Grace D. Exchange Ambassador
What is one word to describe your study abroad experience:
"It’s almost empowering to take risks and move past what you’re comfortable with, it makes life a lot more enjoyable."
Exchange student at the University of Canberra, Australia
Studying Biomedical Toxicology
- What is the best thing that happened while you were studying abroad?
One of the best things was getting really close with a few of my roommates who were international students from all over the world. On my last few days there, they took me to try Vietnamese food for the first time, then we went for ice cream (Australia has the best food, we tried it all), walked around the city, and got to explore a bit more. It seems minor, but it was a really positive experience and made my last few days very enjoyable.
- What was the biggest cultural adaptation you had to make?
Just the idea of the cars driving on the opposite side of the road was a huge adaptation because as a pedestrian, you really don’t know where you should be looking when crossing the road. Their escalators are also on opposite sides so the escalator going up was on the left rather than the right which was more confusing than it seems! The roundabouts were also confusing because they drive clockwise rather than counter-clockwise, so it led to some scary situations until I got the hang of it.
- Where was the coolest place you travelled to during your study abroad experience?
The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my travel experiences so far. My friend and I did a full 13-hour tour in a small van where the tour guide drove us for 243km along the coast where we stopped to do a walk through a rainforest and look at other beautiful locations along the way and ending on a beautiful beach to watch the sunset. The most memorable spot for me was a location called the Loch Ard Gorge where we were told a story of a large ship that crashed on a nearby island where only 2 passengers survived. A 19-year-old boy washed up first and rescued another 19-year-old passenger when he heard her screaming for help. As you walk along the trail down to the beach, I felt such a chilling feeling knowing the history but was also in shock at how beautiful the location was with the rock formations and the different shades of blue in the water. It was definitely a highlight of the trip.
- What is something that you know now, that you wish you knew before you studied abroad?
Going abroad is not a walk in the park, you definitely need to be on top of everything before you go and be prepared for things not to go the way you planned it. I wish I had researched more about enrolling in courses at the host university as I found it was difficult and stressful to do all of it the week I had arrived. Doing your research and looking into places to live and dealing with courses is a lot but it will make your experience a lot more manageable when you get there. There is so much going on when you land because you’re trying to get yourself to the residence and settled in, so having as much knowledge about what you’re going into will make your life a lot simpler.
- What was your best learning moment?
While abroad, I had the chance to do some crazy things that were definitely outside of my comfort zone. I am usually pretty sheltered and like to keep things simple and be comfortable, but pushing myself to do things such as skydiving and simply just living in a different country made me realize how important trying new things is for your own personal growth. Trying new things won’t be the end of the world, so just trying it once is well worth it. You learn more about your own likes and dislikes and learn that you are capable of doing a lot more than you may think. It’s almost empowering to take risks and move past what you’re comfortable with, it makes life a lot more enjoyable.
- Who was the hardest person to leave from home? How did you deal with that?
My best friend that I have known since I was 12 years old was one of the most difficult people to leave. We spend all of our free time together so it was difficult not seeing her almost every day. But, the beauty of technology is that I was still able to Facetime her and call her whenever the time zones allowed. We talked almost every day and it made it easier to cope with not seeing her all the time. Eventually, school does get busy but you meet new people and get so busy on exchange that the time apart doesn’t seem so long anymore.
- Who was the hardest person to leave that you met while on exchange? How did you deal with that?
There were a ton of people I met that were difficult to leave because everyone was so sweet and made my exchange so memorable. I still keep in touch with everyone on social media pretty often. One of them is from the USA so we will definitely try to meet up when we can, another girl lived in Canada for a year and is ready to come back so the idea of seeing them in the future definitely made me hopeful and less upset to leave.
- If you were to recommend exchange to your best friend, what would you say?
It’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would definitely recommend. It’s not only a chance to travel, but you also get to meet so many people from around the world and make new connections. You can take some pretty cool courses abroad as well, as the host university will often have courses that are not usually offered at the University of Guelph or other schools. It’s such a unique experience for everyone as well and it gives you the opportunity to develop new skills that you can apply to life at home!
- What are your packing recommendations?
Definitely check what the weather is like beforehand! My whole family assumed Australia was hot all year round and my mom forced me to pack shorts but when I got off the plane, it was -3°C! I only had a few sweaters so I ended up having to buy a bunch of new clothes when I got there. Also, pack light (easier said than done) because you will inevitably end up with more stuff than what you came with.
- Would it be helpful to learn another language for this exchange?
Since Australia is an English speaking country, you don’t need any other languages. But it is nice to brush up on some common Aussie terms before you leave!
- Did you live on-campus or off-campus? Would you recommend it, and why?
The residence I lived in was off-campus however it was quite a distance away from the school and the bus did not drop you off very close to the school. It took about 20 minutes each way, which was time-consuming, however, I did have a larger benefit over on-campus students as the grocery stores and the shops were all within a 10-minute walk from me and 30 minutes from campus. The best thing to do would be to research this information before.
- How did you finance your study abroad experience?
I personally worked a ton during the summer as a bartender so I could make tips on top of a wage. I did budget a lot during the summer and missed out on going out a lot to accommodate for the fact that I needed to save more money to be able to live while abroad. It definitely takes a lot of planning previous to your departure so the sooner you can start saving and putting aside money, the better. I also had support from family for my flight and some residence fees which helped give me more freedom to travel around while I was there. Once you do get there, finding budget-friendly options such as hostels and deals on flights definitely helped save money for other things as well!
- Are you including exchange on your resume?
I see my exchange experiences benefiting my future career as it shows future employers I embraced an opportunity and have the open mind, resourcefulness, and drive needed to adapt to a different environment and pursue my own personal goals.
- What interesting courses did you get to take while studying abroad? What was the title of the course(s)?
The best course I took while abroad was a course called Forensic Toxicology and Drug Analysis. I was only able to take this because I had the prerequisites transferred from UofG, but it was an application-based course that essentially used all of the skills I learned at Guelph but in the context of something that I want to pursue a career in.
- How do you see your exchange experiences benefiting your future career?
I put it under my education section on my resume and highlighted that it was a 1-semester exchange program. This would definitely give me an advantage in terms of employment because it shows that I can adapt to new situations and still excel when I am out of my comfort zone. It also shows that I am able to work well with people from different cultural backgrounds which is definitely an important factor in our society today.
- Is there any other helpful information you would like to share with future study abroad participants?
Going on exchange is definitely intimidating and a lot of work to organize (especially if you go in 4th year like me) but it is worth it. I never realized my potential until I got out there, took some risks and came back with amazing memories and stories to tell my friends and family. People still think I’m insane for moving to a new country for so long, especially because I feel like I was so sheltered for so long. It pushed me past my boundaries and it was probably the best thing I could have done for myself. The best piece of advice I could give is to do your research beforehand! Know the area, the school, demographics and everything before you go, it will make your transition a lot easier in the long run!