My semester abroad
By Cindy Wei • Schulich Leader at University of Waterloo
At a first-year university orientation event, I was amazed to hear that students could learn and live in a different country, and started counting down the terms until I’d finally be able to apply. When I started looking into exchange options during 2B, I planned to attend the University of Dundee to pursue a psychology minor. After much deliberation, however, I asked myself why I’d want to live in rainy Scotland (I’m a Vancouver girl - I’ve seen enough grey skies to last a lifetime) - when I could be soaking up sunlight in warm, beautiful Australia. I eventually decided on the University of Queensland in Brisbane, a city known for art, theatre, and markets. Thanks to Facebook memes and videos, I was kind of concerned about snakes and spiders (to reassure you guys: I didn’t encounter a single one!
Here are some of the highlights about my term so far:
1. I’m taking a biology course called Arthropods and Human Health, where we learn about mites, ticks, lice, fleas, and mosquitos that influence human health around the world. Every week, my new friends and I huddle around microscopes to identify different species. Last time, the lab instructor even let me feed the mosquito larvae.
2. I’ve been involved in aerial silks for almost two years, so I was thrilled and honoured to be able to train at C!RCA, home to internationally-renowned acrobats. The aerial community in Brisbane was helpful, inspiring, and welcoming, in spite of the blood, sweat, and rotator cuff tears that are almost inevitable for aerialists.
3. My friend and I spent one weekend in Byron Bay, a coastal beach town known for winding beaches, stunning lookouts, and atmospheric restaurants. Although our hot air ballooning trip was cancelled, we loved kayaking with dolphins, hiking, watching the waves, and chatting over chai lattes. I ate an incredible three-cheese mac and cheese skillet with garlic breadcrumbs and fresh crab - it’s probably worth coming to Australia for this dish alone.
Of course, I encountered a couple bumps along the way. My student visa (a twenty-six page application) was accepted on my third submission, which was stressful during my co-op term. When I got to Australia, the 16-hour jet lag, combined with a heat wave that reached 40 degrees (note: my house has no air conditioning), was dreadful. My mis-dated health insurance caused a bit of trouble when I met with a campus doctor. At times, I felt shy, lonely, and “different”. As for the language differences? Bugger, I reckon that’d be a different for ‘nother arvo you’re keen on that, mate!
Ultimately, I understand that exchange isn’t for everyone. But I found myself seeking an energizing, rewarding, once-in-a-lifetime way to spice up my academic career (and social media page!). Immersed in an entirely new environment, I discovered newfound knowledge and appreciation for a different culture, for the planet, and for my education.