Living abroad: Tips from a young Belizean QE scholar

Moving to somewhere new can be a challenge, especially when it is hundreds of miles away from home. Not knowing anyone or what to expect can be overwhelming, and quite frankly scary. However, this monumental transition from home does not have to be bad. The way you experience things can be altered, if you have an open mind. A sense of community and being open to new experiences, for example, are two perspectives that can help make the transition positive.

When I say community, I mean it in an unconventional manner and not simply your geographical location. Community is created through participation, the feeling of security and a sense of belonging. As social beings, we form different communities throughout our lifetimes. It is easy to feel lost and alone in a new environment, but being accepted and finding a place to which you can belong makes the transition a lot easier.

In Canada, community helps me get through both the challenges and the highlights of this experience. I identify myself as a part of the diverse community of international students at Vancouver Island University; the resilient community of Sustainable Leisure Managers; the brilliant community of Belizeans studying abroad; and the wonderful QES community … to name a few.  Having been a member of my local Rotaract club in Belize and being able to locate a Rotaract club in Nanaimo has also helped me develop another community in Canada, one which I was familiar with. While I have not forgotten the communities that helped to form me into the person I am today, I know that the new bonds I have built here in Canada are enabling me to achieve a new sense of self.

Living abroad, as with any new situation, requires being open to new experiences and a lot of adapting. One part of my experience was adapting to the cold weather in Canada. It was quite a shock to come from a tropical climate to a place where the temperature falls below freezing. Nonetheless, I embrace change as it is a part of the adaptation process. In my time here in Canada, I have seen snow, made a snowman, made snow angels, gone ice skating and skiing – things I could only dream of in Belize. Despite spending my first Christmas away from home, I also had the pleasure of experiencing my first white Christmas and it was absolutely breathtaking. While the food brought its own culture shock to my taste buds, I have tried Canadian dishes like poutine and I am determined to continue weaving an unforgettable journey of new Canadian experiences.

A part of fully experiencing new things involves removing biases we may have. Learning to set our biases aside was a key factor stressed within my research methods course and my social change course. We learned that unless we discover the communities we are studying from the individuals themselves, we impose our own moral code on those individuals. To fully appreciate anything for what it is, we must remove any biases for they often hamper the experience. Then we can fully immerse ourselves into the situation we are embarking on.

Embarking on new experiences is a very important part of life, as they give us the opportunity to encounter the unknown. By being a part of international organizations like Rotaract, you can find a sense of community anywhere you go. When you recognize that you are not the only one who is experiencing change and a foreign situation, you are able to feel less alone. Being open to endless possibilities allows you to embrace these new experiences in a whole new light. As a Belizean studying in Canada, embracing the greatness of the unknown, new possibilities and finding community is exactly what I am doing. Follow me in my journey!

- Yasel Acosta, VIU Masters of Sustainable Leisure Management Student & QE Scholar