I had always dreamed of going on exchange. As a child of immigrants, constantly moving to new countries, the idea of staying in the same city for four years of my life was something that made me uncomfortable. Going on exchange was my way to escape this stability.
My reasons for wanting to go on exchange evolved through my senior year of high school, to junior year of university when I finally got to go. In my first year of university, it was just an exciting opportunity to be a new person for four months. In second year, I wanted to go on exchange to England so I could tour Europe. In my third year, it was a solution to when I had no idea who I was as a person or what I wanted to do with my life.
Going on exchange did not magically show me who I am, but it put me directly on the bumpy path to finding that out. It showed me what I never wanted to do. While on exchange, I saw it as the best break I could ask for: I no longer had to work three part-time jobs, did not feel obligated to go to church or do things for people out of guilt. In my dreams, I was going to be a casual college junior, partying all the time and going on all kinds of dates. I didn’t do any of that. However, I did learn some things about myself on this quest of self-discovery.
First, I came to the realization that I actually genuinely love my own bed and my own company. All those times I had said no to going out with friends was really because I was more of an extroverted introvert and not just because I was tired.
Exchange seemed glamorous to everyone else. However, I missed Halifax. I missed my life, the people, the support, the love, comfort, stability, and security. The one thing no one really prepares you for when you go on exchange is the fact that it feels just like starting in first year again, but way later in life and without the chance to make all the risky, selfish choices you made when you actually were in first year. You now have more standards, you know your alcohol limit and you already have a stable support system.
For a third-year, it was a whole new ball game. Making friends and reasonable connections is harder when all my classmates had known each other since they were in the first year (and I only saw them for two hours once a week). I found a lot of noise in my solitude. There were days where I had to remind myself to go out and take part in human interaction. As horrible as that may sound, it also helped me to discover who my forever friends would be from Dalhousie University.
Know the “why”
These were the people that I talked to almost every day for the six months that I was gone, and they still knew every detail about who I met, what I did and where I was. These were the people that I didn’t need to talk to everyday, but could always call and catch up, or cry to. It was a splendid practice for my post-grad self, because no one really knows what to expect after that. I got time to explore outside myself and rediscover what kind of person I wanted to be.
If you decide to go on exchange, I deeply urge you to ask and know the why. For me, it was one of the hardest challenges I have taken on in my life, but I strongly believe that because of this experience, my life will never be the same. In the words of one of my favourite authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “You travel to search and come back home to find yourself there.” I would not be the woman I am today if I had not taken this single bold step and gone on exchange.
“You travel to search and come back home to find yourself there.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie