Preparing For Exchange: The Things I Didn’t Know

When I was picking universities, their exchange programs weighed heavily on my decision. My parents, my dad especially, were more comfortable with me moving away for post-secondary if it meant the opportunities for study abroad were vast and plenty. When the University of Western Ontario was my first pick, it was kind of theirs too because of how many places I could choose from to do a semester abroad.

Once I was in school, my program director would joke “If I never see any of you in third year, I’ll be happy” AKA “Go abroad!”. I understand the push: if you explore then you learn, when you learn then you understand and when you understand then you can apply. I think the expansion of knowledge is a wonderful of thing and by going on exchange you are pushed so far out of your comfort zone you have no choice but to adapt, improvise, and overcome.

I was set on moving to France for a semester. I love learning French and I thought that by immersing myself in the culture and country then I would be forced to pick up the language and improve my skills. Unfortunately, when looking into programs, none of the schools in France fit my criteria for Political Science except maybe a university in Paris. However, I was conscious of money and Paris is expensive.

Then I figured out that the University of Birmingham in England offered a direct exchange program with Western. My aunt lives in Birmingham so it seemed like the best option. It was financially a lot more feasible and to be honest, ever since I could remember, I have always said “I’m going to live in England”. The exchange was the perfect opportunity to live out my dream.

Matt and I had just started dating when I applied for exchange and I was so independent that it didn’t even cross my mind to tell him about it until I got accepted. But once I got accepted, we were more serious. Like really serious. Like L word serious. I was really nervous to tell him but he was so supportive. In fact, he was so supportive that he was confused as to why I didn’t tell him when I first applied. I didn’t really have an answer to that.

Preparing for exchange is kind of funny because you’re always kind of preparing but the major decisions are made literally a year before you leave. I had accepted my offer and that was it. Just shy of a year later, I would leave for Birmingham. It was so far out of mind until September 2018.

First semester started and preparations began again. It was kind of exciting. The classes looked cool and I had SO many travel plans. The October came and I was conscious that time was moving quickly. Matt and I needed to go on dates STAT.  November passed and school was hectic. December arrived and it was time to buckle down for exams.

December is also when our anniversary is…things were getting real. Time was passing so fast and I felt like sand was slipping through my fingers every time I wanted a moment to last. Spending time together was amazing but there was this nagging feeling in the background. An elephant in the room. Sometimes I would cry because I just knew how much I was going to miss him. Heck, I was already missing him and I hadn’t even left yet.

Matt is my best friend and partner in life, he would never stop me from going after my dreams. My parent’s wouldn’t either. But some part of me wanted them to. I wanted them to beg me to stay, to tell me I didn’t have to go, to tell me that they’d love me  anyways. But they didn’t and I don’t hold that against them because how could they have known what I wanted or what the future would hold.

Up until my flight to England I begged my mum to cancel my flight. “Mum you have up until two hours before the flight to cancel for a partial refund, I’ll pay the difference.” She laughed but she knew: my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I don’t regret going but things change so much in a year and I guess I wish I could’ve prepared for that.

The things I didn’t know had nothing to do with Birmingham or the exchange itself. The things I didn’t know had to do with saying goodbyes that I wasn’t ready to say yet. They had to do with realizing that life would move on without me at home, they had to do with missing familiar people and places.I was happy and I felt at home and I felt normal. I didn’t know how to uproot my life again. I had forgotten how to say goodbye and embrace new things. I had forgotten how to  step out of my comfort zone and into my courage zone.

I was scared and honestly, that set the tone for my entire exchange. I wish I would’ve known my capabilities. I wish I would’ve believed in my capabilities. Mostly, I wish I didn’t forget who I was. Preparing for my exchange, I really lost sight of myself because of myself and life now is just about figuring out who I am again. It’s a journey but one that I’m happy to be on.

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