“I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
The sun was shining brightly on the horizon as I walked towards the LRC at North Campus. As I normally work at Lakeshore, I was quite unfamiliar with the campus. I arrived (miraculously) 20 minutes before the interview was set to start. After grabbing some Starbucks, I prepared for Maegan’s arrival. I set myself up at a small table just off to the side in the LRC.
Five minutes later, she arrived with a bright smile.
Maegan began explaining she was aware of the University of Guelph-Humber Study Abroad experience for quite some time. “They sent out an email a few years ago saying they were beginning to offer a semester abroad. I thought that was pretty cool so I looked into it through that.”
Maegan is a fourth-year University of Guelph-Humber student specializing in Public Relations in the Media Studies program. She left for Ireland in January of 2019 and returned back to Canada in May.
Despite having the opportunities to explore new places like China and Brazil, she opted to study in Ireland. “My family is from Ireland so I thought it would be pretty cool to have the chance to maybe see them again.” Maegan was also concerned about a possible language barrier if she decided to study in a non-English-speaking country.
While this wasn’t her first time travelling to Europe, she hadn’t been across the Atlantic in several years. “I had actually been to Ireland before, a long time ago when I was little. I’ve been to a few places, like down south. But this was my first time being there for that length of time.”
Settling in was certainly a challenge for her, although she had some help. “My parents flew there with me, made sure I got there okay but they didn’t stay very long. After that, they went off and did their own little trip, which was fine.”
Trepidation followed her for a few days, after which she got her bearings and began to meet fellow students. She confessed making friends was easier than she was expecting despite the size of the school. “It was really scary at first because it was a huge university. It was really different than what I was used to here [at UofGH] where it’s really small. But I got to know some people pretty quickly, and [being there] become very exciting after that.”
Funny enough, I had been in England earlier this year. Maegan and I recalled the challenges of understanding common phrases and Irish colloquialisms. From things as simple as ordering a coffee or commenting on the weather, the British and Irish have their own unique way of speaking.
The Irish countryside wasn’t the only thing that was different for Maegan. She had never been so far away from her family for that long before. She found herself struggling with homesickness during her time. “For the 4 months, my boyfriend was still at home and so were my parents. It was such a long time and no one really came to visit me or anything. I tried to FaceTime them a lot and just put myself out there to meet all the new people at the university.”
Despite her best efforts, a few Canadian creature comforts were missing for Maegan during her time abroad. “They didn’t really have peanut butter there or Kraft Dinner,” she laughed. “And they didn’t really drink black coffee, it was all just expensive lattes and stuff. It was little things like that which really messed with me at first. Like how do people live?“
Putting her initial struggles behind her, she began to settle in and find her groove. Thanks to the size of the International Students Center at Ulster University in Belfast, she quickly felt at home. “They had lots of events and stuff just for us international students to get to know each other. There were a lot of weekend trips where the bus, the admission and everything were all included through the international department. I was able to make friends from all over the world. Everyone was super nice!”
When asked to pick a favourite thing about the Study Abroad experience, Maegan paused, having trouble choosing one specific event. Eventually, she decided on travelling. “I did a weekend trip to Scotland with some of my friends. I also did a weekend trip to Paris and two weeks all around Europe. I also got to travel around the entire island [of Ireland], which was really awesome. I think it was all those little extra travel experiences that I did that really made the experience. I mean yes, it was scary and I really had to push myself to go on those, but it was worth it.”
While the Study Abroad experience helped her see more of the world, most of all it helped with her personal growth. “I’m a very shy person and have struggled with confidence in my entire life. That trip really forced me out of my comfort zone, in all sorts of ways. And I think that I grew as a person. When I left home, I was searching for a direction, what I wanted to do with my life. But over there, I realized that I’m capable of so much more than I ever thought.”
As our chat came to a close, I asked Maegan if she would recommend the program to others who are thinking about the experience. She praised the program. “Honestly, if you get the chance to go away somewhere, like anywhere, just do it, it’s totally worth it. I came home broke and my classes were all messed up but it was totally worth it. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
To find out more about the Study Abroad program with UofGH please visit the Study Abroad website for more details. Humber students can also learn about their program by visiting the Semester Abroad website.
Leaving home for the first time can be really scary. Be sure to check out 7 helpful resources for international students!