March 11, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 84  

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Dear Gazette,
One sleepless night, after surfing the Internet and hitting Western’s exchange website, I decided to apply for a chance to study abroad for my final semester. There was no doubt in my mind that this was my last chance to leave the boring repetition of Western’s campus life behind and spend some carefree time in Europe.

A year later, here I am in Aix-en-Provence, France, completing my degree. Those last few months just flew by as I realized I was actually leaving my home, my friends and my life as I knew it.

At first, this place wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting. I spent a few days in Paris first. The sights there were magnificent and surreal. The city was buzzing with tourists and there was always something to do. After staying in the spectacular capital, I took the train down south to move in here for the next five months.

When you think of the south of France it gives you a warm feeling. You imagine flowers, cobblestone streets and darling cafés — Aix-en-Provence is full of those things.

However, on my first day here what I saw was an old, ugly, dark and cold student residence. I said to myself: “I have to live here? Send me back to the hotel in Paris!” The secretary spoke about one word of English, and since my French leaves something to be desired, I had a great time checking in. My room seemed disgusting and small, and I couldn’t believe there was no Internet hook up! However, there wasn’t time to worry about that because I had to find my way to the university and check in. After asking a lot of questions in ridiculously bad French, I found it. Recommendation number 1: always bring a map.
So, the first day kind of sucked. I hadn’t seen the true beauty of the place yet and I was beginning to wonder if I had liked it better back home. It took a while to get used to living in a different country. Everything seems backwards and you feel a certain need to say “in Canada, we do it this way and it works much better.”

As I complained about the way the French do things, a friend of mine back home told me to learn how to appreciate them. It’s true, you do have to learn how to appreciate the four-hour lunch breaks, the free-thinking road rules and the way they don’t take life too seriously. To be happy here you have got to become a part of this life and that has been the real challenge of studying abroad: letting go of what I’m used to and opening up to a new world.

The world is sunny and wonderful over here; I can call home and boast about our 15C weather in February. I can run off to Venice at three days notice for a weekend trip (which I did, and it was an amazing place) and I can go grocery shopping next door everyday and buy the most amazing fresh bread and cheese I’ve ever had. Recommendation number 2: bring lots of money.

The best part of the whole experience is that I get to learn about myself and French culture while taking my last five university courses. School is very different here; there are no essays or homework to do. You hardly have to go to class — it’s more of a self-driven learning plan (which, if you ask me, really adds to the overall experience of completely changing the way you live).

Recommendation number 3: open your mind and your heart to something new. Going away on exchange is definitely a life-changing experience. No matter where you end up, you will find that you learn something about the world and what’s best, and you will learn something about yourself too.

Martina Walton

Exchanging currency, culture & education

Have Canadian winters left you with a bad case of the blahs? If so, it sounds like an exchange is in order.

Around the world in 80 days: how to get where you want to go

Who would refuse a semester abroad if the opportunity arose? Western exchanges make this opportunity a reality, but a chance like this doesn’t just arise — it must be pursued.



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