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
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.
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.