The 20th of December marked my date of freedom, succeeding the most enjoyable semester and a few weeks of stressing for exams. In this post, I will let you know what I did that made my experience abroad so spectacular for me.
Leaving home was scary. I had never taken an international flight alone and everything seemed so uncertain – anything seemed to have potential to go wrong. Fortunately, my arrival into Canada went as smoothly as I could have ever imagined, with a negligible line through customs and friendly security. Getting to Montreal and to my hall of residence went equally well.
Recommendation 1: Do all the admin WELL BEFORE departure.
The reason everything went to plan is because I had everything organized months before. All courses had been approved, I had my ESTA and ETA, McGill had accepted me, and I was already in email correspondence with professors and the faculty well before I needed to be.
I decided to do Outdoor Frosh (a themed O-Week & trip for new students) to meet new like-minded people at McGill and experience a National Park of Canada that I might otherwise not have gotten the chance to. It is one of the best choices I made, resulting in my introduction to some AWESOME locals and exchange students who I traveled and met up with throughout my exchange semester.
Recommendation 2: If you can do it, DO IT!
I understand there are many barriers that may prevent you (e.g. financial, physical, mental), but if you get the chance to go on a trip/do something potentially amazing, PLEASE don’t turn it down. Go out and meet new people, experience new things, and enjoy yourselves. The McGill Outdoors Club provided the perfect platform to do this, with frequent trips to nearby cities and provinces as well as physical activities such as rock-climbing, canoeing, hiking, etc. Their email list allowed anyone to propose a trip to do with others.
As I was on a semester abroad, I wanted to make the most of being overseas which meant travelling and not overworking myself. The fact that courses are pass/fail whilst on exchange really helped put my mind at ease and enjoy myself more (this is not an excuse to completely slack off though!). Additionally, I tried to take courses and a workload that would be less stressful – I took four courses instead of five, with one being general education. As a result, my exchange was the best semester I’ve ever had.
And so here I am, at the end of my 4-month exchange semester, with $300 to my name and a flight booked for the 31st of January from Los Angeles – over a month away. Time to call mum…
Recommendation 3: Budget.
I am incredibly fortunate to have parents back home who are willing, and financially able, to support me. Although I had saved up what I thought to be a significant amount after working part-time for 3 years plus 10 weeks full-time over the summer, I greatly underestimated the cost of living abroad and travelling. Try to know how much visas, flights, accommodation, food, etc. are likely to cost and over budget for everything. All included, travelling the United States (on what I would consider quite a low budget) costs roughly $100 NZD EVERY DAY if you want to do some touristy activities and enjoy yourself…
To conclude, travelling and experiencing cultures abroad is 100% worth it. If you get the opportunity, make the most of it.