Starting a new chapter in your life can be filled with many emotions – excitement, inspiration, hope, and anticipation to name a few. Often we attempt to focus only on the positive aspects that come along with any sort of change – how traveling and seeing the world is going to broaden your perspective of what is important in your life, or how that new job is going to give you the tools to pursue your dreams someday. But if you have ever experienced any sort of life-changing event, you will know that change can be a real bummer at times. Along with all those positive emotions and excitement can come anxiety, fear, nervousness, and a host of other emotions that might take over your experience.
In 2011, I applied and was accepted to go on a one-semester exchange to the University of South Australia. For the year leading up to the experience, I. Was. Stoked. All I could think about was the gorgeous weather, the beautiful Aussie accents, the wildlife, and all the amazing people I was going to meet. I would constantly daydream about what my life was going to be like when I finally arrived in Adelaide. And then I arrived. And I froze with fear. What the hell did I just get myself into?
I had never lived away from home or my family, yet I had decided “I’ve got this” when it came to flying literally half way across the world to live by myself in a country where I did not know a single person. I quickly realized that I did not have this. At least not at first.
My first few weeks in Adelaide were not my finest moments. I would cry walking along the sidewalk because I missed my mum (I felt like a 12 year old child at sleepover camp). I would fall asleep at 9 PM and wake up at 5 AM because I hadn’t adjusted to the time change. I couldn’t eat. I would have overwhelming heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. I was certified homesick. Life was continuing on without me at home – my family, my friends, and my boyfriend all were living their lives without me. I was frustrated with myself because after a full year of looking forward to being in Australia, all I wanted to do was go home and have life continue the way it was.
I knew I had to reach out for help. I knew going home wasn’t an option, nor did I actually want to go home – I knew that Australia was where I needed to be. So what did I do to adjust to living in a new country?
I went to see a counsellor at the university that I was attending. I needed to talk to someone about what I was going through, and I needed that person to understand my experience and give me some tools on how to cope. There is absolutely no shame in reaching out for some professional help when you feel that you need it.
I made it my mission to make friends. When you arrive in a new place, whether you are starting university, going on exchange, or travelling, everyone is there to meet new people and make friends! While making friends can seem like a daunting task, it may be one of the easiest things you’ll do in a transition period because everyone else is looking to make connections too. I introduced myself to anyone I passed in the hall in my building and asked other students if they wanted to do fun activities in the city. Keeping myself busy socially helped me so much.
I stayed active! I found free yoga classes through the local Lululemon store (and invited new friends to join me). Relaxation activities like yoga, meditation, and walking or running can be very therapeutic in times like these. It can help you to connect with yourself and your emotions and help you to reconnect with the positive emotions associated with change.
I stayed connected with people from home. While it was hard to get through a conversation with my mum or my baby niece without a couple of tears because I missed them so, I needed to keep that contact. As time went on, the conversations got easier and I was just excited to talk to them without feeling like I was missing out on life at home.
I found comforts from home. Bagels? Check. Tea? Check. Caesars? Double Check.
Long story short, I adjusted. Although it was tough at first, my time in Australia was amazing and life changing – it was all that I hoped it would be. And more than that, going through the difficult transition period taught me a lot about myself and what I am capable of.
To all you first years out there, eager and excited to start your journey at Ryerson, be prepared that things might not be so easy at the beginning and that it is totally normal. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and know that there are plenty of resources to guide you through the tough times. I’ve been there, I know what you are going through and many other folks at Ryerson do as well. We are here to help!
Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.