The University of Waterloo hosted their annual Go Abroad Fair last Wednesday at the Davis Centre. It gave previous Waterloo exchange students and current incoming exchange students a platform to speak about their experiences abroad. The fair was open to undergraduate and graduate students alike, and highlighted opportunities for students to study or work abroad. The fair also shed a light on how exchange can be beneficial not only in academic terms, but also in your everyday life by letting you step out of your comfort zone.
The Go Abroad Fair was also an amazing opportunity for those who want to go on exchange to learn about the Global Experience Certificate (GEC). The purpose of the GEC is to demonstrate how adaptable and culturally aware you can be in different communities around the world. The certificate program is offered at Waterloo to encourage students to be more immersed and connected in a global context, and to recognize their experiences abroad.
When you think about exploring another country, it can seem frightening at first. Students who may have felt doubtful or nervous about embarking on these new challenges were able to speak with a visiting exchange student who understood the difficulties of studying and travelling somewhere unfamiliar.
Miti Patel, a third-year physics student from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, said, “I think that some of the challenges made me get out of my comfort zone a little bit, like having to make new friends and meet new people because I’m in a country where I don’t know anybody. So, it’s a good learning experience and it’s made me be more organized as well.”
Many common challenges included finding housing abroad and trying to navigate through a new environment. However, each student I spoke to shared that once their first few weeks were over, they were able to become more comfortable with their surroundings.
Trevor Martens Wong, a third-year student studying Electrical Engineering from Singapore University of Technology and Design, said, “The weather has been a challenge for me because it keeps changing and I don’t know what to think every day.” He goes on further to say, “I’ve enjoyed these challenges though because it’s part of living in another place, it opens your eyes to the different kind of ways people live.” All of the students I spoke to found that once they were fully immersed in their surroundings, they were able to get truly comfortable.
Confirming this statement, Philipp Hoffman a fourth-year Environmental Engineering student from the University of Stuttgart in Germany stated, “It’s really challenging at first, especially the first two weeks when you miss your friends and family, but you just have to be persistent and after a week or two it gets better.” While speaking about overcoming the first initial moments of living away from home he went on to say, “The new experiences you have and the people you meet are totally worth it.”
Seeing the many students at the Go Abroad Fair who have been able to take that step and branch out is inspiring to see. While each student admitted that they were out of their element, they said they believed that straying from home allowed them to learn more about themselves as individuals.
Quunn Nguyen, an Economics and Finance student from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia shared that, “The University of Waterloo has a lot of students wandering around everywhere and you can talk to them easily. For the city itself, it is really calming and peaceful and great for relaxing.” She was not used to the environment of a university city, but once she chose to come to Canada, she found a way to make the school her home.
Jenny Koo, third-year Computer Engineering student from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, also stated, “The biggest thing I like about going to different places is that you get to learn more about yourself. My perspective of the world and myself has changed completely ever since I’ve started studying abroad and going different places. It’s a really big learning opportunity and you’re faced with a lot more new things. I think you should definitely do it if you have the chance to. Plus, you get to have friends from all over the world, how amazing is that?!”
When you are considering living abroad, it’s important to consider not only the financial or housing aspects, but also how it feels to be immersed in another culture. Take that initial step forward, push some of your boundaries, like these students, and make some great memories!