When I think back to my time on exchange, all I do is smile. I can talk for ages about being on exchange, so I will limit myself in this post. I learned a great deal about myself and about people and cultures in general. Here are a few tips I hope can help you with your time in Toronto
1 – Journal: This may be obvious to some but your time on exchange goes by quickly, and being able to go back and read your thoughts from that time
and remind yourself about all the wonderful things you did and people you met is really heartwarming. Keeping a journal also reminds you of everything you learnt during your time away. If you don’t write, take photos. Although when I was on exchange, I did my best to right as much as I could; having photos is also an amazing way to remember everything you experienced.
2 – Keep track of finances: Sounds basic, but this tip is really important. When you are about to buy something, think about how you’ll take it back home, and how much it will deplete your bank account. It’s difficult to keep track sometimes, but as long as you keep a general idea in mind of your expenses, and budget your trips, there shouldn’t be too many problems.
Side note – If this is an option, talk to your parents and let them know you may need financial help while you’re in Canada. This way it’s not a big surprise when you tell them you do need help.
3 – Solo trip: This may seem intimidating at first. But I can’t emphasize how much confidence you gain from doing a solo trip. Doing this pushes your limits; it’s easy having at least one person to travel with, but when you’re on your own, you will inevitably meet people. If you’re staying in a hostel, there is absolutely no doubt that you will meet other solo travelers. You get to have complete control of your own experience and really put yourself out there. It’s a fantastic way to learn about who you are.
4 – Get involved with the locals: It’s easy to only hang out with the exchange students considering you’re all going through a similar experience. But I wish I had been more involved with the school clubs or local organizations because this is how you really got to know the culture and the people. There are many organizations at Schulich, but there are also many to get involved with at York (organizations in nearly everything). Just look at the clubs that are available and attend a few of their general member meetings. You’ll meet a lot of people and get great experiences out of it.
5 – Don’t worry about the gym: Please understand that I do think your health is very important. That being said, you’re not in Toronto for a very long time. Although fitness is important, I would not prioritize it over going out with friends, or deciding not to eat a certain dish. Maybe join a sports team, and maybe going to the gym is a good way to meet people, but I would not prioritize being worried about my calorie intake over immersing yourself in a culture.
6 – Don’t say no too much: Being on exchange for me was the epitome of “yolo”. I was not going to be in that country for a long time, I would likely not see many of the people I met for a while, and I might not experience the same things until I go back to my exchange country. Prioritize your experiences over the fear of the unknown. School is important, but the experience is also part of your education. Be responsible, but also maximize on the experiences you might not have again.
7 – Expand your circle of friends: it’s easy to stick with people from your country, but make an effort to become close with other students. On my exchange,
there were many people from Canada. I was glad to meet other Canadians, but I was also in a different country to meet people outside of my culture. So although I did spend a lot of time with Canadians, I also made an effort
to become friends with people from Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Norway, France, and Portugal… I met amazing people that I still keep in touch with. As I became friends with other exchange students, I also learned a great deal about their countries and cultures. I might not have been able to go everywhere, but at least I learned a about different places. Canada may not be as eclectic in terms of its collection of cultures; it does contain small cultural differences throughout the country. It’s only by meeting people from these different areas will you learn about these cultural innuendos.