By Alexis Bonilla, Undergraduate Student in Child and Youth Care, Faculty of Community Services
Ever since I was in high school, I always dreamt about studying abroad. As I came closer to finishing my undergrad, however, the dream started to fade…Until last October, when I learned about the opportunity to study abroad for 3 months with the Ontario Universities International (OUI) program. I quickly applied for it and started to plan my 4 month trip to the University of Trier in Germany.
As my departure date approached, however, my nerves set in. It hit me that I was going to be alone with no friends or family and that I didn’t even know how to cook! I’m pretty sure I talked myself out of going 20-100 times. Thankfully I have such a supportive group of family and friends that kept encouraging me and telling me that I would be alright.
When May 2nd 2017 arrived, I was ready to go. Customs and immigration went smoothly, and when I arrived in Germany, everything seemed to be okay. This was until I had to get my 2 pieces of luggage and carry them around myself in the rain. At this point in time, reality hit- I was miles away by myself and I DIDN’T SPEAK GERMAN!” I finally found the bus stop and made my way to Trier…
Trier is a really small town, so clearly it is very different from Toronto. The campus was cute and super easy to navigate. My first two weeks were rough… actually, I won’t sugar coat it, they sucked. I would come home after class and lay in bed. I missed my family and friends and I missed hearing a language I could actually understand. I couldn’t even order a pizza because of the language barrier.
During this time, I called my mom sobbing but she knocked some sense into me. It was a life changing conversation. Suddenly, I became this super courageous woman and wanted to plan my first solo trip. Afraid out of my mind, knowing that I would be a woman travelling ALONE, I booked a trip to Switzerland and just went for it.
Afterwards, I came back to Trier with a whole new mind-set. I realized I was living the dream I always wanted. I became a social butterfly and immersed myself in the German culture. Although the language barrier still existed, I made it work. I made friends from all paths of life and made sure to interact with my professors. They were helpful and did everything to assist me with my academics.
Since I only had three courses, I had most of my days off. I planned many trips and ended up seeing 14 different countries and 26 different cities – all alone – but of course making friends along the way.
My experience really enlightened me, not only in loving myself and realizing that it’s okay to be alone, but also in observing the difference between children and youth in Canada and Germany. I was able to learn the difference in policies, programs and parenting, and the ways children and youth live differently in both places.
Studying abroad was a life changing experience and I’m very grateful to all those who helped me along the way, particularly to my friends in Germany who became my second family.
One piece of advice I will offer and take away is to love yourself and do what makes YOU happy. Live for yourself, not for the expectations of others.