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Semester Exchange at the University of British Columbia – by Sarah Koch

The first thing you need to understand about me to understand my experience on exchange is that I have lived a very sheltered and privileged life. Before the trip I made to Melbourne to get my VISA for my exchange I hadn’t been on a plane since I was 12 years old. I had never been overseas and to be away from my family was to only see them all about once a week. I was so apprehensive in the months leading up to my exchange and though it shames me to say this, I wasn’t all that excited about it. Getting on the plane and leaving my family, boyfriend and friends was the hardest thing I have done in my life. Upon arriving in Vancouver the cold hit me like a smack in the face and my homesickness really did feel like just that, a sickness. Exchange is such an abnormal traveling experience because you arrive in a country completely alone and are expected to make it your home for a prolonged period of time. That is when you are tested beyond belief but that is also when you find out just how strong an individual you are. I was very lucky at UBC because they arrange many meet and greets and social outings with the around 400 exchange students from all around the world. You quickly become versed in your spiel… “I’m Sarah… From South Australia… Yes I am bloody cold… I study education…. Yeah that’s teaching…. Where are you from..? Oh wow, I’ve always wanted to go there!”  Those first days of exchange were my first true experiences of cultural learning, I met so many people from all over the world and I learnt so much about their national identities and their ways of seeing. I think that is one of the most important things I learnt on exchange, to view the world through other people’s eyes and perspectives. I was very blessed from the start to become close with a group of girls from all around the world. A few New Zealanders, a German, a Frenchwoman, an Italian and a couple of Danes. These were the girls that I experienced everything with. Through the week we would be in the local coffee shop studying hard, because despite what I had been told about exchange being one big party, my university was one of the leading universities in the world and therefore was bloody hard! Then during the weekend we would explore together and experience this new part of the world, which is a very cool experience to share. From exploring the breathtaking mountain surrounded city of Vancouver, to going for weekends to the world-renowned Whistler Mountain, to a week in San Francisco and Seattle and days of driving through the breathtaking and surreal Rocky Mountains, there wasn’t much we didn’t see and do. That is another thing you must do on exchange, be up for anything and everything. I don’t mean that in saying yes to the parties, drugs and alcohol, I mean that you have to be open to everything that will enrich your experience, say yes to those little adventures because they turn out to be the best times of your exchange. I can honestly say that my exchange experience changed my life. It may sound cheesy but I truly found out who I was and what my place in the world was. I found the beauty in the parts of the world I explored but furthermore, in doing that, I found the beauty in my own country and my own blessed and enriched life.

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