There are so many things to think about when you leave for a semester abroad. There’s filing paperwork for your home university, making sure your passport is not expired, budget planning for groceries, rent, and tuition. There’s all the packing, unpacking, and repacking luggage, finding a roof to put over your head, planning out which classes to take during your semester abroad, which trips you’ll want to go on – and filing more paperwork. What nobody tells you, though, is that you also have to think about your return because that, too, needs planning.
On May 12, I was exactly one week away from taking the plane back to my beloved Canada. I spent exactly six months in Reims, a small city in France about an hour away from Paris. Of the six months I was there, I spent the entire month of April feeling homesick. A week before leaving, the knot forming in my stomach was not due to homesickness; rather, it was caused by the thought of going back home and getting hit with reality.
“Studying abroad is like being in a bubble,” says Giordano Pennimpede, a fourth-year communications student at Concordia who also spent a semester in Reims. “When you come back from exchange, your bubble bursts and all your responsibilities come flooding.”
Even though Pennimpede and I both study at Concordia on the Loyola Campus, our paths hadn’t crossed until we met one night at our student residence in France. Our friendship grew just as quickly as our time abroad came to an end; we were there for each other throughout the ups and downs of our experiences abroad until we got back to Montreal, where we remain great friends.
Re-adapting to life in Montreal was the hardest part. It felt strange to be back in an environment we felt so comfortable in, after just starting to feel comfortable in our new environment abroad.
“My first week back in Montreal was weird,” said Pennimpede. “Everything felt brand new and old at the same time.”
During the student exchange, our routine changed, our friends changed, and we changed. While away, we became the protagonists of our own fairy-tales. Despite all going through different emotional journeys, the end of the story was pretty similar for all of us.
“I was expecting to come home and so much was going to be different, but everything was the same,” said Callie Giaccone, a third-year journalism student who went to study in Ireland for a semester. “I felt like I was in a time warp.”
Summer passed by and we slowly readapted to the metropolitan life. In August, Walmart back-to-school commercials made their way onto our televisions and also into our heads.
“I felt nervous about what I was going back to,” said Pennimpede “I didn’t feel like I was missing school in Montreal that much.”
If for some the idea of going back to Concordia was a subject of debacle, the idea of going back to their field of study was not; nobody missed taking electives – nobody.
“I was really excited to go back to journalism,” said Giaccone. “I was looking forward to having more specific courses.”
Although studying abroad is an experience returning students strongly recommend, it must be noted that schooling is quite different, wherever you go.
“I missed the school structure I’m familiar with and the professionalism held within the classes [at Concordia],” said Sarah Knight, a third-year marketing student at the John Molson School of Business, who studied in Paris for a semester. “Some courses were just long discussions that didn’t help us and encouraged participants to feel more comfortable than they should have.”
As a student in a Canadian university, I’ve always felt encouraged to pursue my dream in a field of work I am passionate about. In Europe, however, I felt like students were confined to studying political sciences, no matter their chosen degree.
“The school I attended was usually centered around political science,” said Pennimpede “It made some courses more intense than others, as I am a communications student.”
Regardless of the academic difficulties we might have faced during our semesters abroad, we can all affirm that moving out of our comfort zone for six months was one of the scariest, most gratifying experiences one can go through.
“[It’s] crazy to think how different my life was four months ago,” said Pennimpede. He has since settled back into his Montreal life, and is eternally grateful for the experience he lived. “Living abroad is life-changing; you really feel yourself grow.”
“By the time I was settled, I basically had to leave,” said Giaccone. “That’s just how exchange goes.”
“Overall my exchange was great,” said Knight. “I learned how to do everything on my own, which I had never done before.”
For my part, being back to Montreal has been a roller-coaster of emotions. One thing is certain, though: I will never forget this experience that has made me grow, not only as an individual but also as a journalist.
I hope that people who are even slightly considering studying abroad jump into this incredible journey with both feet, don’t doubt themselves, and are able to enjoy the most enriching experience of their lives.
For more information regarding the application procedure for a student exchange, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Laurence B.D. & Alex Hutchins