From the minute I started at Dal, I was determined to study abroad in my third year. A combination of my love for traveling and the Instagram pictures I had seen of a family friend’s exchange had this little first year student planning all the countries she would visit… about two and a half years in advance. You can ask anyone, I talked about my plans to study abroad nonstop. Fast forward to winter 2018 and here I am writing this from my dorm room in Lille, France. While I might have started preparations earlier than most, I can confirm the built-up excitement was definitely worth the reward.
Participating in a university exchange is no easy feat; there are course plans to make, visas to obtain, flights and accommodations to book and the general anxiety of moving to another country and continent by yourself for an extended period of time. The words “I don’t want to go anymore” definitely left my mouth in the 48 hours leading up to my departure (all nerves, of course) but, I am sure glad I didn’t listen. All the preparations, research and planning I had done to make this work were worth it when I stepped off the plane in France. Sure, I got yelled at in French within the first five minutes of arriving but, that meant I was here and made me feel so proud that I was actually able to pull this off.
I chose the city of Lille and SKEMA University based on the priorities I had going into this exchange:
- Travel- I knew I wanted to be somewhere that allowed me to travel to as many countries as possible. Europe was a natural choice for that so I looked for a city that was close to as many larger cities and travel hubs as possible. With Lille being a short distance from Brussels, London and Paris, it was an obvious first choice.
- Language- Practicing the French I like to say I’m fluent in was important to me and what better place to do that than, well, France. Luckily (I guess), the French would rather not speak to you at all than speak in English so my days are filled with many chances to practice.
- Semester Similarity- While we all know European semesters can be very different, I wanted to choose a school that matched up with Dalhousie semesters as close as possible so that I could still graduate on time (it is definitely possible).
- Unique Courses- After all these requirements were satisfied, I wanted to choose a school that offered courses I would not get a chance otherwise to take. Who knew LEGO could be a university course??
Two months into this exchange, the feeling of pride in what I have accomplished has only grown. From large triumphs like coordinating weekly travel itineraries or adjusting to an irregular class schedule to the small victories such as, navigating the complicated Polish transit system, successfully reading the labels at the grocery store or having a full conversation in French with my Uber driver, each day I am tested with something new. While there have been lots of challenges that can be associated with moving to any foreign country, the payoff of being immersed in a new culture (happily embracing a strict diet of croissants and cheese) and the chance to visit nine different countries so far, have made it more than worth it.
No amount of preparation, even my crazy two years of planning, could have prepared me for this experience but, I wouldn’t have it any other way. With under two months left, I can already say I am dreading saying goodbye to my new home and this beautiful country. Here’s hoping I don’t “accidentally” miss my flight home!
Olivia Fitzpatrick, Third Year BComm Student
Me, after a long hike up to the view overlooking the city of Lisbon, Portugal.