The Key to Overcoming Challenges Abroad

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.

Haste Ye Back : Toronto to Edinburgh

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.

 

My Experiential Learning Trip to Jamaica

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.

From Poutines to Dim Sum – Hong Kong

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.