Baby steps

I’ve been  in New Zealand for about three weeks and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and do some fun things. Last night, however, I experienced the most meaningful interaction of my trip thus far, and I just can’t seem to get it out of my head.

I’ve been living in a homestay, and the family I’m living with has recently taken in a Japanese exchange student for two weeks. Yumi is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. She is so grateful to everyone and is always smiling. Her positivity is something that immediately struck me, and I knew I could learn a lot from her.

Yesterday she and I were listening to music, when out of the blue she said, “you have very clear opinions.” I was confused about the statement, so I asked her “about what?” Her response was simply “everything.” Instantly I thought it was a bad thing. I don’t want to seem domineering or like one of those people who always had to have their opinions heard. Nobody likes those people. I think she could tell by the look on my face that I didn’t know how to take it. She said “this is a very good thing. Lots of people don’t have strong ideas or opinions, and you do. You know what you want and want you don’t want. It is clear to you and to other people. This is very good. For this reason, I want to be more like you.” She went on to talk about how important it is to be your own person and having confidence in it. I was in utter shock. Just like that, I realized… oh my god, I just impacted someone’s life… and I didn’t even do anything. I was just being myself. My ridiculous, makes stupid faces, asks too many questions, and laughs a little too loudly self. I always had it in my head that in order to impact someone’s life, you had to go out of your way to do something substantial, like pay for a stranger’s meal at a restaurant, or volunteer your time at a homeless shelter.

I had never considered that the way I choose to live my life could directly impact and influence someone else’s life and how they live theirs.

Maybe this trip is more about me learning about myself than learning about the world. But hey, it’s only day 25 of this crazy adventure.

Is it worth it?

Is it worth it?

As I sit in class and listen to the professor talk about how bad plagiarism is, the speech begins to sound like Charlie Brown’s mother. Wah-wah-wah. This is the same song-and-dance I’ve been listening to for years. I could teach a course on how not to mess up in university. Don’t cheat, don’t skip class, don’t forget to cite, and so on. After six years of university, with two semesters a year, typically taking four classes a semester (sometimes 5), I’ve sat through over 50 course outlines which generally say the same thing. And now, during the fifty-something-th time I find myself wondering- is it worth it?

I am the black sheep of many social circles, as I am 25 and still studying in university. Most people do their time (yes, that was a reference to being in jail), and they get out within 4 years. Not me. Six years later, with three left to go, I will finish with a Bachelor of Communications in Public Relations, a Bachelor of Business Management  and a certificate in International Communications. But do these pieces of paper matter? I’ve been working for the past decade of my life, and I’ve realized that it seems to be all about who you know. Need someone for the job but don’t have time to post it? Talk to a friend of a friend. Boom, position filled. Receptionist away on maternity leave and need someone to answer phones? Remember your best friend’s daughter crashed her car and needs extra cash to pay it off. Boom, position filled. People in the “real life” working-world may not like to admit it, but it seems to be true for menial positions.

Is it the same for higher positions too? Do any CEO’s of corporate companies not have degrees? I realize that the generation before mine isn’t full of people who went to university. This isn’t the case with my generation. Everyone seems to have a degree in something. The waitress at Denny’s has an art history degree, but the curator at the art museum doesn’t.

And so I can’t stop thinking… am I wasting my time and money? Am I wasting the prime years of my life sitting in classrooms?

Follow the voice of your heart, even if it leads you off the path of timid souls. Do not become hard and embittered, even if life tortures you at times. There is only one thing that counts: to live one’s life well and happily…

— Wilhelm Reich

So you want to study abroad?

If you’re interested in doing an international exchange, here are some steps I wish I would have known before embarking on this new adventure.

Step #1: Do the research

I started doing more research about how it would affect my education. The common misconception about doing an international exchange is that you will fall behind a semester, or even a year. This isn’t necessarily true! I found out that I could keep up with my classmates from overseas.

Another thing that I’ve heard a lot from people is “oh, my school doesn’t offer exchanges for my program”. You’d be surprised! Most schools have an International office. Go there, ask some people.

