Melisa Karasu, University of British Columbia, Canada
Well here I am, finally in Canada and settled (just about) in UBC! It felt like the time would never come and then suddenly it was thrust upon me. Having had a really busy December trying to fit in alternative assessments, packing and Christmas and New Years, I feel like in the last few weeks before my departure I hadn’t really given much thought to the reality of what was about to happen, and it didn’t really feel real.
I felt like that all the way up until I arrived here at UBC, and the moment I walked into my room, exhausted after the longest day of my life, it all suddenly hit me like a tonne of bricks, and, to be completely honest, I broke down in a heap of tears and emotions. It was only in that moment when the reality of my new situation really hit home: that I was the furthest away from home and everything familiar I had even known in my life, and also I was completely on my own.
Overwhelming to say the least! Since then, fortunately, everything has got better and better, and I am loving every second of it here! Of course there are moments of loneliness and feeling overwhelmed at my new lifestyle and routine (we are only human after all!), but I’ve definitely realised that living in the moment and taking each day as it comes and as a exciting and hopeful opportunity is really the key to making the most of this fortunate experience.
One thing that has definitely helped a lot since I’ve been here and even long before I got here was the University’s exchange Facebook page – a group where all incoming exchange students from all over the world have one place to easily communicate with one another. People are constantly organising events and meet ups, and everyone is really keen to get involved and make friends. Before I got here I managed to find a girl all the way from Australia on the exchange group, who was arriving at the same time as me to share a taxi from the airport with, which was really great as it helped me feel less alone from the moment I arrived. Many cinema trips, nature excursions and more have been organised on the group, leaving plenty to do, so you never feel stuck or feel like there is no one to do anything with – guaranteed you will find someone to share even the weirdest bucket list with!
The UBC exchange club is also fab and extremely well organised. The club is run by a group of friendly local and exchange students, all of which have completed (or will in the future) a period of study abroad, so they really can relate to the exchange students. They organised a packed first week of social events, guided city tours and even a trip to Vancouver Aquarium. It was a great way to meet a people from all over the world, and what’s really nice is that you soon realise that everyone is in the same boat as you, feeling overwhelmed and excited – which makes it even better as being thrown into the deep end really makes everyone somehow come out of their shells and want to do and try as much as they can (which we all know is easy to pass over at home).
The sense of school spirit and involvement seems to be more present here than in Manchester, with basically the whole student body cheering on the university men’s ice hockey Thunderbird team’s Winter Classic game – which of course is a must-do Canadian experience! The campus is also HUGE, with an endless amount of restaurants and cafes – sushi, fro-yo, Starbucks – you name it!
There is also an infinite number of exciting things to do in and around Vancouver, and despite being here less than 3 weeks I have already managed to (somehow) learn to navigate myself around the city (thanks to Google maps and consistent buses!), and see a number of must-see tourist attractions such as Capilano Suspension bridge and skiing in Whistler; and I have a trip to Sun Peaks with the exchange group and then a trip to the Rockies with a group of girls coming up in the next few weeks, which I cannot wait for!
So ultimately, my first impressions is that no one can really truly prepare you for your period abroad, and it is hard, and there will undoubtedly be moments when you question why you bothered when you feel stressed, alone and overwhelmed. But then again, nothing worth having comes easy right? It did take me a few days to try to get my head around how this would be the best time of my life, or why everyone raves about it here; but as the days go by and I do more and more I am surely starting to see it, and no doubt this will be the most challenging yet rewarding and enriching thing I have ever done. Totally and completely worth it!