Life Abroad; Paige in England

Travel; something everyone is dying to get out and do, but we all make 1,000 excuses of why we specifically can't go anywhere. Travel is not just for an elite, untouchable bunch. It's for you, and it's for me. It's for anyone with the passion and drive to JUST GO!

I'm going to introduce you to a number of ladies in this series, not so different from you and I, who took the leap and are living out the most amazing lives abroad.

They aren't just dreaming it, they made it happen, and we hope to show you that you can too!

Life Abroad; Paige In England

  • Yes, that's right, this is an interview with myself. While I've mentioned a few times that I went on exchange to England in passing, I haven't really told y'all about it in a full post. I honestly didn't really know how to go about approaching it. So as I'm doing interviews with other ladies about their time abroad, I figured, why not tell my story too... I definitely have some thoughts on the topic, so here it is!

Where were you located?
I was on exchange in Stoke-On-Trent in the U.K. It's a small town in the midlands of England,.
When I was choosing schools for exchange, I was a little hesitant to go to a big city, but I absolutely wanted to go to England; I've had a fascination with the country since I was a young.

Leaving the comfort of home is hard! What was it that really made you take the leap into going abroad?
Oh there's actually a little story here... I had been skyping with my sister one day while at university in Canada. I mentioned that I was thinking about going on exchange and had looked into it a bit.

Her response was "GO! It's the one thing I regret most from my time at university, that I didn't go. Everyone who went had the most amazing time, and once you're at the same school, in the same place, with the same people for 4 years, you get bored of it."

I took my sisters words to heart and started on the process of applying for exchange. I figured if I got accepted, I'd go. I did, and off I went.

What were the days like leading up to leaving? Any small panic attacks, or were you just excited to go?
Yep, it was all excitement up until the day before I was supposed to leave. I was a mess of tears the day before I left and started full out crying on my front porch wondering what I had gotten myself into. It didn't take long once I was on British soil to know that it was absolutely the right choice.

I want to hear more about the U.K! What are those cant-miss locations, and most authentic experiences?

I wanted to do the tour of Buckingham Palace while it was open for the summer (because I love keeping up with the royal family), but I didn't know what weekend I would go, so I didn't pre-book a ticket.

A new friend and I made a quick decision to hop on a train to London and go see the palace. It was the very last day the summer tour was open and we were paranoid we wouldn't get a ticket. We woke up at some ungodly early hour, called a cab, and asked "to go to Buckingham Palace please."

It was fantastic! You get to see where the room Will & Kate took their wedding photos, some royal jewels, have tea in the Queens back garden, and lots more!

For a hotel/hostel in London I can't recommend the Meininger enough! Also, if you're a Harry Potter fan, the Studio Tour is a must-see!

In terms of getting an authentic experience, I think the most important thing to do is to make friends with locals. When people go on exchange they tend to stick to the internationals to make friends with, but to really experience a place, you need to know the locals.

I joined the field hockey team and that made all the difference. The hockey girls took me out for bonfire night, we chanted the British drinking songs, and traveled around to other universities to play matches.

Did you travel to other parts of Europe? What were some highlights?

Oh yes! I have to admit, I was on weekend trips constantly.

I got to Edinburgh, Dundee & the highlands in Scotland, Dublin in Ireland, Val Thorens in France, Amsterdam in Holland, Cardiff in Wales, Manchester, and London on a few occasions.

My favourite week was without a doubt my ski trip to Val Thorens. The parties are insane, and the powder on the hill is a ski bunny's dream come true. My Swedish friend and I signed up for the school ski trip, knew no one else, but made a tun of friends, and had the greatest time!

I actually spent Christmas day in Amsterdam. I figured nothing would be open to see, but it turns out the Anne Frank house was. It was an amazing, and also an extremely sobering experience. Slightly odd activity for Christmas day, not your normal jolly Christmas activity, but it was unforgettable none the less. It's a must-see in Amsterdam.

Also, Amsterdam is known for their beautiful canals, and Festival of Lights tours from boats. They're really quite beautiful, and worth checking out.

On my trip to Scotland I stayed with a friend, and so I got the proper Scottish experience. I was in Edinburgh, Dundee and then some random cottage on a loch in the highlands.

The landscape in Scotland is just so beautiful. They should have a colour called Scottish green, because the grass and plants are so vibrant. You might think that sounds odd now, but just wait till you go to Scotland. You'll understand what I'm talking about.

