© WEP 2020
I embarked on my exchange experience wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at age 15 in November 2015. I was to spend three glorious and mind-boggling months in the snowy magnificence of eastern Canada. I had never travelled on a plane before, never been away from my family and never pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone. If I could say something to my younger self, it’d be “wise choice kiddo,” it is one of the proudest decisions of my life. Now, at age 18 and a new University student, I can’t imagine the person I would have become instead.
The nostalgic fondness I possess is thanks to the gifts my exchange program snuck me under the table; independence, persistence, spontaneity, vision. I learnt to discard my introverted tendencies which held me back and to say yes to more. Passport documents, visas, forms galore, bring it on, I’ve seen it all now. I felt snow for the first time, I found comfort and happiness in a new home, I found out what it’s like to miss someone, what French sounds like. If I didn’t appreciate these things back then, I sure do now.
My day-to-day in Canada included attending school, which played a massive role in making new friends and discovering what it’s like living as a Canadian teen. I was picked up by one of those big yellow school buses and loved every second of it, I even made friends with the bus driver, Ricki, as I was first on the route. My subjects included advanced science (I was a total klutz and asked to be moved to gym class). Ohhh good old gym class…when it was below freezing outside we ran laps in the corridors until we were trained enough to run 5km on the track outside. To be fair I’m not the most physically privileged but my suffering was worth the bragging rights. I attended the school semi-formal and had a blast listening to country music and learning how to line dance, which I never quite got the hang of honestly. Country music is still not my preferred genre but that’s one of the things I learnt to appreciate about the culture I was immersed in.
The food, oh my gosh the food! Beaver tails make me salivate just thinking about them, pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, maple syrup frozen on snow, poutine! The list goes on and on and I was in food heaven. I had the opportunity to go skiing for the first time ever and I may or may not have taken a black diamond course and caused excruciating internal bruising on my knee, leaving me on crutches. Another life lesson: to know your limits and to be responsible.
I could go on and on about my experiences but I feel they’re of greater value to my nostalgia than to potential exchange students. Hence, I’m giving advice to those who are considering becoming future exchange students, and maybe in particular those wanting to travel to the Great White North!
- Have a strong mental mindset. Travelling across the world on your own personal journey is not for the faint of heart, ask me, the 15 year old who broke down and cried in the middle of Vancouver Airport because she couldn’t find her ticket. Even if you’re timid and unsure, always know that if you reach out, someone will help you.
- Communication is key and you’ll find this is true in many aspects of life, being able to talk openly and freely with someone is quite cathartic and will most likely leave you feeling better. If you’re feeling isolated and alone, you’re only perpetuating it by wallowing in your sorrows, wishing you were somewhere else. Your host family has opened their arms to accept you like one of their own, take advantage of their kindness and talk to them!
- Push yourself! I cannot begin to express how worse off you’d be if you were too shy to introduce yourself to new people! Students at your school may be unaware of how to approach you too, so be that icebreaker! Australians have a cool aura about them that foreigners like, there’s something about being Australian that makes people think we’re mega cool, so take advantage of that too!
- Have photos of your home and memories in Australia to show your fellow classmates and host family. There’s nothing more interesting than learning about the new exchange kid from exotic Australia. I was asked if Australia was all beach, if we had Xbox here, are kangaroos just roaming the streets, do we have cities? The people around me were super intrigued to hear about me and my home. Also, bring some Australian money just to show too!
- Bring small gifts for your host family. It shows good etiquette to give your host family Australian gifts upon arrival. I didn’t buy much or go too out of my way, just simple novelties like an Aussie rules footy, a eucalyptus candle, Vegemite and other small souvenirs.
That about wraps up all I have to say, or else you’ll be reading what seems like a novel! I just want to leave with saying; there’s a whole world out there, go explore it. Find it’s beauty, it’s woes, it’s ups and lows while you still can.