By: Sam Rae Harriss, University of Victoria, winner of the Spring 2022 BC Study Abroad: Stories from Abroad Scholarship
Study Abroad Destination: Netherlands
I began my undergraduate university degree back in 2019, knowing that an exchange abroad was something I definitely wanted to do at some point in the coming years. Back in high school, I was lucky enough to participate in a two-week short-term exchange to Germany, an experience that made a huge impression on me. As I mapped out my degree, I decided I would apply for an exchange semester in my third year of school– until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Changing the nature of travel in a heartbeat, the pandemic abruptly halted most international travel opportunities for almost two years; the uncertainty and constantly changing global situation made it extremely difficult to plan for an exchange abroad. However, I was determined to make an exchange happen when travel resumed, so in mid-2021 I optimistically applied for an exchange in January 2022.
The months leading up to my exchange proved difficult, with the exchange even being temporarily canceled when the Omicron variant hit the world, under a month before I was supposed to leave. COVID-19 made making travel plans more difficult than ever, and understandably so. Nevertheless, despite months of challenging planning and unknowns, I finally made it to my final destination of Utrecht, The Netherlands, in January, and I am so glad I did.
Initially on my exchange I struggled with challenges such as feeling mentally drained and anti-social after spending hours meeting new people and developing new relationships, a stark contrast from the time leading up to my exchange where my social interaction was more limited due to pandemic restrictions. The Netherlands didn’t seem to have such strict COVID-19 restrictions as Canada and the adjustment to their way of handling the pandemic took some time. I even got COVID myself in my second month of exchange, which proved to be yet another challenge during my time here. However, as time went on, the multitude of amazing experiences I have had, relationships I have created, and things I have learned about myself have been indescribable. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to explore new places, cultures, languages, and histories while drastically developing my self-confidence and independence, an experience that I have longed for years. I hope that in the years to come, as it becomes safe to do so, study abroad opportunities will continue to resume for students; it really is a life-changing experience.