The art of exchange: Why wait to travel?

In September 2012, Kenzi Green travelled to Norwich, United Kingdom, to do a semester abroad at the University of East Anglia (UEA). This is the third of three installments about her experiences with education, travel and culture on the other side of the pond.

 

When I made the decision to go on exchange, I set a goal. Not to achieve the same standard of grades I set for myself at home. Not to give it my all for my second-to-last semester ever. I vowed to travel as much as time and funds would allow.

In three months, I managed to get to five countries (including England) and 12 cities within those countries. And it’s not like this was hard to do. All you have to do is book a flight, pack a carry-on and hop on a plane, all for under C$150. Seriously: it’s that easy. Think of how much travelling you can accomplish in one semester, or two if you decide to go for the full year. From home, I would never be able to afford a weekend jaunt to Rome or Barcelona or Dublin. Nor could I catch a bus across the water to Amsterdam. From England, I did all these things and then some.

The first thing you should do when planning a trip abroad is download the Skyscanner app (or visit skyscanner.net if you don’t have a smartphone). You can search for flights to and from anywhere, and it compares various airlines and prices. All of my flights throughout Europe were with Ryanair, which was great, although that’s not the general consensus. It’s super low budget and the baggage restrictions are crazy, but it gets you where you want to go and fast.

Secondly, when travelling abroad, buddy up. On my first day at UEA, I met a girl who ended up being my travel buddy for the whole semester. Our flatmates were all British freshmen and weren’t as gung-ho to travel as we were, so she and I became instant friends.

Your exchange school will also have a society for international students, so get involved with it to meet others looking to travel. These clubs usually arrange weekend trips for exchange students, which will give you even more opportunities to meet new people. Go on the trips. The society takes care of all the details and, in my experience, gives you a smokin’ deal — we paid C$190 for a round-trip coach bus and two nights in Amsterdam. The International Student Society at UEA also planned day trips to nearby cities in England.

As for where to stay, hostels are the way to go. They vary in price depending on city and location (though they’re never that expensive), but if you’re cool with bunking up with strangers, they’ll be dirt-cheap. Try not to let the fear of getting stuck with weirdos freak you out. You’re bound to get the odd travelling jewellery maker who’s perfectly comfortable parading around in his boxer briefs, but by and large, everyone’s there for the same reason as you. Some hostels organize pub crawls every night for their guests, too, so everyone can meet and party together. I used hostelbookers.com for all trips and cross-referenced with tripadvisor.ca to check reviews.

Things will go wrong when you’re trekking around wherever it is you end up. Beware the iced coffee in Rome; booze isn’t the only thing that can give you a hangover. When sampling the goodies at Amsterdam’s “coffee shops,” don’t let your eyes be bigger than your lungs. But it’s all a part of the experience, so don’t miss out on anything. Rent bikes. Go to the Guinness factory. Drink sangria. Eat a space cake.

Most people I know say that their plan for after graduation is to travel abroad. I say, why wait? The opportunity to travel is so readily available to you right now, so take advantage of it. And enjoy it. Savour every second, because really, however long you’re gone — be it three, six, eight months or more — I can guarantee it will hurtle by, and before you know it, you’ll be home truly feeling like it was all a dream.

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