How would you describe the people of England? How are they different from people at home?
The Britts are a wonderful bunch. They're not at all the stuffy-royal type you might think of. They have a great sense of humour; they kind of have to living in such a grey, wet place all the time.

The drinking culture in British universities is quite crazy, especially on the sports teams. It's a good time for a semester, I don't know if I could manage it for the time of a full degree though!

They British stereotype of the constant tea drinking is spot on, and lastly, the Britts are some of the most genuinely lovely, kind people you could ever hope to meet. I made such great British friends; I miss them all!

I think travel is something everyone wants to do more, but finds a million reasons they cant go. Do you have any wise, experienced words for that bunch?

I have TOO many words, I almost don't know where to start.

There's people in this world that talk a big game, have lofty plans and never follow through, then made up a million excuses why they couldn't follow their dream, and it honestly drives me up the wall, (sorry, must vent!).

Break up with your boyfriend, (or not if he's supportive of you going - you got a good one there!), make a budget (or just wing it), buy a plane ticket (mandatory) and leave (also mandatory). You wont ever look back on your old life the same way again.

Once you start, you get into this cycle, and are constantly finding new and inventive ways to live and travel (prime example, I'm writing this as an international grad student in the South right now).

Okay, in terms of concrete advice. A major reason people don't go on exchange is because they assume they can't afford it, but I don't think many people actually know the cost - otherwise they would all be going! It varies for each school, but I'll give you an idea of what my costs looked like. When I went on exchange, it was only marginally more expensive than a regular semester at school.

  • Rent: By not signing a full year lease at my school in Canada, I saved the cost of 4 months summer rent for $2,000. I paid rent for first semester in England (as I would have done in Canada), and just got a 4 month lease when I was back in Canada for second semester.
  • Scholarships: My school provided a $500 scholarship to anyone who went abroad, and going abroad opened me up to apply for another scholarship which I got for $700.

(So after those 3 bits of income/savings, I was actually up $3,200 by choosing to go on exchange.)

  • Saving: With something I was really looking forward to in mind, saving little bits more than I normally would at my summer job was exciting, not a pain. I would literally think "I could buy this new shirt - or I could go spend a weekend in Dublin!". It makes decisions pretty easy.
  • Tuition: I paid tuition to my school in Canada, which I would have paid anyways (and a British student paid tuition to the school in England and we quite literally exchanged).
  • Food: Would have had to pay for that in Canada anyways.
  • Visa: Didn't need one, so I didn't have to pay for one.
  • Travel: The cost that I wouldn't have had in Canada was my weekend travel. However, in Europe you can go see a new city on a weekend for very little. I became a hostel lover, and took a few RyanAir flights. My number 1 money saving trip while traveling though? Make friends! I stayed for free with friends in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.
  • Flight: Oh, and of course the flight. That was easily covered by the $3,200 + extra summer savings I had though.

Going on exchange for a semester: Priceless

Something else I think is a barrier to people going on exchange is friends.

People are afraid to go alone, and loose all their friends for the time they're away. Believe me, your friends are going to be doing the EXACT same thing they were when you left, so don't worry about that. Yeah you're going to miss a birthday and event or two, but you get a reason to throw both a going away and a coming home party if you want. It equals out. Plus, your friends are going to get a year older next year too, you can just get them twice as drunk then.

Also, making friends on exchange is SO easy. Every schools international office (that I've heard of - and that's a lot of them) plans events for the international students to meet. I met the my Swedish friends that I was closest with on the first night at the International Ball. Every one of us showed up to England without knowing a single person - so everyone is super friendly.

And I should also mention that to locals, your attractiveness, and level of interest to them shoots through the roof with an accent. Everyone wants to be your friend, and you'll be the life of the party for a semester. Enjoy.

They will also tell you any remote connection they have to your country. "Oh, you're from Canada eh?! *kills themselves laughing at using 'eh'* My cousins, roommates, tennis partner went to Whistler once. Is that near you?"

Lastly, any tips you have regarding studying abroad, or getting up and taking the first step towards your travel dreams?

Stop making excuses, move mountains and go.

If that sounded rant-y, Im sorry. But honestly all it takes is making the decision that you're going to do it, and the rest falls into place. Your time spent traveling will change you for a better person, and so many amazing opportunities and friends will come from it. If you really want it, I absolutely believe in you that you can make it happen.

First step: Google your schools exchange program/study abroad office... Actually... Now... Are you typing in Google yet?!

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