Hace un Año
It's so hard to believe, but it has been one year since the biggest adventure of my life began. February of last year was the first time I took in the warm spring sun of southern Spain, just a short while before my first day at the University of Huelva. I thank myself for writing a consistent journal during this time, being able to relive all of the strange interactions, new cultural experiences and amazing friendships that I made along the way. It almost seems like a dream, so far from the reality of life here in Nanaimo, even though it has only been 12 short months since it began, and an even shorter 5 since returning to the great white north. Nostalgia for that warm Spanish sun has been setting in during our last few snow-pocalyses, and with that I would like to share some semi-pro tips for your upcoming exchange or adventure.
1. Embrace the unknown:
Be prepared to face new challenges constantly, especially during the initial shock of settling into a new country. Culture shock may set in, especially if you have chosen a culture very different from that which you are used to. In Spain, the initial adjustment to the different Spanish accent from what I had studied made even going to the grocery store a challenge during the first weeks. Learning to laugh at your embarrassing moments or times when you have literally no idea what is going on around you, is a valuable skill that is useful even when you return home.
2. Pack light:
For the bag: Now, not everyone may agree with me on this one, but taking only your necessities can really help you feel free while living in a new place. This is a bit of a cliché that you may hear from travelling friends, but having fewer items to take with you really does make you feel more liberated - especially when you need to carry all of these things around in luggage or backpacks. I think this is because you have less to take care of, and so you can focus on experiences instead of things, but that is just my best guess. All I know, is that I found it to be true like many others do.
For your mind: You are about to plunge into a completely new world, and you may be carrying some stereotypes or preconceived ideas about where you are headed, the culture, or the people there. I like to think of these as mental attachments, and sometimes they hold true, but often they are little more than stereotypes. Spain is notorious for their siesta, the nap time during the middle of the day, which is stereotyped as lazy by many people. What I learned while there, was that this is actually due to the intense heat during the middle of the day there (up to 40 degrees). No one wants to work or shop during this time, so the tradition of closing during this time has stayed strong to this day, and has nothing to do with the lazy stereotype.
3. Stay grounded:
Keep in touch with friends and family back home. With all of this stimulation from an entirely new environment and people, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Staying in touch with your roots (friends and family) back home can be a great way to unwind and share your experiences as they happen. Other travellers or exchange students, which you will meet a lot of, are also great to confide in during the experience.
I hope these small tips may help out on your upcoming exchange or next adventure into the unknown. The VIU exchange program has by far been the highlight of my university career here, even causing me to change my major to international business because of my new love to learn about cultures. The outstanding support from the Education abroad office, awards and scholarships, and our partner institutions, facilitates an unbelievable once in a lifetime opportunity that I personally can’t recommend enough.
Keith Penner, 4th Year BBA student majoring in International Business.