If you get the chance, there are three basic reasons why you should apply for that coveted international exchange placement:
- They lied when they said University is the best time of your life(travelling is).
- You’re not as smart, cool, or ecofriendly as you think – and someone needs to show you.
- Your school is not as culturally diverse as it claims to be (duh).
Of course I’m oversimplifying, forgetting the time you’ll get drunk in some backpacker bar from too many free shots during a spell behind the DJ booth, forget the busses out of town stop at 3, and end up sleeping in “Maccas” (or Australian McDonald’s) with a lovely homeless guy and his dog for company.
I forget picnicking on the edge of a cliff you can’t even begin to measure in meters, in the middle of the most awe-inspiring mountain range you’ve ever seen, with girls you have such a strong bond with they may as well be family, or skipping class to go discovering new coves, scrambling the rocks from one beach to the next, or camping in the domestic terminal of an airport while the cleaners are in, waiting for an early morning flight, or taking a cool shower in a waterfall after a long trek, praying the leeches aren’t in season, or debating each country’s quality of “banter” with an far-too-drunk American you just met, or cuddling a koala and lounging next to a kangaroo you just hand-fed, trying to get your camera to focus on a Tasmanian devil (and failing)…
Or rather I can’t forget these things, I probably never will. Truth is my semester abroad in Sydney is the best thing I’ve ever done so far, and for every reason but the studying (which was standard).
My school advisor had it right when I went to her in December 2013 with my bare-bones application, unsure which school to put first; Macquarie University, Sydney or Queen’s in Toronto. I’ve always been drawn to the sun, and as the placement was our Autumn semester it would be summer in Australia, and snowing in Canada. But I was torn, Queen’s was the better school, with a solid reputation and strong links with Cambridge back home, and its modules fit better with the course my degree was taking at that point. I went to my tutor expecting her, as a Canadian with a Masters from Toronto, to recommend the better academic choice. I will never be able to thank her enough for the honest advice she gave: “Go to Sydney, it’ll be warm.” The best advice I myself can ever give is don’t pick your placement for the university, for what it can give you academically – you can make this work for you later, at the end of the day a degree is a piece of paper that will be forgotten after your first graduate job. Pick your placement for the location, the culture, for what you can get out of it personally. Don’t rely on any travelling you may or may not do at the end (you’ll run out of money), instead make sure you can have a ball the whole five months (or year, if you’re one of the lucky ones) in the city/town you’re initially living and studying in.
Most of the best memories from my time abroad are intensely personal, people I met or emotions I felt, or drunken antics that can’t be recalled without embarrassing someone (or myself). Yes, all of these things can happen at home, you’ve probably already got some from the standard uni experience, but there’s something intensely special about experiencing these things abroad, in a group of various nationalities; like when I learned to surf with a Mexican and a Turk while sharing a (rather sweaty) bunkroom with four Americans. Everything you do becomes imbued with different cultural perspectives, and it becomes second nature to respect and appreciate them all; they make your experience more colourful, and by extension, your life. Australia itself (minus Tony Abbott), is awesome. From the landscape; The Blue Mountains, The Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock, Byron Bay, the entire coastline from Bondi to Cronulla and more; to the wildlife, the weather, the people, the atmosphere, the public transport system that actually works. Experiencing somewhere different changes you, in an almost indescribable way, far beyond the “buzzword” independence and confidence that you were told going to University would give you. I came home with a whole new outlook, on life, on the world, on my self. And having learnt who my true friends were at home; the ones who had called, skyped, messaged me every day, and not the other 300+ Facebook friends who maybe liked that one cool photo of the beach.
It was more than worth taking the leap, throwing myself into the unknown, and living life on the edge – hence the five months of bar work to book the flights and Asia adventures and do it all over again.
So what’s stopping you?