Salma Rana, Queen’s University
I want to start off by thanking God for all the opportunities I have had. I am incredibly grateful for everything that has come my way, through His will.
When I was leaving Manchester last year, although I was excited about my upcoming journey, I was equally hesitant. I wondered if I was making the right choice, if it was worth finishing university a year later than everyone else, and missing out on so much time with my friends and family at home. I had so many “what if’s?” in my head, to the point where I was thinking of backing out in the last few weeks before I left. But now looking back, those worries are nothing compared to all the beautiful memories, lessons and friendships I gained. If I could go back, I would tell myself to stop worrying because the most important year of my life so far was to begin.
I think one of the most important things I have learnt is how much you can fit into your time if you make the most of it. Because academically my year was just a pass or fail, I wasn’t worrying too much about my grades. I knew I only had 9 months in Canada, at Queen’s, so I had to absolutely grasp every opportunity. This was different to my approach in Manchester, because I always felt like I had more time in the future to join a certain society, or try out that new café, or get to know that person… but never getting around to doing it. However, at Queen’s I tried to do everything I wanted (within reason), whether it was joining a club or going to a talk. In the end, my grades didn’t differ from what I was getting at Manchester, which showed that before in my spare time I had just procrastinated, whereas on Exchange I did some cool stuff instead of waiting around doing nothing until I was motivated to start some reading.
When I was younger, I used to dream about seeing the world and had a huge bucket list of places I wanted to go. However, once I started University, I got sucked into the system, of getting through life waiting for the next assignment grade to be released. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stop searching for small adventures along the way, but I did stop dreaming big. I got into a routine I was happy with, very comfortable with and didn’t think I needed to get out of it. “Travel” became something I said in passing, without a real plan or passion. But being abroad, meeting people from around the world and learning from them, my definition of travel changed.
The people of Canada taught me to slow down, to take time and sit by the lake, surround myself with the beauty of God’s creation. They taught me their history, complicated and painful, but also a history of apologies and forgiveness, not necessarily in that order. The people of Mexico taught me what gratefulness really means, and the level of contentment you can reach through it. They taught me how easy it is to be kind to people who are different to you. They also taught me I can eat fish in tacos and tortillas, and anything I want really. My adventure to Hawaii began with learning that there are so many ways to get those cheap flight tickets, and how much you spend on a hotel isn’t necessarily correlated with how much fun you’re going to have. My time there ended with me no longer being afraid of swimming in the ocean.
It wasn’t always fun and games. It was sometimes incredibly painful, in times of intense loneliness, when there wasn’t a loved one around to hug it better. Or when I fell sick and my mother was on a different continent and I couldn’t depend on her home remedies and gentle care to make me better. But all of these moments made me stronger, more resilient, more grateful. I wouldn’t trade any tears, winter-worn skin or FOMO for anything.
If you are hesitant about going on a year abroad, as cliché as this is, just do it. Remember that magic and growth happen outside of your comfort zone. If you have any questions or worries about going away, whether it is to do with finance or personal anxiety, definitely drop me a message and I will advise you in the best way that I can. University of Manchester do everything they can to make the experience accessible and good for you, and as long as you don’t expect it to be perfect 24/7, it will be worth it. #NotAnAd
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