RU Abroad, Student Life

After A Semester Abroad, I Feel More Like Me

I was faced with a question when I started packing up what has been my home for the past 5 months. That question was, “How do you feel now that it’s over?” And my immediate answer was simple: “I feel more like myself.”

I feel more like myself because moving out for the first time and being on my own challenged me to figure out how I function independently; because being thrown into a new place with completely new people was scary, but it forced me to place myself like I was in the 4th grade again, switching to a completely different school; because I didn’t know if I would succeed in studying journalism across the world. But in the end, I chose this for myself to push my limits, grow, and become more “me.”

Throughout my exchange experience, I was faced with a new adventure, daily. I had 5 months to live and study in Utrecht, Netherlands and be immersed in European culture. I wanted to make each and every day and moment count. In 5 months I came across numerous people, built friendships with students from the Netherlands to Australia and beyond, travelled to 7 countries, and absorbed every bit of knowledge that I could.

Yara (left), Emma, and Alice.

My Internship Abroad

Before I embarked to the Netherlands, I really wanted to find a flexible internship to add to my experience. Somehow, my email pitch caught the attention of a platform I’ve been reading for nearly 5 years now called Chapter Friday. I met with Alice, manager of editorial, and Yara, founder of the website, a day after I moved to the Netherlands. It was overwhelming but I knew this was something I wanted to do. So I got up early in the morning on February 2nd and went to Amsterdam, a city I haven’t even visited before. Alice, Yara, and I talked for a bit in the lobby of their office building when they told me they’d love to have me on their team. I was thrilled! I couldn’t believe it.

Throughout my semester I contributed articles to their website, including one about Toronto – because #the6ix – met with the team before classes, and more. You can read more about my experience over on Chapter Friday!

It’s Over, Now What?

When I told people I was going on exchange, most of them warned me about culture shock and homesickness. I’ve never done anything like this before so I was prepared to experience everything I was told would happen – from adjusting to the setting, to peaking in excitement, to feeling sad and hating my surroundings, to finally finding a happy balance. But to be honest, I didn’t feel homesick or a sense of culture shock at all. In fact, I think if anything culture shock will hit me when I’m back home in Toronto in August (I’m currently in Munich for a month). Even my friends I made on exchange agree. We’ve lived abroad with each of us living right next door for 5 months, and that not being in that situation anymore at our home campuses is going to feel strange and almost empty, we imagine.

To add to that, studying abroad was one of my top goals during my university career. Now that I’ve accomplished it, it feels like I have nothing else to work towards (aside from graduation, of course). In a way, I think this is a good thing because I accomplished one of my top goals and I’m proud of that. At the same time though, it feels like there’s this pressure on my shoulders to set more goals that are bigger and better than the one I just hit. Discovering what that will be is scary to me, because right now, I don’t know what next “big thing” I’d like to aim towards to achieve.

My Main Takeaway

When I was just looking into going on exchange, it seemed like this big hurdle with so many jumps to get to. But what I’ve learned is to take baby steps. Achieving goals don’t happen overnight, rather through baby steps, stepping one foot after another. When I look back and see what I did to get to the point of going on exchange, it really took a bunch of little goals, one after the other, to attain the larger goal at hand. It started with figuring out which were my top three exchange school, then writing my application, doing the interview, getting accepted, sending in papers, finding a place to stay, organizing visas, packing up and getting on the plane. Another side takeaway was learning Finnish words and phrases, all thanks to my Finnish friends Ismo, Tommi, and Elina!

I recommend studying abroad for a semester to anyone – it really reveals parts of you that you didn’t know you had.

Kiitos (thank you in Finnish), Utrecht! I can’t wait to visit again and reminisce over this experience. I’m sad to be leaving, but also really excited for my final year at Ryerson.

Catch up on the rest of my #RUAbroad blogs here.

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Janine Maral

Third-year Journalism student at Ryerson University and multimedia storyteller for RU Student Life. I like to spend my free time blogging, on youtube, making guacamole, and listening to podcasts.