Moving abroad had long been an idea of mine, though it had seemed like something I would try after I finished my degree and paying off any debt that came along with it. Studying abroad for a semester was never something I would have expected myself to be able to do while working towards my degree, but by saving money while studying at NIC and because of the amazing amount of financial aid and support offered to me by the college it was realistic to move to France for half a year.
This decision was worth it because I got to spend time in a culture where the people spoke a different language, had a different way of thinking, and most importantly in which I was uncomfortable in at times. This unfamiliarity was incredibly beneficial because it taught me how to get along with people who had different patterns of thinking than I did and who had unique things that they considered normal, such as asking “but why?” over questions that I might find too personal to share with acquaintances in Canada. Adjusting to a new set of social norms taught me a lot about accepting people from other backgrounds and increased my confidence in talking to people I might have otherwise thought I wouldn’t have much in common with.
Living in Europe also allowed me to view the education system from a very different perspective, since I was able to see what students’ lives were like where tuition is often free at public universities, even for international students. The shift in lifestyle from North American culture really shocked me since a work-life balance is encouraged rather than is the mindset of “trying to get ahead,” which is the case I find in Canada where it is quite normal to work overtime or more than one job. In France, it was not uncommon for my coworkers to tell me about their annual paid holidays where they took two weeks to a month off to relax each year. While personally I would say that the advantages and disadvantages between living on the two continents evened out because of differences in wages and taxes, the change in lifestyle was interesting and allowed me to see how parts of my own culture were unique to Canada.
Moving forward, participating in an exchange has changed my plans completely because I realized that it was possible to both pursue an education and see the world without being born wealthy. I would like to spend some more time taking courses at North Island College while applying to universities abroad, with the end goal of completing my degree in economics at a public university within the European Union. Having the college here to support me and help me with these decisions has made it a smooth process since the staff are very encouraging and happy to help students with their questions and concerns. The only thing that I can recommend if someone is even a little bit curious about an exchange is to make the first step and talk to somebody about what the options are – there may be something that’s right for you, and it never hurts to ask.