Step #2: Weigh the pros and cons

So you’ve found out that your school does support exchanges for your program, but you’re not 100% sure that it’s the right thing for you. That’s okay! Talk to the advisors in your program about the best time to go abroad. For me, the second semester of the second year was pretty much the only time I could do an exchange, as there are so many work terms.

Write down pros and cons of being away for a semester. Jobs, family and finances are things to take into consideration. In my opinion, never let a relationship or a job get in the way of an opportunity to better yourself. If the person really loves you, they will support your passions. If the employment you’re leaving values you as an employee, they will rehire you when you return. (If you have a grown up job already, a sneaky way to get around leaving for a few months is telling them that the exchange will make you a better and more well-rounded employee for their business. Some businesses may even sponsor your trip!)

Step #3: Start saving

Congratulations! You’ve decided that an exchange is something you’d like to do. Before anything else, start saving your money! Nothing crazy yet, but just be aware of your spending habits. Instead of 4 grande orange mocha frappachinos per day, maybe just 2!

Step #4: Apply

Find out from your International office what the application process is. It varies by school and what time of year it is, but in most cases it is better to apply early. Most applications require you to fill out a large amount of paperwork need copies of bank statements, transcripts, resume, letter of intent, and approval from your program chair.. among other things. This means that you will need to start planning your time wisely, as you’ll need to be meeting with other people before you hand in your application.

Step #5: Be professional

You may be in your first year of university, at 18 years old just fresh out of high school. That’s okay! Practice what you’re going to say before you meet with your program chair. Make sure they know that you want to be a better student in their program, and that’s why you want to do the exchange.

Make sure your application is printed in colour, bound and flawless with no mistakes when you hand it in (EARLY! the deadline date isn’t early). Check, double check and triple check that you’ve got all required portions attached to your application.

The next step is an interview. Just as your application was professional, you need to look and act professional. Let them know that you’re here to do business and better yourself. They want to know that you aren’t going to waste everyone’s time by going to party. Partying is okay, the advisors know this is a normal part of university life. They just want to make sure that you have higher ambitions than just partying.

Step #6: You’ve been accepted!

Start planning! Some schools will help you find somewhere to live. LIVE IN RESIDENCE! If the school has dorms to live in, just do it. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or if you think you’re above it. In a new country where you may or may not know the language, this will solve A LOT of problems! If residence isn’t an option for you, ask an advisor to help you look for a homestay. You will live with a local family who generally live close to the school. This gives you the opportunity to meet locals and find out more about the culture and where to travel. Plan your flights. Do this early! It’s cheaper and easier to plan around.

Step #7: Cover your bases

Make sure you’ve done all that you need to do before departure date. Make lists! Lists are handy things! Let your credit card company know where you’re going and for how long, figure out what you’re doing with your cell phone, sub-let your apartment while you’re gone, make sure you know where you’re going when you get off the plane. These things seem small, but they are much easier to do while you’re still in the country! Apply for your student visa early!!!!!!!! The earlier, the better. Trust me. You don’t want to have to change all of your flights around because you can’t leave the country.

Step #8: Stick it out!

There are going to be times when you think it would just be easier to stay at home, living in mom and dad’s basement for the next five months instead of packing up your life and shipping off across the world. Either way, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it!

Step #9: Pack

Do research about where you’re moving to. Are you moving from winter in Canada to summer in New Zealand? Don’t pack for winter! Did you know that the sun is stronger in New Zealand? Pack sunscreen! Doing research specific to where you’re living is extremely important.

Step #10: Be prepared!

Be prepared if your flight is late and you miss a connection, or if your bags don’t show up at your final destination, or if you’re allergic to cats and your homestay family has 2 of them. Make sure you have access to important contact information in case of emergency. Take care of situations that arise quickly.

And that’s it folks! Now’s the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. The past year (or so) of planning will fall into place. If you’ve done your research and planned correctly, all should run smoothly. Good luck!Image