When I was in high school, I had a French and Spanish teacher who loved to reminisce about her time living abroad in France as a university student. I remember being so enchanted by her stories and the concept of going to school for a year in another country; as someone who has only ever wanted to travel and see the world, being able to experience new cultures, meet new people, and explore a whole different way of life–all as a student without adult responsibilities–seemed ideal. With this image of adventure on the horizon, I worked hard, studied hard, and saved up my money, waiting for my big moment.
Well, my big moment came. Currently, I am sitting in a busy little coffee shop on Ecclesall Road, an area filled with various, unique shops in Sheffield, England. Across from me is my flatmate Marie, a girl from Bergen, Norway. Never did I expect to meet and become so close with someone from Norway, especially while living in England, but I couldn’t be more grateful. I have learned so much about the culture and way of life in Norway, and we have had countless laughs as Marie continues to attempt to teach me Norwegian. We live with seven other flatmates, all from different parts of the world, meaning that a wide range of culture is quite literally at our doorstep. Naturally, with such diversity, we all have different ways we choose to live our day to day lives, but it’s nice that at the end of the day, if we want to, we can get together and bond over playing a silly game while having some drinks or decorating our flat for Christmas. In these moments, we aren’t defined by our cultures; instead, we forget our differences and unite over our similarities.
Living in England, Marie and I have gone on many different adventures across the countryside, from day trips to York, Liverpool, and Whitby, to longer journeys, such as our Reading Week adventure–which involved an eight-hour boat ride across the Irish Sea, landing in Belfast, attempting to understand the bus routes, and walking for hours in the pouring rain (resulting in two very wet, very miserable students)–touring the Antrim Coast and becoming friends with a girl from Zimbabwe, to camping in an empty airport. Every adventure has been a dream, and every problem we’ve had is now a funny, cherished memory. I’m so grateful to have another semester to continue on with all the travelling adventures.
Living in Sheffield has been a very interesting experience. When it came to selecting what school I wanted to go to, I knew I’d prefer somewhere near the Peak District so I could venture into the countryside easily as I love the outdoors. I also knew I desired to attend somewhere that wasn’t an overly popular exchange destination as I wanted to meet people from around the world, not just surround myself with the comfort offered by other Canadians and Americans (something I knew I would do if I had the chance). The University of Sheffield offered all of these opportunities and I am really glad that I picked it; still, I would be lying if I said it’s always been an easy transition.
Being an exchange student is a very unique experience. Having already attended university for two years, I am very used to specific expectations and certain writing criteria.
Whereas Western offers an entire building dedicated solely to international and exchange students with programs to help incoming students adjust to their new setting and meet each other, no such programs exist here.
Within the residences at Western, there are Residence Advisors and Sophs on every floor, both positions designed to intimately support students. Once again, such initiatives do not exist here, which means that whenever I have a problem or need help with something, I have no clue whom to talk to. This has been a major adjustment as I am used to having a lot of support surrounding me at Western.
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend going on exchange. Though it is an expensive venture–and not always an easy one–it is so unbelievably worth it. The friendships you make are ones that will last a lifetime, and the experience of living abroad as a student is incomparable to anything else. This experience has taught me how small the world is and has shown me just how much it has to offer should we only take the leap, get out, and go see it.