By Gigi Lin, Simon Fraser University, winner of the 2017 Stories from Abroad Scholarship and member of the BCSA Writer in Residence Team.
It’s crazy! I just said “BYEEEEEEEE!!” to one of my good friends, who is going on exchange to Monash University in Australia. I think it’s safe to say that ever since I’ve been back, I have become a very active exchange advocate. The memories and lessons of exchange have, and never will – entirely leave me. I’m glad to know of a few whom are most likely starting to pack their bags (or have), filling their last week or so with meet-ups and farewells, and double/triple/quadruple-checking that they’re got everything (visa, funds, etc.). For those of you out there who are scouring last minute blogs/websites/forums for tips – just breathe!
Take a moment to appreciate that you’re off to another city/country/university, and know that even if you may not have every, single, thing ready – you’re not the only one.
So what are your plans? Have you thought of some places you wanted to hit up, looked up those exotic foods, or even just randomly added students through the university’s social media handles that are going this semester with you?
Some things I wish I could have brought or am glad I brought back:
1. Gifts for your new friends! I was actually advised of this by an exchange mentor before I left, but looking back now, I ended up not bringing enough (I guess I just couldn’t stop befriending people!). I did end up buying gifts from my weekend travels to give to the friends whom were locals in Bath, but judging from their interest in my Canadian accent, most of whom have also never went abroad before – I ended up giving away any leftover Canadian memoirs I had with me.
2. Maybe think of a small collectible you can find from each city you decide to visit. My initial craze was with snow globes, but it ended up being pins and snow globes. Pins are definitely easier to carry, but my fascination for snow was what fueled my passion to find those 20+ snow globes and ensure they were wrapped carefully and teleported across the pond intact. I also ended up collecting postcards from most cities (in addition to mailing over 100+ over the 4 months!). Which leads me to…
3. My addiction to sending postcards! In the beginning, it was more about updating my friends and family back home about what I had done at each of the cities and which ones I had been to… but it slowly evolved into wanting to merely sending well wishes and words from abroad. I had a friend whom had received a postcard during a sadder time, and she was uplifted by this. Now, I’m also blessed with periodically receiving postcards from my British friends, and they are always the cherry-on-top of a busy, tiring, or unexpected day. Words and thoughts by snail mail will always be appreciated; see this as not only a way to let those back home know you’re thinking about them – but also to bring them a teeny bit of [insert country of travel]-ness.
4. Now, don’t be anxious. I was probably nervous-excited-bumbling with expectation as I lined up for my departure flight from Vancouver to London. Last minute, I ended up packing some bedroom decos abroad (fairy lights, polaroid pictures, drawings, etc.), because I heard they help with the homesickness a bit. I was glad to busy myself by making my dorm room a bit cozier. This came in handy as I couldn’t get in touch with the other students from SFU for the first 2 weeks, but that just allowed me more time to explore Bath and also get to know my other flat mates (and cling onto them as my grocery buddy!).
If you’re going on exchange this term, I wish you the happiest of wishes as you depart from BC. Travel smart, be bold, be confident, and don’t (ever) be afraid to say yes.