was led by one faculty member; we were all strangers to one another before leaving, and it was everyone’s first time in India. This was an opportunity provided through Ryerson, partnered with Amritapuri University in Kerala, India, as part of the Live in Labs program. University students from all over the world work on international teams implementing research projects in rural villages of India for 1-12 months.
Ours was supposed to be a water and health project in a village community near Alappuzha, Kerala. We still engaged in water and health efforts, but our project turned into action-based research combined with disaster relief initiatives, when the area incurred some of the worst monsoon flooding on record in this part of the world. Our group of 30 students from Ryerson and Amritapuri were emergency evacuated from our village base camp in Alappuzha on August. 15, which happens to be India’s Independence Day.
At this point, the entire state of Kerala was officially in a state of emergency.
We all safely returned as a group to the Amritapuri Campus from the flooded village, where we completed reports, presentations, and research papers compiling the information collected from the communities in crises. There is potential for these research submitted to the Live in Labs team to be presented at future conferences.
When we were in various village communities for 10 days, Ryerson students would partner with native speaking Amrita students to conduct and document interviews with villagers. Some of us became pharmacists by helping to distribute medicines and assisting doctors (many of whom were medical students themselves). These efforts took place at disaster relief medical camps, village schools (many had been closed for weeks already due to flooding, and/or turned into refugee camps or distribution centers after re-opening), at community centers, as well as in individual homes.
Many of these sites were accessed by travelling on washed out roads narrow enough for one bus and one motorcycle to pass, or were only accessible by boat, including medical camps that operated on boats to get to people in need. We worked together in teams to gather data by documenting living conditions, health concerns primarily focused on the effects of flooding, as well as socioeconomic factors of people impacted by flooding.
One of my most memorable interviews was conducted with a severely disabled 42-year old woman named Rina. She has brittle bone disease, and showed me scars on her body from one of the 27 surgeries she has had to endure to cope with this illness. The family described the incredibly difficult realities that Rina faces every day, including avoiding direct sunlight due to her illness. They described to me the additional challenges that they face regarding flooding in the area as ‘swimming to safety’ is not an option with her health complications. Hers was a very unique story that I shared as a detailed case study with our inter-professional team when debriefing with the larger group back at base camp later that night.
One of the things that I am most proud of from our time spent in the village was leading a team to construct and install a water filter in one community.
Who knew that my adventure would include becoming a construction forewoman in India?
Many people shared this experience as one of their favorites from our project, particularly as it was something tangible that we were able to leave behind in the communities for long-term sustainable impacts. It was also one of the most physically demanding projects that we engaged in; we literally had to mix cement! It felt great to get in touch with my roots back here in Canada, as the Fedorowich Construction Company in Yorkton, Saskatchewan is over 100 years old, started by my great grandfather when the family relocated from Ukraine.
The focus of my trip was on the Live in Labs project, but we also managed to have some fun as well. Six people from our original group of Ryerson students stayed on an extra week after our commitment was over to become hardcore tourists in northern India. We traveled with a tour company to do the Golden Triangle Tour: Delhi-Agra-Jaipur returning to Delhi before flying home Aug. 31. No trip to India should be complete without visiting the Taj Mahal – what an incredible wonder of the world!
I learned about how the gems found on the Taj were created, as the entire monument was completed by hand. Other than the Taj, another favorite was visiting the Red Fort in Jaipur. Earlier in the trip, before we began our village work, the Ryerson group went on a houseboat tour of the backwaters of Kerala. I was told this was a must-do when visiting this part of the world. At this point in the trip, we were already witnessing homes that were submerged in floodwater, and an entire area of the state that is dependent on tourism for survival.
I made a point of writing every day during my time abroad, trying my best to document as much as possible. This is as brief a synopsis of my time abroad as could be, but of course there is still so much more to share. I’m so grateful to Ryerson for providing this unique experiential learning opportunity for students, to our inter-professional and interdisciplinary team in working together through the infinite challenges that we bravely faced as a group, for utilizing so many personal and professional skills in such a short period of time, and for a new group of friends I never would have met under any other circumstances. Thanks to everyone reading this who supported me during one of the craziest months on record yet. How am I going to top this? : )
By: Hana Glaser, Undergraduate Student in Creative Industries
Going to study for a semester abroad has always been one of my dreams. I had pictured myself going to school in a city, making friends with the locals, and learning all about the local culture. Although this was a small part of my experience, I lived a completely different reality that surpassed my expectations.
