You know that horribly clichéd Green Day song that they play during every ‘looking back’ montage imaginable? Well if you played that song over a video of my time in Toronto, I would still love it, that’s how good this experience has been. As I’m writing this I’m actually on a bus out of the Canadian city after four incredible months on a student exchange. Today I’ve been an absolute mess, bawling my eyes out at every opportunity. As silly as it sounds it felt right to cry, mostly because every single moment of this whole adventure has meant a great deal to me, so why shouldn’t I feel upset that it has come to an end? It made me think back to when I first left Adelaide, and I was questioning whether I was doing the right thing. If only I could go back now and tell Jordan of 2009 the answer to that question would be ‘absolutely’, but I had to learn that for myself.
It’s so bizarre to look back four months because I was not the same person I am now, everything about this experience has changed me, and in my mind for the better. Moving half way around the world has first and foremost made me more independent. While I’ve missed my family anyone who has left home knows that once you have to step up and completely take care of yourself you take that step away from your childhood and grow into your shoes a bit more. I feel this is even more the case when you’ve moved to a completely foreign city where everything is different. On top of that I think I have become far more relaxed and carefree. All those little things that had stressed me out about day to day life in Adelaide just don’t seem too important once you truly realise that little Adelaide isn’t the whole world.
The way I live my day to day life has changed completely. When you’re in a foreign city, and you know you’ve only got four months to take it all in, you tend to spend (almost) every day doing something worthwhile. Sure there were quite a few lazy days (Sundays) but they became the exception to the norm. Most of the time was spent exploring the city, shopping at the markets, hitting the town at night, taking road trips to Niagara, picnics in the park, trips up the CN Tower, costume parties and many games of flip-cup. But while I have all of these memories of our adventures together, the times spent having midnight chats in the corridor, chowing into a Big Slice Pizza after a night out, or just chilling watching the Family Channel (not my personal preference) will be equally cherished. We made a better life for ourselves in Toronto because we knew that we had to make the most of today instead of waiting for tomorrow.
While I know the true purpose of a student exchange is study, you can probably tell that it wasn’t my focus nor highlight. The truth is that on exchange you learn to fit your studies in around everything else, and not the other way around. Had my studies been the priority then I probably would have missed out on many things I listed above. Some might say it’s irresponsible to put studies behind my social life, but I managed to have some of the best times of my life and my grades didn’t drop. If I think back to when I first chose Toronto and Ryerson University my reasoning behind the choice was a mix of the great journalism program and just a gut feeling. In the end the program was fantastic, but in the meantime I fell in love with the city, to the point that it feels more like home than Adelaide itself. And while I fell for the city I fell for the people I met there too, both my Canadian friends and my fellow exchange students, with whom I spent most of the time. So while I learned a lot from the university, the places I’ve seen, people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had will stay with me long after that lecture has faded away.
Truth be told a student exchange isn’t for everyone, and there are some people who would not enjoy the experience as much as I have. Yet I know so many people who talk about going on exchange, or just how much they want to travel, but don’t get around to it because it seems too difficult and overwhelming. I can relate to that feeling, as it was how I felt many times whilst preparing for this journey. The reality of the situation is that getting out of Adelaide is simpler now than it has ever been, and I wish I could show some people just how easy it is. In some ways I’m actually proud of myself for not throwing in the towel because it seemed like too much, and now my life seems so much richer as a result of the experiences I’ve had. I think if others knew this feeling then they would know that you just have to grab the opportunity and run with it, no regrets and no looking back.
So if you’re one of those people who has considered going on an exchange, or considered getting out for a bit and seeing more of the world, just do it. Jump in, go crazy, because you’re still young and you don’t want to grow up thinking ‘what if?’ I guarantee that you’ll have the time of your life, and even if you don’t enjoy it quite as much as I did, it is better that you give it a shot than not at all, right? Not only have I grown from this experience, but I now feel inspired to travel more in the future. It doesn’t seem quite so intimidating anymore now that I’ve taken those first steps. In fact, I enjoyed my exchange more than I expected to, as I never even considered before I left Adelaide that I would be this sad to see it all come to an end. But naturally I wouldn’t trade all those memories for anything, as I said at the start, it’s only fitting that I’m upset because it meant so much to me. So whatever it is you’re considering just give it a shot, and if you don’t enjoy yourself at all then I’ll eat my shirt, or a Green Day album.