The hardest part about getting ready to study abroad is picking where to go. I would strongly advise not going with your first choice. At first I thought I would study in France, where I have been before and could practise the French I haven’t used since high school. But when it came time to fill in the form, I found myself writing Thailand. I knew that being in my third year, I would probably not study abroad again, so I decided to pick a place that intrigued and scared me in equal measure.
Most of the other students that studied abroad for the same semester chose to go to the U.K. or Australia. While I would love to visit either of these places, I couldn’t understand why so many people would choose countries so alike to Canada. The point of studying abroad is to broaden your horizons, and push yourself outside your comfort zone. You have the opportunity to not just visit, but live, nearly anywhere in the world. What’s the point in going to a place with the same language and similar culture?
Going to a totally foreign country, especially if you are alone, can be incredibly intimidating. As I sat in the cab from Suvarnabhumi Airport to my hotel, I wondered what on Earth I was thinking. My only contact was a Thai student I hadn’t met. As soon as I had checked into the hotel and had a solid place to stay, all my doubts disappeared. There is nothing like the feeling of confidence you get by being able to figure things out on your own in a foreign environment.
The first stages of studying abroad are all about planning. Your classes, housing, flights, budget and visas will all be planned out in a short period of time.
When you arrive, I recommend leaving yourself unplanned time. Whenever I travelled to a new place, I always gave myself the first day just to wander aimlessly. In Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, I walked around the Old Quarter with a friend made that day. We found a delicious smoothie stand. We went down a back alley and found a hidden oasis-like coffee shop. We joined in with some old ladies doing a Tai-Chi style workout who asked us to come again. The best surprise was at one of the temples, where they had an Ask-a-Monk program, where we could sit with an aspiring monk and ask them any questions we wanted. This was by far my best experience at a temple. My friend was able to ask some questions she had about Buddhism, and I found out more about the daily life of a teen who has pledged his life to his religion/philosophy. Some of the best adventures you’ll have will be completely improvised.
It is not guaranteed that you will have a good time all the time. It’s scary, moving across the globe, and it can be lonely. At one of the events that the university put on for international students, a friend from the university’s other campus said she had talked to a girl who was studying at my campus and had been having a really hard time making friends. Knowing the girl’s first name, Andrea, I found her online and invited her to dinner with one of my Thai friends. As I spent more and more time with Andrea, she told me that she never thought she would be one of those people who don’t have an awesome time abroad. She was in engineering, and the only other international students in her program were a group of German girls who kept to themselves. This was nearly halfway through the semester.
I was walking around with Andrea when we ran into the group of German girls. Frankly, they were very welcoming and friendly and I couldn’t understand why Andrea hadn’t already befriended them. Andrea had become so defeated in the first few friendless weeks that she couldn’t see that her isolation had become her own doing. The bottom line is that you’ll get what you put into the experience.
The worst part about the process is waiting. After you’ve sent in your application, and the next semester inches closer, it’s excruciating. Many students won’t get their official acceptance letter from the university abroad until a month or two before they plan to attend. Once you’ve made it to the week before departure, you’ll wonder where the time went.
TRU’s study abroad program is non-competitive, so anyone who wants to go can. The first step is to go to a Study Abroad information meeting, the first of which is on Sept. 14 at 1:30 p.m. in room IB3037 in the International Building. Apart from the study abroad staff, there are also study abroad ambassadors, who can help with everything from paperwork to culture shock. There are five meetings every month, and you can find all the information you need at www.tru.ca/studyabroad or drop by the study abroad desk on the third floor of the International Building.