Saturday, 3 October 2015

Month Update: Studying Abroad

Good Morning from rainy Calgary. It's been a whole month since I arrived in Canada, a bundle of nervous energy and excitement, completely overwhelmed with emotions. It feels like only yesterday yet a lifetime ago, so much has happened since then. Instead of giving a chronological account of everything that I've got up to over the past month, I'm going to write a list of useful information I wished I'd had before arriving in Calgary and realisations that I've had whilst being here:

Now, before we get onto anything else, the most important info you will need as a British person living abroad in Canada is... where to get your hands on some good ol' tea, you know, just a regular pack of tea bags. It's actually surprisingly easy. I didn't know this at first but your average tea bag full of black tea is called Orange Pekoe here. So to save yourself the confusion when trying to find some tea to make you feel at home, just look for Orange Pekoe and you'll most probably be okay. Luckily for me, my favourite brand of tea, Tetley, is quite popular here so I'm all set.
Now that I can rest easy knowing that everyone can get their tea fix, let's move onto the perhaps more... important issues:

Be sure to go to orientation events. I cannot recommend this enough. Through these events you get to meet a tonne of people and get to know your way around campus, two things that are essential for getting on well on your exchange. On International Orientation Day, I was tired, jet lagged and feeling pretty homesick and anxious. The last thing I wanted to do was go out and have to talk to people, I just wanted to curl up in bed with Netflix and sleep away the next 8 months. But, of course I didn't do that. I made myself get up, get dressed and go. I didn't even walk two metres from my door when I bumped into two girls also on their way to orientation, and little did I know then, but these two girls would be some of the best friends I have at Calgary so far. Through talking to them, I got to know some other people and within a few days, we'd formed an amazing group of friends from all over the world. The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Australia and America, oh and me from the UK of course. The great thing about making friends with other international students is that they tend to have similar goals and similar attitudes to life, they are for the most part, the adventurers. Having a group of international friends makes exploring your new home a whole lot easier. Which brings me onto my next point nicely:

Say 'yes' to as much as possible. Be a tourist. Go travelling. The first month is such a great time to get things done as classes haven't truly got into full swing and assignments aren't impending. Hiring a Car is super easy and I wholeheartedly recommend going on road trips. The first weekend here, a group of us went up to Banff National Park and camped out. It snowed. In September. Not only was it incredible up in the mountains; camping and road tripping with a group of new friends was a great bonding experience. The weekend after was a complete change of weather, it was beautiful clear skies and 25 degrees. Another camping trip ensued, with more people this time and we had such a laugh and it was great fun. At one point in the evening, we were all lying down looking up at the millions of stars and talking about life, the universe and everything and I had one of those moments of true clarity. This is what life was really about: exploring beautiful places, trying new things and connecting with people from so many different backgrounds. It was incredible. Each weekend has been full of another adventure and I have loved every minute. Whatever happens from here on out, my experiences so far have been more than enough to make this exchange worth every bit of time, money and effort taken to get here.

That being said, moving to Canada and saying 'yes' to new experiences and adventures is an exceptional drain on the finances. More than I ever anticipated. Be prepared to fork out for the unforeseen costs, kitchenware, homeware, bathroom supplies, insurances, transport passes, road trips, food, winter clothing, it felt neverending at times. Be smart about where you're spending your money and you'll most probably be fine.

With all the new experiences and the want to fill all your spare time with fun things, it's easy to put studying at the bottom of the priority list. Try not to do this! In Canada, opposed to in the UK, the work is generally easier (in my opinion so far) but the workload far more constant. There are more assignments and smaller tests that require a consistent amount of time dedicated to studying a week. Cramming is far less important here it seems and already I've had 4 assignments and tests handed in and put towards my final grades. Get into a good routine and don't be afraid of spending a few nights in occasionally to get some work done, contrary to what I said before, you don't have to necessarily say yes to everything! Remember: it is called studying abroad for a reason...

And last but not least, keep in contact with home. This one is maybe just a personal one but I tend to feel a lot less homesick when I keep up regular contact with everyone I'm missing. The internet is a beautiful thing when studying abroad. I was feeling a bit sad one day and I was sat in between lectures in the library when all of a sudden I got a message from two of my good friends back home and instead we chatted and messaged each other for the next hour and it felt just like I was back home. This month has been full of extreme ups and downs. I've had some of the most fantastic experiences and I have met and become friends with more amazing people than I could ever have imagined but no matter how wonderful my time has been here so far, there's no replacement for hugs with my parents, play fights with my brother, snuggles with my nieces and nephew, cups of tea with my grandparents, hanging out with my best friends who know me inside out and knowing that I'm only a train ride away from the people you love the most. A lot of homesickness comes from the perception of distance. Knowing that I can't just pop back for a weekend if I need to. It's been hard at times but I'm confident that as time goes on it will get easier, I just have to keep doing awesome things and making memories to last a lifetime.

So as we get full swing into autumn (or fall as they call it in Canada) here in Calgary, I'm excited to see where this next month takes me...




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