Looking back, it’s crazy to think that I spent 6 months in Germany studying in Stuttgart at HdM (Stuttgart Media University). During this time, the challenges I faced ranged from odd ones like not knowing how to open my own apartment door, to hard ones where I needed to talk to city officials concerning my VISA in an office where no one spoke English.
“Regardless of how big or small the challenges that I encountered were, they all felt like a big deal as I had gone by myself to a country where I knew no one and did not speak the language.”
The first challenge was using my house key. The door and key were a problem for me almost the whole length of my semester. On my first day a buddy that the university had set up on my part to pick me up and help me settle in took me to my apartment and showed me around the flat. After being there for half an hour, she took me out to eat with some of the other international students that had arrived earlier that day as well. When the time came to go home she handed me the keys and we went our separate ways.
This being my first time opening my door, I struggled for a total of 30 minutes before the panic of having to sleep in a stairwell started to settle in. Being someone who does not like to ask for help nor bother people, especially when I do not know them and it is almost one in the morning, I had to overcome my discomfort and text my buddy for help. My buddy was able to find someone that lived in the same building as me to come and help me. This person quickly became my best friend and my family while I was there.
It took me about a month to learn how to properly open my door, as well as how to ask for help when I needed it. Sometimes you have to place trust in others. The most important thing that I learned through all of my challenges was that there is no harm in asking the people around you for help. Since we were all in the same boat, everyone was willing to help. Even though I spent most of my time with the same group of international students, it was mainly sharing our concerns and helping each other that brought us closer together.
“Sometimes you have to place trust in others.”
This group of international students became my family. We cooked together, did laundry together, studied together, traveled together and partied together. It was this family that helped me with my most difficult challenge which was obtaining my Student VISA. After I heard that the process is much simpler and quicker in Germany than in Canada, I decided to do all of my paper work upon my arrival. Unfortunately for me, the information on the website was not accurate when it came to their hours of operation. On top of that, none of the staff members in the building spoke English.
The office I needed to get to within the building was very difficult to find. I ended up sitting in the refugee appeal waiting room for 15 minutes until I noticed I was in the wrong room. Determined to make things easier for myself, I asked one of my international friends who spoke German to help me. Although it took the both of us some more confusion, two more trips to the bureau, and a pile of paper work in order to get my VISA done, I could not have done it without the help of my international family.
The painful process that I went through in order to get my VISA allowed me to help some of the American Students that started their process later on. All in all, an exchange experience would not be complete without its challenges as there’s a lesson from each challenge one encounters.
By: Maria Bendo, Undergraduate Student in English, Faculty of Arts
From the moment I got back to Canada, I’ve had trouble trying finding words to describe what my exchange was like. I spent the first five months of 2018 studying at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland during the second half of my third year. Strangely, I’ve found myself struggling to answer questions about it. I usually reply with “Oh, it was amazing!” or “Honestly, would go back in a heartbeat,” which are both extremely true, but I’ve never really elaborated upon it. So, I’m going to make an attempt.
From the moment I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to participate in an exchange program. I didn’t really feel nervous leading up to it until I sat down for the 7-hour flight ahead of me. I couldn’t believe I was going to live an ocean away from my family and friends. Even if it was for a short period of time, I could not stop thinking about how I would have to be on my own and my family wouldn’t be just an hour and a half drive away. I was so grateful when I learned that one of my now best friends was going on exchange as well. With her sitting next to me on the plane, I felt so much more at ease. I think we were both ready to experience everything the exchange threw at us.
