I was talking with another exchange student last night, a girl from Concordia. She asked me why I decided to come to Utrecht on exchange, and I asked her the same. It turns out she left Edmonton for Montreal to go to Concordia, and now in her third year, she left Concordia to come to Holland on exchange. She said it was important to her to make a change, to put herself outside her comfort zone and to try something new, always.
This is a little different from my reason – I wanted to see Europe. That was pretty much it.
But when I really think about it, it’s kind of true for me as well. I’ve been at the U of L for five years now. I know the campus inside and out. I know the town better than I know my hometown at this point. I have a routine, a beautiful routine that I love in Lethbridge. I love my job, my roommates, my classes, my campus, my favourite pubs and restaurants and bars, everything. I am 100% at home in Lethbridge. I can’t go anywhere on campus without stopping to chat to someone, I have plans every time I want plans, I can be alone when I want to be alone.
Sometimes, I forget what it’s like to be new. I forgot what it was like to not know the basics of life in Lethbridge – where is the movie theatre?! How do I navigate the South side, when I only just got used to the West side?! What bars are easy on my student budget? How do I get my ID card? Where can I park? Where is the W building, anyway!? What is the Testing Centre? Now I walk around knowing that I don’t have questions, that this is home. But I realize that for most new students, that’s not the case.
And being a new student in my 5th year has definitely been interesting. I left the comfort of a five year routine for something completely alien to me. I’m loving it, absolutely loving it, but I feel like I can relate so much more to the first years that I meet at Jump the Line and at NSO. It’s scary, and it’s overwhelming, and sometimes homesickness surprises you when you least expect it, and sometimes you buy curry when you actually wanted mustard and you get lost a lot.
But then there’s that magical moment when you find your way. And you find that shop that sells canadian shampoo, without getting lost downtown. Or you get a text from a new friend asking to hang out. Or you go out to a nice Irish pub and have a great time with people you’ve just met. Or you realize you have an inside joke with someone. You realize that maybe this isn’t home, but it could be. And if you give it time and energy, it will be.
I’m not a partier. I don’t like to stay out late, I don’t like to drink. But I’m already outside of my comfort zone, 7200km from home. So I’m trying new things. I’m meeting new people. And if I can learn to make friends and make a new life for myself in Europe, then I promise that any new students at the U of L can do the same.
But I will say – I appreciate how hard that could be. I really do. But if you stick it out, it will be amazing. And that’s a George Foreman guarantee.