We all want to feel that sense of adventure. To, as cheesy (but true) as it sounds, get lost to find ourselves in another culture. One major reason why most people don’t just up and leave is due to finances. BUT, studying and/or working abroad is a great way around that. How else do you think I could have afforded to do 4 study/work semesters abroad and be only 21?
Because study and work terms abroad offer great finances. Normally if you do a study abroad semester through your university you’ll get some sort of scholarship/bursary to help. Sometimes it covers nearly everything. And if you’re going to work abroad, which there is so many different ways to do this (Travel-Work Visas, Placements through your company, Teaching English abroad etc…) you’re already going to be making an income.
I’ve been very fortunate to do 4 separate Study and Work semesters abroad, all within a 2 year span. And during each of those times abroad I learned so much about myself and also the world around me. Things that if I would have stayed at home, I would have never discovered. I always say University is the time to travel, if you have the opportunity do a Study or Work term abroad. It’s something you’ll never regret.
Study Abroad 1: Travel Study in China (May 2015)
Over the course of those three weeks I was immersed in Chinese culture, especially authentic Chinese food (something very different than what you’d buy at a Chinese restaurant here) which I loved. I learned that China was at once so different yet so similar to Canada.
A stereotype I was attached to before visiting China was that the country, and their people, were completely different, something foreign. In fact, the Chinese students we were paired with at the university could have been my friends from back home for we shopped at the same stores and were interested in the same things.
China taught me that the world is at once very big and very small. I learned Chinese (most importantly how to ask for beer and ‘cheers’), I shopped at the same stores that I would in Canada, I played volleyball with local students, I visited small market towns and giant metropolis’, I toured glass skyscrapers and walked the Great Wall of China.
China taught me that for all our difference we are all human, going about our daily lives, wanting love, companionship and respect.
China opened my eyes (and appreciation) to cultures and traditions far removed from Western civilization.
Study Abroad 2: Interning in Washington, DC (Winter Semester 2016)
Interning in the American capital in politics was an experience that many students in Political Science only dream of. I was fortunate to intern with a foreign delegation that enabled me to learn first hand the ins and outs of both international affairs and American politics. The internship also afforded me the opportunity to better explore the think tanks and other political institutions in DC as well as the city as a whole.
Prior to leaving for DC I was so unsure of myself. My first year away (at a university in a neighbouring province) had been a disaster. Would I make friends? Did I have what it took to fulfil my duty as an intern? Was I good enough? Smart enough?
Interning in DC taught me what the hell a Political Science degree actually gets you. I hadn’t realized before that everything I was doing for my degree was actually honing my research and analytical skills. With such a skill set I could literally work in a myriad of organizations or companies. I was no longer confined to politics if I didn’t want to be.
Interning in DC gave me confidence in my professional abilities. Before my internship I was so unsure of myself, not knowing if I was good enough for the career path I wanted to take. Interning taught me that I already had the skills I needed to succeed. I just had to tap into my skills and continue to improve upon them. I learned how to write better briefing notes for an Ambassador and policy reports for Members of Congress.
Interning in DC taught me that I could make friends as long as I put myself out there. My biggest fear before moving was that I wouldn’t make friends, and that I’d have a miserable time. But, being alone in a new city gave me confidence to approach people and start conversations, something I wouldn’t do before.
Work Term Abroad: Canadian National Vimy Memorial, France (Fall 2016)
Working as a tour guide at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, as well as the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, in Northern France is a job that many Canadian students dream about doing every semester. It was a job I had wanted since I was 13 years old. The chance to live in Europe for over 4 months, travel on your weekends, and share an important piece of Canadian history with hundreds of visitors from all over the world was tempting to me.
Northern France is very different from Paris or the South of France. People there live a simple, yet very happy, life. Stores are closed on Sundays, families come all together more often and people take the time to rest and relax with long meals, drinks or walks around town.
Working in France gave me an appreciation for being able to speak a second language, French. You need to be bilingual for the job, for obvious reasons. Prior to working in France I had a love-hate relationship with the language as its both so frustrating to learn yet also necessary being Canadian.
Working in France taught me perseverance. As I said, I wanted the job since I was 13. My great-grandfather fought at Vimy in 1917 and being able to share his story and that history was something I always wanted to be able to do. It wasn’t until the 4th time that I applied for the job that I got it. I actually failed the interview once prior. But I didn’t see it as a failure, but a learning experience. I wanted the job so I did everything I could until I got it.
Working in France taught me that the simple, relaxed life is better for our health than how we live here, always on the go, losing our mental sanity and physical health along the way.
Study Abroad 3: Intensive French Program in Brussels (July 2017)
One of the reasons I was chosen to represent my university at this Intensive Program at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, which was basically fully funded I might add, was because I had prior international study experience. How cool is that? My first three semesters abroad lead to this last one.
I wasn’t sure how three weeks of being in a classroom studying French would be but they ended up being invaluable. I meet other students from all over the world, I travelled to old and new countries on our days off, and got to better delve into the culture of Brussels.
Brussels taught me humility and to be humble. There were three levels of French courses and I was placed in the lowest, most basic, even though I’ve been speaking French for the past 15 years. At first I was enraged at the placement. The level was beneath me. But I learned from stepping back (realizing that I could use the help of the lowest level) that pride and arrogance at ones abilities need to be pushed aside to progress further.
Brussels taught me that it’s necessary to go back to basics. I consider myself fluent in French. I can understand conversations completely, whether they be with a francophone or on TV, and I can hold my own when speaking French. But, all those tiny errors I make in conjugating verbs and the use of different pronouns add up. I learned that refreshing all those language rules I first learned 10+ years ago was both necessary and wanted so that I could continue to improve.
Brussels (re)taught me to see travel with eagerness and a childlike manner of excitement. After travelling to so many different countries and cities the excitement of travel started to ebb for me. But, travelling with somebody who had never left Canada before reminded me how fortunate I am and that every experience can be new and exciting, even if its as mundane as taking the metro.
If you get the chance to Study or Work Abroad TAKE IT! And if it’s something you really want to do, MAKE THE CHANCE HAPPEN.