Away on exchange: my initial thoughts and feelings

Ashleigh is studying at Wilfrid Laurier University and shares her initial feelings about being overseas below…

My exchange experience so far has been one full of firsts; the most notable being living away from home for the first time. After spending 19 years of living in the same house with my parents and siblings, moving away seemed quite daunting but I’m gradually getting used to it and have come to enjoy the sense of independence I’m gaining from it.

There have been no major hiccups yet but I’m starting to realise just how much I took for granted back home. It hadn’t even entered my mind that I’d need to buy so much just in order to set up my apartment with the basics but when I first arrived at my apartment and saw just how bare it was, the realisation certainly hit me. So one Walmart shopping spree later, I had the necessities and was no longer sleeping on a plastic covered mattress in 30˚ heat (heads up: not a good idea). Luckily my roommates showed up a few days later and they were able to provide those things that I either couldn’t quite afford or was unable to carry around during my travels.

As much as I like to insist that I’m a ‘grown up’ now and can do things on my own, there are always going to be times that I need the help of my parents. However, being separated by 13,000kms instead of a hallway or a closed door makes seeking such help a bit more difficult; especially the whole time-zone issue which means Ontario being 14 hours behind Melbourne. However, aside from a panicky phone call at 2am from a hostel in Vancouver, I like to think that I’ve adjusted pretty well to living life without the nearly constant presence of my parents. I even mastered the art of using the washing machine on my own (a lot more difficult than it sounds, I swear!).

Despite this new found independence and self-confidence, living away from home for the first time has certainly come with its challenges.  My friends back home are a major part of my life and to suddenly find myself having to live life without them was quite difficult. Even now that I’m mostly settled in, I still find myself missing them more than anything else, and the familiarity that they provided. Thank god for Sykpe and Facebook, though! I don’t know where I’d be without modern technology that makes keeping in touch with friends and family pretty simple. I have also been very lucky to have met and formed friendships with some of the most amazing people here in Waterloo, Canada and while they of course could never replace my Australian friends, I’m glad to have to found a strong support system over here.

So while living in an unfamiliar country away from home can sometimes be difficult, it is definitely a rewarding experience and one that (somewhat forcibly) allows you to gain a whole new sense of independence. My advice to anyone going on exchange would be to acknowledge the things that you miss about home but don’t dwell on them for too long or you may find yourself missing out on some amazing experiences. Remember, home will always be there when you get back!