Edinburgh is an extremely beautiful city with a rich history and for an English major; I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to live for five months. I learned a multitude of things about renowned Scottish poets, authors, and even about myself as a student. I only had to take 3 courses compared to Ryerson’s standard 5, which left me with more free time than I’m used to. I lived in one of Napier’s residences called Bainfield; It is about a 10-minute walk from the campus of Merchiston. This is where I met many wonderful people who I ended up spending most of my time with. The Old Town in Edinburgh might have been one of my favorite areas of the city. I’m a sucker for cobblestone and narrow alleys, despite being a clumsy mess and nearly breaking an ankle. I also have a special place in my heart for the highlands, especially after going on the same free highland tour twice. Walking around the city, I was in a state of disbelief; a common theme during my exchange. I really couldn’t believe that this place was my home for five months. It really didn’t click for me until I boarded my flight back to Canada.
Obviously, studying abroad in Europe gave me the chance to travel within the continent for relatively cheap. Weirdly enough, I’ve seen more of Europe than Canada. While on exchange, I traveled to 7 countries and 10 cities and towns. I’ve never been one for taking a ton of pictures while on vacation, being a “live in the moment” type of person, but I really couldn’t help it. I look back on each picture so fondly and almost instantly connect a memory to it – roaming Edinburgh after a night out, eating gelato by the canal in Venice, riding paddle boats on the Vltava river. As cliche as it sounds, it was really like living in a dream and the pictures I took made it feel a bit more real to me.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the idea of living in a foreign country on your own, but don’t let that fear stop you from it. As any person would, I did get homesick from time to time. At the end of the day I always knew I was coming back, which is bittersweet when I think about it now. The day I left Edinburgh, I really couldn’t stand the thought of leaving my exchange experience behind. To be honest, I think about going back every day.
Along with the general answers I tend to give about the whole experience, I always tell people that it is absolutely worth it. I’m constantly telling everyone that asks, if they get the chance to study abroad or even just visit Europe or any other place in the world, they should take the opportunity and run. Seize and cherish every moment while you’re gone and make a few (or a lot) of memories doing it.
By Katherine Lo Undergraduate Student in Hospitality and Tourism Management, TRSM
Entering my 4th year as a Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) student at TRSM, I was able to combine formal learning and travel by going on the experiential learning trip to Jamaica this past spring with Dr. Frederic Dimanche’s class (HTT800 – Field Studies in Hospitality and Tourism). I had the unique opportunity to experience Jamaica with other TRSM students and with RSVP Caribbean Volunteers (our partner in Jamaica), which was the perfect way to discover the island, from its culture and community to its lush landscapes and delicious cuisine.
The stigma that falls on Jamaica – and many other Caribbean islands – as being solely a source of all-inclusive resort vacations, is such a narrow view of what the destination has to offer. I was amazed that our itinerary kept us so busy for the full two weeks, yet we only spent one afternoon experiencing the resorts of the island.
I was able to have such authentic and enriching experiences in Jamaica, which made the trip truly unforgettable. I stayed at the Rastafari Indigenous Village, and was immersed in a subculture I knew next to nothing about prior to the trip. I was also able to witness the real community connection between RSVP Caribbean Volunteers and the homeless people of Mandeville during our Community Outreach project.
As a tourism student, I embarked on this trip with the goal of learning the fundamentals of community-based and sustainable tourism so that I could apply what I had learned to aid with tourism development in Chile after graduation. Once we met with Diana McIntyre-Pike, President of Countrystyle Community Tourism Network/Villages as Businesses and community-based tourism consultant, I felt incredibly motivated by her passion and inspired by her philosophy.
My biggest take-away from the trip was when McIntyre-Pike said, “Community tourism is community development. You have to start from the ground up.” This simple phrase carried a lot of weight for me. Before this HTM course, I understood that community-based tourism revolved around the idea of being by and for locals, but I did not realize how large the scope really was. There needs to be a fair allocation of funding to help build small businesses and entrepreneurs, available training, and most importantly, but also most difficult to achieve, a supportive and open mindset from the local people so that development is welcome.
