By Gigi Lin, Simon Fraser University, winner of the 2017 Stories from Abroad Scholarship.
It feels weird being back home. This city where I’ve learned to walk, speak English, fell in love with my academic life, and chose to leave for the U.K. - feels more foreign than I would’ve ever imagined. It’s true what they say. You experience withdrawal when you build a life somewhere else (even if it is temporary), and end up having to say farewell to it. I can proudly say and believe, exchange is one of the most incredulous and valuable experience during my undergraduate degree.
Extraordinary Memories • If we made a long story short: I went on exchange knowing no one. Had dreams of wanting to devour Europe, ticking off cities on my bucket list by the loads, and eventually – wanting to broaden and strengthen the direction of my graduation plans. What I actually came out of exchange with was most of what I had just listed, but also knowing how to navigate foreign streets, striking up conversations with the most random of strangers, leaving on a whim to another city solely due to curiosity, connecting on everything from too-sweet Starbucks cookies to admiring the beauty of the Eiffel Tower, to eating authentic rendang that was too good to even exist, halfway across the world from where it originates.
Connections • I was someone whom had never really travelled outside Canada for great lengths of time, before this exchange. By living independently and figuring out a life in a different city, new culture, new University, you acquire peculiar tastes. You learn to notice the special and distinct things in new cities, things that even the locals may overlook, recognize the diversity of the students in your classes, and build upon the multicultural opinions of people you encounter. I also stumbled upon curious locals from numerous cities whom would ask about my upbringing, my culture, background, but most of all - what brought me to embark on this journey within my undergraduate career. I realized not everyone could see the benefits of exchange and the value it instills within one’s undergraduate career.
Farewells • In my last few days, I chose to spend them in this quaint city I call home: Bath. I was brought to all the touristy spots: Alexandra Park, Pultenay Bridge, the Circus, and the multicolored umbrellas in the town square. I was lucky as I met a new friend in my last few days and learned much about the British culture through her stories of growing up in London - and in return, sharing of my life growing up in Vancouver. That's the crux of exchange. There is a never-ending stream of stories to be told. One may think that there is a limit to the people you will meet or places you will see - in reality, exchange of books built around one’s life, backdrops, and dreams - is limitless.
Try Hard • Though it may be tempting to want to skip out on the classes and material, don’t. You’ll be glad you spent those extra sessions inquiring about your Professor’s background, asking your newfound classmates the benefits and costs of graduate school, their background, and ultimately – any advice for an international ambassador: you. I am thankful for deciding to spend extra time on truly understanding my courses and through the classes of Investment Banking, Advanced Corporate Finance, and the School of Management faculty, I was provided support for decisions regarding what direction to aim for post-graduation.
Ecstatic • I had chosen Europe as the opportunities to meet new people and discover wondrous cities were boundless. The main takeaways from exchange is the realization of not sticking to what I was comfortable with, maintaining my own values/morals, and taking leaps of chance. Exchange abroad defined and promoted my curiosity in enjoying the unearthing of another country’s culture across the world. To all future exchange students: commit to the journey with an open mind and daring personality. When I look back, if I hadn’t pushed myself to sign up to events where I didn't know many, I wouldn't have been able to find my church community or great group of exchange friends whom embarked on a journey of 16 cities and 10 countries within 4 months.
Refresher • The pursuit of developing a broad and sophisticated worldview definitely makes it easier to form partnerships and work effectively while remaining culturally aware. I feel more confident as I have learned to “fend” for myself these past few months, conversed with people of all backgrounds, and ultimately rediscovered my identity and passion for Finance. Exchange is ultimately what you make of it, but know you’ll never be fully prepared – and that’s okay. I hope my international experience has encouraged you to realize and partake on the valuable opportunities that academic exchange presents. Get ready for some unforgettable rides!