This post is written by UFV Student Sydnee Christian
On January 3rd I had a going away party with my closest friends… it still hadn’t sunk in yet that I was leaving in a couple days, until I got quite intoxicated. I still laugh at how much I cried, but I haven’t cried at all from homesickness in my entire three months so far! I have cried because I miss my cat though… You see, you can talk to your friends and family, but you can’t talk to your cat! Anyways, my first week away I was in London staying at my cousin’s house with my sister (who is living in Ireland and came out to visit), it was an awesome trip and great way to ease myself into traveling! The two of us even got to see our other sister on her 7 hour layover on her way to India! The best part of the trip though had to be the Harry Potter studio tours in London. It was a little expensive but so incredibly worth it! I was speechless the entire time; the amount of detail that went into the films is astounding and deserves so much respect. It was amazing. London is a really cool place, incredibly expensive, but cool nonetheless.
My second week abroad was a surprise trip back to my sister’s house in Ireland! I was in contact with the study abroad advisor at the University of South Wales and was told that my classes didn’t start until the 20th, so there was really no point going a week early (I was later told, once I was already in Ireland, that they actually started on the 13th…). It worked out really nicely, we surprised my sister’s boyfriend and I was able to be there for his birthday! I managed to cover a lot of ground in Ireland in my week there! Thanks to Paddywagon, I went up to Belfast and saw Giant’s Causeway (hard to believe that it’s natural and not manmade!) and also a trip to the Cliffs of Moher (literally the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I could not believe how early I was having the classic travel epiphany of “holy-crap-the-world-is-so-big-and-amazing-and-I-am-so-small-my-problems-are-tiny-the-world-is-so-amazing!”). The only downfall was that my 6 month old Nikon Coolpix camera decided to break, when I got to Wales, I took it to the nearest repair shop and they sent it into Nikon for me to get repaired. I was extremely thankful that I decided to get travel insurance on it! Side note: I am writing this post at the end of my three month semester… *spoiler alert* I still don’t have my camera back. Apparently it takes 2 months to diagnose the problem, and another month (and counting) to wait for the needed parts………. Not okay.
Anyways, having never been off the continent before, I was really glad that I could spend my first two weeks away from home with my sister and her boyfriend. It was a very good transition period, without it I’m not sure how I would have coped with being away from my mummy! With two weeks under my belt I was feeling super confident with myself and my abilities, proving to be more independent and awesome than I thought I was! Things took a little turn when I got to the university however.
I got there by myself safely and settled in, all by myself. Being quite independent I wasn’t too distraught over this, afterwards however, I realized that not getting any sort of welcome or tour of the school was really not okay. Two of my classes are full year courses, so jumping in halfway through was nerve-wracking. Not only was I missing out on an entire semester of information, but I was also joining a class where every person has been together since September! I was really worried, but the students were very welcoming, and my two professors (George Rose and Charly Wathan) were amazing to me, which I can’t thank them enough. There was a lot of trouble with my registration as well… it was extremely frustrating, but eventually we got it all sorted out. I went a week with very little interaction with people on my flat. There are… 15 of us on the floor… I think… which just goes to show that my flat is filled with people that tend to hang out in their room, only coming out to use the washroom and to make food (including myself). The people I did meet were very nice though! I also had found out that the gym membership that was free when you stay in halls on campus wasn’t actually free at all. This was upsetting information, but I put it aside with all the other things that weren’t going very well and kept truckin’. Things seemed to be going fine until I finally talked to the accommodation office and found out that my dorm contract was until June, even though I was leaving in April. I wasn’t told this prior to arrival, and upon hearing this expensive news, I broke down. I couldn’t stop crying, I was upset and angry, not just over the contract, but about everything. I didn’t realize until this point how poorly my welcome to the university had been going. I felt very deceived and instead of just accepting the situation, I started enquiring if I could do the classes online, ready to peace out and go traveling. I sent a very long, detailed e-mail to my professors, explaining the situation and why I wanted to do the classes online (there was no way I was paying a mass amount of money for my room when I wasn’t even going to be living in it!), as well as an email to Jag, the UFV study abroad coordinator. I owe the enjoyment of the rest of my semester to Jag and my professors here who were appalled at how badly I was welcomed to the school, and demanded it to be fixed. Jag discussed the issues with the staff at USW and we came to a compromise in which I only have to pay for my room until I leave in April, which was a huge relief! All the issues that I had been having, by themselves were manageable, however, looking at them accumulated it was just too much to handle and I’m very glad I am an assertive person and stood up for myself. In the universities’ defence, they have just gone through a huge merger with two other universities and were still trying to work out the kinks!
Things improved drastically after that. I also owe a huge thank you to a girl in my course who introduced me to the other Canadian, Dan! We both go to UFV and had no idea who the other one was and now we’re best friends! It’s especially awesome because when we are finally home in Chilliwack we will still be able to hang out, whereas the rest of our friends we’ve made will mostly all be in Europe, not sure when the next time we see them will be. That’s the really unfortunate thing about traveling… you meet so many amazing people from all over the world and then you have to leave them! However, you just have to look at the glass half full; for example, I now have friends/connections in Wales, England, Germany, Belgium, Catalonia, and France. The University of South Wales also has a group on facebook for all the exchange/Erasmus students which expanded my friend circle greatly! I have met so many amazing people, that I hope to stay in touch with for a very long time!
My first month away from home was a success. It was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for sure, but in general, I was pleased with how well I handled myself and my experience. I saw London and Ireland; I proved to myself to be independent, self sufficient, self confident, and proactive; I made friends for life; and was easing into life away from home quite well! I was very proud of myself and looking forward to the next two months!
If I had any advice for future study abroad students, I would say make sure you ask a thousand and one questions about your upcoming semester. I thought I had, but apparently not enough! You don’t want to show up and find out you were told wrong information, or given new information that you weren’t expecting. Also, speak up!! If you don’t like the way things are going: tell someone! You are not weak, a whiner, or anything like that! You are taking control of your life. It goes for life in general, not just for your semester abroad, if you don’t like the way your life is going, or what is going on in your life, you have the power to change it! Lastly, it is okay to marathon Community in your dorm room instead of making friends, but only for a day or two… not a whole week. Actually, Community is an important show… friends can wait…