The greatest thing about travel is being able to learn about and connect with a new culture, and to experience another way of living. This is something that is constant in almost all travel, but very diverse in every place I’ve had the good fortune of visiting, including Jamaica. It was being able to experience Jamaica in the way that we did, as a group of students looking to learn about everything the island had to offer and how to be engaged with it or apply our lessons – it was a once in a lifetime experience.
If there is one thing that I hope comes out of our time there, it is that more students get to learn about community-based and sustainable tourism in the same way we did. I also hope we get to witness real change sooner rather than later, and see more TRSM alumni being the drivers of such change.
By Metis Chan Undergraduate student in Marketing Management, TRSM
Looking back all the things that have happened in 2018, I still can’t believe I lived in another country for five months. After months of being back in Toronto, my experience in Hong Kong honestly felt like a dream, a dream I’ll never forget. I still remember it like it was yesterday when I headed to the airport in tears not wanting to leave the familiar city I’ve grown up in. I’m so glad I didn’t let my fears stop me that day or else I wouldn’t be who I am today. The moment I stepped off the 16-hour flight, my whole world literally changed. The perfect way to describe Hong Kong was that it was a concrete jungle. I guess what everyone said about Hong Kong being Asia’s New York was spot on. I was now in a dynamic crowded place where everyone was busy hustling through their day and where various aromas of food were hitting me left and right. At that moment was when I knew everything would be okay and the fear was replaced with excitement.
I had the privilege to study at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University; At the host university there were over 500 exchange students. All of us stayed in the campus residence; it was a building made up of approximately 1000 students with half being exchange students and the other half being locals. I stayed in a double room, where I had to share a room with another student. The other student I lived with was another girl that also attended Ryerson. This girl ended up becoming my best friend and I’m so happy that when everything came to an end she was someone that I knew would still be a constant in my life. At the start it was hard to get to know everyone and meet friends as I felt quite shy. However, once I started to talk to a few people, one thing lead to the next and I ended up with an amazing group of friends. I’m so fortunate to be able to say now that I have friends in America, Australia, Hong Kong, Sweden and various other parts of the world. Each of these individuals taught me a lot. Being able to have experienced this adventure with them was truly life-changing. These people, that I had only known for few months, brought out this whole new light in me as they were there to support me every moment along the way. I will never forget the late night talks at McDonald’s, walks on the streets in Whampoa, homework sessions, and food comas we shared.
Living in Hong Kong was a bliss, it was a beautiful city to live in. The skyline was unforgettable. People always ask me what I loved the most about the city and I think I love how Hong Kong is the perfect balance between a concrete jungle and a natural paradise. Hong Kong had more skyscrapers than I could count, but if you wanted some quiet you could also hike and witness the most beautiful views. The food culture was amazing; I got to try a huge variety of foods every day. I think my all-time favorites were definitely the dim sum and egg waffles.
Another great thing about studying abroad in Hong Kong was how close we were to all the other East Asian countries. I think what made studying abroad so wonderful was the ability to travel to a new country almost every month. I would spend my weekends packing and planning the next big trip with my friends. During my time abroad I visited Beijing, Korea, Australia, Bali, and Thailand. When I say that out loud, I still can’t believe I traveled to all those places. Yet, the best thing about each one of those trips were not all stunning views or the foods I tried, but the people that I shared the moments with that made it unforgettable.
Before I knew it, my 5 months of studying abroad flew by and it was time to part ways with everyone I met. It felt like such a shame that I had met all these amazing people and now I had to leave not knowing if I would have the chance to see them again one day. It was a bittersweet ending to all of it, but I think we were all thankful that we had had the chance to share a part of our lives together, even if it was short lived. However, I am sure we’ll have the chance to see each other again someday. As I sat in my seat on the plane and watched Hong Kong slowly fade away into the clouds that’s when I knew that this chapter of my life came to an end and a new one was about to begin again at home.
Coming home and seeing all my friends and family again, I was greeted with a million hugs and welcome backs’. Every time I saw someone they would be eager to ask “how was your exchange?” and I think the best way to describe everything was that it was pure serendipity. Although going on exchange was planned, everything else that happened was a timeline of unexpected events that led to something beautiful. I think this is something I will always look back at in my life and be thankful for.
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