Written by: Alex Pennington-Little
In the nearly three months since my return from Scotland, I’ve found readjusting to be harder than adjusting in the first place. I miss everything, achingly so. That’s not to say I miss the days of homesickness, or the days I would do nothing but watch Netflix, or the days of loneliness or alienation. But in my hindsight view of my exchange, none of the mediocre or sad times even exist anymore. I have erased them, because I don’t need them. The things I miss are having a tight knit group to do everything with. I miss having a family that experienced the same things for the first time, all together. I miss adventure, and not caring about a crappy day because it all adds to the story in the end.
I keep in touch with my friends by Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp. It’s crossed my mind that maybe this is why I struggle moving back to my old world – I keep trying to stay in Glasgow, from over 5000 km away. I would never give up being able to send a silly Snap to the best friends I may never see again.
Recently I went to the pre-departure workshop for next years’ exchange students. Students who are anxious, wide-eyed and eager to start their own adventure. I remembered my workshop being loud and overwhelming and giving me a great deal of stress over whether I was making the right decision to uproot myself. Besides advice on where to buy cheap shampoo, whether the housing packages from GCU are worth it or not, and how to get from the airport to the school, there are a list of things I learned from my exchange that I though was important to relay. Most of these lessons are brand-new, and I still struggle to remember them now that I’m not living an adventure anymore. I learned a lot about myself, and about what I’m capable of that I wouldn’t have learned at home.
I’m not afraid to be alone. As a people person, I’ve always needed other people around me. I’ve been dependent on other people around me to give me courage and comfort. In the first weeks of my living in Glasgow, I would have passed up an opportunity just because I didn’t have anyone to go with (because friends don’t materialize on their own). I missed days of adventure because I didn’t think I could have an adventure by myself. In the final two weeks of my stay, I had yet to see London. I would be devastated if I returned from the UK without ever seeing the big city. Two days from the first time the thought crossed my mind, I had booked a flight and arranged to stay with family friends outside London. I travelled solo by bus, plane, and train to stay with a family I had never met for three nights. I learned the city bus, train, and tube alone simply by doing it. I went to exhibits and museums and a theatre show completely autonomously, and I enjoyed all of it. Before my semester abroad, I never would have thought myself capable of travelling alone.
I can find pleasure in a bad situation. I learned this when my flatmate Holly and I planned our day trip to Loch Lomond. The morning of it was drizzling, cloudy and cold. We got as far as the Glasgow train station (to take us to Balloch) when I confessed that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go today, not in this weather. Holly taught me the lesson to let others push your boundaries. She insisted, and I conceded, and we had a marvelous adventure on the banks and hills in the national park. Not only did we push on through the wet fog, we were laughing about it together, at the time and continue to do so as we enjoy the memory.
The authority to handle a problem. GCU is a mess of administrational hiccups. I first encountered the Scottish attitude of “it’ll work itself out” weeks before I left Canada, when I was waiting frantically for confirmation of residence placement. Once I had settled residency and arrived, I was faced with registration problems. After two weeks of battling to clear up my registration (alone in a foreign country), I was misplaced and overlooked in my classes. The fire alarm in my residence went haywire, whining for three consecutive days and nights. I chased down administrators and professors, sat in meetings and wrote a million emails. I teamed up with Holly to get the attention of someone, anyone who would listen to our fire alarm torture without laughing and walking away. I learned to be an independent problem-solver because I had to, or the whole thing was a bust.
The confidence to step out of my comfort zone. Being far away from home with no one tying you to presuppositions of who you are lets you explore who you could be. It is a fearful thing, to be cast into solitude amidst a massive city bustling with life. The best way I found to make use of the daunting situation was to throw myself into it. I used to be a relatively conservative partier – drinks on the weekends, usually leaving the bar before the taxi wars broke out. I learned to negotiate the self I thought I was with the self I was now allowed to be. I went to dinner with people I didn’t know, and we became best friends. I invited myself to a flat party on Facebook, and the people in that flat became my family. I tagged along to a sidestreet club and discovered a nightlife way better than the promotional student clubs whose flyers littered our residence. I learned that I liked being someone I didn’t think I was. I’m currently in the process of introducing that person to this life.
Don’t let small excuses change your big ideas. If you want to hike in Scotland, hike in the rain or don’t hike at all. It would be folly to visit Scotland with no intention to spend a day roaming the beauty. It would be disappointing to let the person you believe yourself to be, suppress the person who can emerge in a time of change. It would be tragic to let anxiety stop you from going after a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and irresponsible to let a botched communication destroy the validity of your exchange experience. When it comes down to it, all excuses are too small against something magnificent that you really want.
If any student at Brock has the means and the opportunity to step away from Canada, I don’t think there is a good enough reason not to go abroad. Even if you think it’s not for you or you won’t love it – you will.