When I look back at my time spent in Canada, it is almost impossible to pick my favourite memory. From a week spent snowboarding at the Blue Mountain resort in Collingwood, to watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play ice hockey, to visiting Cuba to escape the freezing cold winter; it is safe to say that it was the best year of my life so far. Despite this, there are still some things that I would have done differently if I had known a little bit more prior to my trip, so these are things that I would tell pre-trip Lewis.
One of the first problems that I encountered whilst preparing for my year abroad was how to send money from the UK to Canada. Whilst UK banks can do this for you, they often apply a large handling fee for the transaction and give an exchange rate lower than the actual value, causing the customer to lose out on some of their money. Fortunately, I was told about the website TransferWise, which had much lower handling fees and always provided the exact exchange rate, as well as being very easy, quick and safe to use. I would recommend this service to anyone going abroad and wanting to move student loans into their new country’s currency, as it could save a lot of money.
Secondly, if I had known about the huge difference in the quality of off-campus accommodation, I definitely would not have picked (and paid for!) my house for my year abroad before I left the UK. In hindsight, a more sensible plan would have been to arrive in Hamilton, stay in an Airbnb (or similar accommodation) for a week and spend some time viewing a few potential houses in the area. This would have allowed for the opportunity to make sure that the place I would be living in for the year was comfortable, clean and shared with pleasant housemates. Whilst the house I stayed in was not terrible, I visited some of my friends’ houses who had decided on their accommodation after arriving in Canada and they were not only significantly nicer, but also significantly cheaper than my own. This is definitely university dependent, so check this out beforehand, but personally this would have been the biggest change that I would have made to my year abroad.
Finally, I wish I hadn’t worried so much about meeting people and making friends. Everybody taking part in study abroad is there to have a fun time, meet new people from different parts of the world and enjoy themselves, so making friends is super easy. The people that I met during my year abroad are now some of my closest friends, and I know this is common for a lot of people who spend time studying abroad. Also, I wish I could have told pre-trip Lewis to take advantage of all of the available opportunities. I found myself in the library on most weekends doing work, and whilst actually learning things is a very important aspect of studying abroad, I wish I had spent more time travelling around Canada and doing fun things with friends at the weekends.
I believe that a year abroad is one of the most exciting, rewarding and life-changing experiences that a person can have. However, I remember how stressful it was preparing for the year abroad and how nervous I was before I arrived. So, if you are going abroad soon, I hope this post has given you some helpful tips and advice and reduced that worry just a little bit!
Thank you for reading, and good luck!