The Growing Pains Part of a Semester Abroad

Isabella in London
Author: Isabella Ranallo

During the first week of my exchange semester at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, everything went wrong.

I’d bought induction pots and pans for my dorm’s non-induction stovetop. My UK SIM card wasn’t working in my phone. My UK bank had sent my new debit card to a branch that had permanently closed two months ago. The so-called “fitted” sheets provided by the university did not, in fact, fit my mattress. It felt like every little thing that could go wrong did. On top of that, I was living with ten strangers in my dorm house and four days before the semester started, I still didn’t know what classes I was enrolled in.

I was overwhelmed. Even as I registered for classes at Hertfordshire, I was thinking about booking a plane back to Canada. As I left the registration line, I really thought that was it. I thought I had made up my mind to give up and go back to Canada – that week.

I hadn’t eaten in a few hours, so being a responsible adult-in-training, I bought a sausage roll, a true English delicacy consisting of a sausage within a pastry. I sat in the middle of campus and began to miserably munch away at said sausage roll. There was nothing I wanted more than to call my mum, but it was 2AM in Canada: she’d be asleep. So were all my friends. There was something both liberating and lonely living eight hours ahead of everyone you loved.

So instead I messaged Eureka, a fellow VIU classmate also on exchange at Hertfordshire. Because of that, I stayed in the UK. I truly believe if I had not messaged Eureka in that moment, I would have flown back to Canada that week. But she said the exact right things to make me stay, and I’m so glad I did.

A few days later, Eureka and I took a 27 minute train ride into London. As we stood in Trafalgar Square outside the National Portrait Gallery and oohed and aahed at the views of Big Ben off in the distance, I could not believe how close I lived to such an amazing place. That night, as I climbed in my bed – which I had somehow convinced my sheets to fit on – I was in awe that I could go to London in the day, and sleep in my own bed the very same night. That was an adventure worth having.

The first few days on a semester abroad, you are literally the only person in the country who cares if you live or die. However, in a strange way, it builds confidence. I look back on those first few days (or I’ll admit: weeks) as growing pains. There are a million tiny difficult adjustments when living in a different country, especially in the beginning. You don’t think about these hard moments during your pre-departure fantasies of overdosing in international culture, but it is so worth toughing them out. Today, I wouldn’t trade my exchange experience for anything, but I would gently advise any future international students to give themselves a lot of grace in those first few weeks. It can take a while for it to be worth it, but it will be.

Isabella Ranallo 

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