I knew that I wanted to go on exchange after my first semester at the University of Saskatchewan. One of my roommates in the Seager Wheeler residence was an exchange student from Sweden, and he introduced me to a number of other international students. I ended up making many friends from amazing places, which was a prime motivator to experience an exchange for myself.
Originally, I planned to go in my second year, but I decided to wait until my third — choosing the University of Essex in England as my destination of choice. The U of S’s International Student and Study Abroad Centre made the process of applying very easy. Although I will admit that at times, communication was slower than I would have liked, I never experienced any major issues with applying for my program of choice. Logistically speaking, the biggest hurdle to study abroad is the financial costs.
Your choice of destination will be the prime factor in calculating the total cost to get there and sustain yourself. Travelling to the UK is not cheap, and living in the UK with our exchange rate is very
expensive. You must also plan to have an updated passport, travel and health insurance, and depending on your destination, a visa may be required. This is good to know well in advance, as visas can be quite expensive, and you can often find deals if you purchase them ahead of time.
Generally speaking, the academic requirements are attainable to the average student — depending on your department. For example, I needed a minimum 65 average to be eligible as an arts and science student. There are a few more registration requirements you will need to complete before you depart, but the ISSAC office is very good at walking you through the process.
So if it’s such a financial burden and the registration process is so long, why bother studying abroad? My answer: the people you meet. I have had the opportunity to meet people from every continent, making lifelong friends along the way. Apart from having a couch to crash on — an added incentive to travel to new places — what’s so great about knowing people in different countries? It makes the world a smaller place.
As you listen to the stories of people from different cultures and societies, you begin to learn that despite our different upbringings and backgrounds, we are all very similar at a fundamental level. We all have hopes, fears and desires. Differences only lie in the details, of which are shaped by our past. When we come together across vast distances and share with one another, we have the opportunity to become more empathetic through opening up our minds to newfound perspectives.
My trip began in September 2016, when I arrived in Amsterdam, Netherlands one month before the move-in date at the U of E. After a week in Amsterdam travelling around, I made my way to Sweden and Denmark, where I had the chance to visit some old friends who had initially piqued my interest in the exchange program. In addition to reuniting with old friends, I also made several new ones along the way.
The experiences I’ve shared with the friends I’ve made has pushed me out of my comfort zone in such a way that has given me no other option but to grow as an individual. Before arriving in England, I naturally had some preconceptions but I tried to limit my expectations as much as possible. I wanted to approach the experience with a blank slate and often sought out opportunities to be pushed out of my comfort zone.
After being here for six months, I can honestly say that I am a different person from the one who arrived in Europe last September. I’ve caught myself in moments doing things I never thought I’d see myself doing, and with each day comes the excitement of not knowing what’s going to happen next.
Photos and text by: Michael Bergen