Guelph; why you should come here, even though you’ve likely never heard of it.

When I found out I was coming to Guelph I was a little underwhelmed. Here are some of the reasons you should consider a town whose name sounds like a cough.

The eco-friendly vibe

I have got a free reusable mug, free metal straws, and a free menstrual cup within the first month being here. The farmers market is one of my favourite places, and if you get food on campus you can either get a plate, or get food in a reusable container which is then returned and washed.

Small size

Small is boring right? Wrong! In a big university you can feel a bit like a small fish in a huge lake. Being in smaller classes makes it much easier & much friendlier to get involved in different projects & initiatives. This also means I have the option of talking to professors about assignments and lectures, and a lot of support. I know all the physics students in my year,

The location

I went to New York for spring break. I never thought I’d go to New York; it’s expensive, and it’s far away. Now it’s only one of those things.

I’d say that, in general, the whole of the US and Canada is quite awful for travelling in; everything is so big, and far away; even crossing the street sometimes seems a bit daunting, but Guelph is in a pretty good spot; Montreal, Ottowa, New York, Detroit and Chicago are all either few hours or a night-bus away.

The price

It’s hard to comment on the places I didn’t go, but I’d guess Guelph in on the cheaper side. For me, living expenses have been comparable to Manchester (but a little more expensive). In some of the more northern parts of Canada, groceries can be very expensive, and rent here is more accessible than the more famous cities like Toronto.

The climate also means I didn’t have to buy any of the new clothes I budgeted for; I’ve survived all year in my doc-martens and coat from superdry. I wear two pairs of socks, a bobble hat, scarf and gloves, and I’m happy and snug and warm.

The weather

The autumn leaves are a beautiful, surprising shade of red and gold. I love the snow. Snow is amazing; it’s soft and clean and its so satisfying to walk through a pristine layer. Icicles fascinate me; they’re so sharp and glassy.

Canada is a beautiful place, and a big part of that is the weather. Don’t be too scared of the cold however; the southern-most point of Ontario is further south than the northern-most point of California. Guelph is pretty temperate; this winter we’ve had mornings of -15 to -23 degrees, but the cold doesn’t bother me as much as -1 in Manchester, because the air is drier.

In short, I love Guelph. It’s a wonderfully friendly, supportive university, whose small size makes it really easy to explore. I’ve had a great time, there is so much discover in the locations around the town, including Toronto and Algonquin Park, and I’d highly recommend Guelph to anyone who wants to go on study abroad in Canada.

On the importance (and unimportance) of grades (for me) (in hindsight)

So, I tend to overthink things. A lot. Before coming to Canada, I was worried about how study abroad fit into my university career. Would I be behind when I got to Canada? Would I be behind when I got back? What if I dropped marks? I have the whole of the rest of my life to travel, so maybe I should wait?

Let me take a moment to walk you through a few reasons why I shouldn’t have been too caught up in how study abroad would affect my academics, and why you might not need to worry too much either:

Unsurprisingly, like a good number of other students, I have anxiety and I normally have difficulty giving myself time off. The first advantage of study abroad is that it gives me an excuse (an excuse to myself that is) to take time out to explore. Changing my environment so drastically also gave me an opportunity to change my habits; there were fewer expectations and routines attached to my new space, so I have been able to construct healthier and more productive study habits, based on what I’ve learnt about my learning style in my first two years of university.

Surprisingly, the difference in structure has also been a big help. I was worried before coming to Canada about the heavier workloads and the more frequent assessments, but far from being a problem this has actually been very beneficial; going from 100% exams in Manchester to grades split between finals, midterms, assignments and quizzes has had an amazing effect on my anxiety. I’m much happier, and my grades reflect this. Over this first semester I’ve engaged more deeply with the lectures and understood more as a consequence. I’m still a little nervous that I will struggle when I get back, but I’m hoping I’m putting down a firm foundation to work from when I return for my final year.

Another reason not to worry too much is that grades aren’t everything. In the longer term, study abroad can improve resilience, independence, and the ability to work with diverse groups of people, as well as other skills that employers look for. It also lets you explore the diversity of cultures within your field; if you want to stay in academia, you can use this experience to explore what atmosphere you want to be in. In physics for example, Guelph and Manchester are worlds apart; I’ve gone from a class of 250 to classes of 12-20. I know everyone, and everyone knows me, including the lecturers. I’m much happier asking questions, and when there are four deadlines on the same day and it’s just not going to happen, it can be resolved with a simple conversation.

So far, this experience has had an amazing effect on my anxiety, which has in turn had a positive effect on my grades. Study abroad is an enriching opportunity, and I’m happy I was able to look past my academic worries. Every story is different, but I think there is always a lot you can learn from challenging yourself, even if it’s just that being away from home for so long isn’t your thing. If you have the grades & skills to succeed, and if it feel right, just go for it!

Home (but the journey continues)

I thought that going abroad was going to be the biggest change in my life this year. But since returning, things are still continuing to change. I have started an internship with the University of Manchester over summer, and in turn, my first full time, professional job. I have lived completely alone for the first time – including setting up all the heating, internet and meters in the house!! And finally, (here comes the biggie) my parents made the decision to move to New Zealand.

I feel as if this year hasn’t just been a monumental shift within myself, but my family too. And without studying abroad, I wouldn’t have been able to handle all the things that I have listed anywhere near as well as I have. I’m not going to pretend it’s all been easy, but I have coped and thrived and grown up rapidly in the space of a few months.

I used to be so afraid of change – making the decision to go abroad was not one I took lightly, and I’m not sure I ever truly believed I was going until I stepped off the plane in Toronto. But now, I can feel myself embracing it; my parents are moving to the other side of the world and I could not be more excited for them (and for myself too!)

By studying abroad I  proved my ability for independence to myself and to my parents, and I don’t know if they would be moving if I hadn’t gone. The decision to live abroad affects not just you but everyone you know, and if it affects you positively, chances are it will affect them positively too.

I am working with the international office on my internship, and I cannot express how rewarding it has been to be involved with the process of encouraging students to study abroad, and being able to pass on my experience and passion to them. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity in this internship, and met the amazing people I have, and gained the life experience that I have, if it wasn’t for studying abroad.

If you haven’t already got the message – go! Study abroad! You will gain a lifetime of memories, experiences and knowledge and grow so much as a person – and this doesn’t stop on your return. And hey, who knows – your family might move to the other side of the world and give you a new place to explore.

(Cape Reinga, New Zealand. The top of the north island, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean)