I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman and was super excited to be accepted into the school of business at my university. I spent all my time chillin' on campus, joined way too many clubs, and met a whole bunch of amazing individuals who eventually became some of my best friends, including a guy who, little did I know, would change my heart forever.
But alas, the inevitable course of life is that nothing gold can stay. I bought into the disillusion that business school was glamorous, eventually realized that I hated it, and switched out. Now that I had no specific goal I wanted to chase, I didn't really know what to switch into. So I defaulted into Arts. And if you've ever switched faculties, you would know this: you see your friends that you made in that faculty a whole lot less. You also start to weed out the we're-only-friends-because-it's-first-year people in your life, and suddenly your friend group has shrunk to less than half the size. And on top of that, the guy that I was so madly in love with, broke up with me.
Three strikes and I was tapping out.
In my second year of university, I didn't know where to direct my life. I was working five days a week at a job I didn't care about, on top of going to school full time without much purpose, and I was still stuck in the disarraying aftermath of a gut-wrenching breakup. Every day was work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, in efforts to avoid being trapped in a negative head space. Those first-year feel good vibes had definitely ghosted and I felt like I was hitting a wall.
Along the way, I had always thought about going on exchange. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that really treasured the value of travelling and experiencing new cultures. So now that I couldn't care less about what I did at school, didn't have any strings attached to my non-existent relationship, and honestly just needed to get out of this suffocating city, I said what the heck, let's do this.
So I opened the list of schools I could go on exchange to on my browser, closed my eyes, and let the random scrolling of my fingers decide the outcome of the next 12 months of my life. My eyes were still closed, and my heart told me to stop: University of Birmingham. Where the hell is Birmingham? Well let me tell you, it is in the middle of nowhere England, rated the top 10 worst cities to live in the UK, and it's also where I decided to go study.
Fast forward to the following September, I jetted off to England pretty anxious but pretty damn excited. I had an entire bucket list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see. I tried to take classes in subjects that I was actually interested in, like Shakespearean theatre, theories in digital culture and 19th century French art history. I know, so random and so useless, but I genuinely loved every moment of it.
I made an effort to go out there and meet new people, whether they be locals or other exchange students. I even met a dude from Saudi Arabia - that's pretty cool. Every person I met and chatted with, was just so interesting and so unique. Everyone was from a different background than I and it was such a refreshing experience. Some were exchange poli sci students from Australia, some were international students from Germany studying history and education, some were 28 year-old local senior students not sure where they were going with their philosophy degree.
And just when I thought I couldn't meet anymore interesting people with interesting lives, the folks that graced my path as I traveled within and outside of Europe just blew my mind. I met career vagabonds in Lisbon, film directors and painters in Paris, actual snake charmers in Marrakech.
And the things that I saw were so incredible. The Vasa in Stockholm, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the blue city of Chefchaouen, and King's Landing of Dubrovnik. And just like that, I was taken away. Everything felt like a dream. I wasn't living in reality.
All of a sudden, all my self-involved issues back in Vancouver felt so small and insignificant. There were so many things in this world that were so much bigger than me, so many people who had lives just as important as mine. I mean, I was standing in front of the same palace as King Louis XIV, driving through the same fields as the Irish who suffered from crippling famine, walking in the same space as a million holocaust victims in Berlin, only we were separated by time. How could I have ever allowed such menial problems in my own little self-important life become such a towering hindrance to my growth.
If you have read this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. What I'm trying to get at is: for me, studying abroad, trying new things, traveling to new places and meeting new faces, was a complete paradigm shift. I had about as many close friends when going on exchange as I had fingers on my right hand. But I was completely satisfied because each relationship was deep and meaningful. I said screw it to the so-called importance and prestige of taking courses that will "actually help you in life", and decided to nurture my passions and interests. I forgot about ruminating in my self-absorbed issues about love and relationships, and saw how many bigger-than-me issues there were in this world and how much beauty there is to love and appreciate.
Of course, you don't have to be in the same place that I was before you decide that you want to go on exchange, but it definitely broadened my horizons and helped me to do a whole lot of growing that I may not have experienced had stayed in this city.
So you go girl. Don't let anything hold you back. Go see the world and open your eyes to so much more than you could ever expect or imagine.
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