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An ode to international exchanges

by Dominique Daoust March 25, 2014
An ode to international exchanges

How travel and school make for the best combination

I found it weird that I didn’t freak out when I said my goodbyes. I’ve never lived away from home, but here I was, about to embark on an international exchange to Sydney, Australia. As calm as ever, I told my parents and my sister that I love them, and that I’d be back in six months.

I think it’s all the paperwork and extensive planning that got to me.

Photo by writer

Even as I was waiting for the shuttle at Sydney Airport it didn’t feel real yet. Those first few days were a blur. Getting settled in, meeting my roommates, figuring out how public transit works in a new country.  Even doing groceries felt like an episode of Survivor, trying to figure out where the damn ketchup was in the grocery store

Living on campus made me feel like I was finally experiencing university the traditional way.  Only living five minutes away from class was definitely a bonus, but I knew that there’d only be a certain level of learning in my journalism tutorials. The rest would be acquired out in the real world, where spiders are the size of my hand. Aussies are definitely the nicest people on Earth, although their knowledge about Canada isn’t always spot on.

Luckily, I was blessed with amazing roommates from the U.K., the States and other parts of Australia. I consider myself a shy person, so interacting with new people, the ones you share a fridge with no less, took some getting used to. I was initially concerned that I’d be paired up with some crazies but before long my guard was down and we were all laughing at Friends reruns.

Those relationships ended up being the core of my exchange because these were the people I travelled and shared adventures with. We took advantage of every spare moment we had to see something new. I clearly remember the first time we saw the Sydney Opera House, and how we had to pinch ourselves to believe our luck. I recall going to the famous Bondi Beach, thinking I’ll try surfing, but then being bitch-slapped by a wave within two seconds and quickly reconsidering that idea.

The whole city exuded a laid-back attitude that I wanted to emulate.  My theory is that they don’t have a proper winter to dampen their mood (Australians might as well remove the word “winter” entirely from their calendars; come to Montreal in January, then you’ll know winter).

Not only does the city have a bunch to offer, but the mountains and nature aren’t that far away. The view from the Blue Mountains is breathtaking. And the trek up there will make you realize that yes; you are out of shape and should probably stop eating all those Tim Tams.

What I realized early on is that it’s alright to embrace your inner tourist.  Ask questions, get lost, that’s what makes every moment worthwhile. Also, there is never enough gushing over kangaroos. Every Aussie within hearing range will realize you’re a foreigner, but dammit, kangaroos are amazing creatures and would be awesome pets (already planning on naming mine Chandler, no shame)!

Another important life lesson is knowing that travelling brings out the best and worst in others and in yourself.  You will see the extent of how little they appreciate the presence of bugs and birds in their vicinity. You will also see how they react in near-death experiences (there’s nothing like your plane being struck by lightning to make you mistakenly think the engine has blown up and you’re going down). I’ve never felt so badass as when I snorkelled in the Great Barrier Reef or when I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and did a little dance with my friends once we reached the top. And I never thought that seeing a dolphin up close while whale watching would overwhelm me to the point of babbling incomprehensibly.

If I had known beforehand that I would become so emotionally attached to my newfound friends and this country, I would have prepared myself with better coping mechanisms. Everyone’s exchange experience is unique, and that made leaving that much harder. I was that person you see at the airport, crying uncontrollably and hugging people for way too long.  It was on the 20-hour flight back to Canada that I realized why I hadn’t cried when I left my family. On some level, I knew that these would be the best months of my life and that I would make lifelong friendships that I would never take for granted.

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