Winter term has begun and every morning we wake up to frost-coated windowpanes and the quiet tranquility of a city buried in snow. Unfortunately the tranquility only lasts while inside our cozy, heated apartment. Each morning we bundle ourselves in coats and scarves and earmuffs and boots, the end result being waddling, shapeless, Pillsbury Doughboy blobs struggling against the harsh winter wind on the way to class.
Fortunately, the temperature hovers around a trifling -10 degrees Celsius (a welcome break from the brutal -30 degree days of the last two winters). The last few weeks have been a blur of hard decisions and application submissions, both of us determined to make 2016 our year. Come September, we will set off for different schools, different countries, different lives.
This term feels significant, the last term of comfort and familiarity, as April will bring with it a whirlwind of changes, and what feels like the next segment of my life. Until then I’m prepared to savor the familiar routines, knowing that come summer, the everyday patterns I’ve known for three years will be a thing of the past. Going on exchange next semester seemed to fall into place; what used to seem like an impossible option now seems like a logical next step. Now that all the difficult choices have been made and the decision is out of my hands, it seems so obvious- this was what was meant to happen.
Last term I was pursuing a major that blocked me from studying abroad for a semester, and so I convinced myself I didn’t even want to. You’re happy here, I told myself. You’re comfortable, you’ve made friends. Why would you risk going somewhere new, and starting a whole new life? Or sometimes I prided myself in my logic: You have your entire life to travel. Why spend so much money just to take the same classes in a different country?
And so, as friend after friend left for Paris, Brussels, Amman, Sydney, or some other glamorous and exciting city, I prepared myself for another year in the same place, reassuring myself I was being practical and responsible. Classes began, and I loathed them. I was taking courses I didn’t care about for the 5th semester in a row- at this point in my degree shouldn’t I be enjoying my classes? One class in particular was absolute torture. I left each lecture shivering, figures and equations that meant absolutely nothing to me swimming around my brain. I spent each class feverishly scribbling down nonsensical notes, frantically trying to decipher complex multivariable calculus diagrams, despite never having taken a basic calculus class. The class would haunt me; I woke up a rigid ball of dread, I went to sleep trying to calculate how my certainly terrible mark in this course was going to affect my GPA. I can look back now and roll my eyes at my utterly ridiculous overreaction, but at the time it felt absolutely awful. It took me a month and a half to realize the obvious solution: DROP the course!!!
The class was making me miserable, and as a full year course I would have to stick with it until April. That was eight whole months of my life I was sacrificing to crippling anxiety! And even better: dropping the course and switching my major would allow me to apply for an exchange. I had spent the last year convincing myself that studying abroad wasn’t right for me, but once the opportunity became available I realized it was something I both desperately wanted and needed.
And so, a few days ago, I submitted my application. Being the terribly indecisive over-thinker that I am, I had huge trouble ranking my choices. After a few nights of angsty moaning to my ever-patient boyfriend, I realized I was struggling with reconciling where I wanted to go with where I believed I wanted to go. Odd as it may sound, it was a very real struggle – I had always dreamed of going to University College London, a wonderful university in the heart of the British capital. Europe seemed like the logical place to study, and living in London would mean weekend trips to Paris, cheap flights to Rome, a train ride to Brussels. Caught up in a sort of romantic nostalgia (which may have been inspired by Midnight in Paris), I focused only on Western Europe, and completely disregarded the rest of the world.
This was a mistake, obviously, because the rest of the world is just as exciting, just as beautiful, and just as valid a place to go to school. I realized this over Winter Break- I was discussing my exchange options with my parents, and (being much more worldly and knowledgeable than I am) my dad half-jokingly pronounced my European choices “Boooooringggggggg.”
Indignant, I told myself Western Europe was not boring. But still, mostly to appease my dad, I looked at the choices available in Asia (since Oceania and Africa unfortunately didn’t work with my schedule). My mom mentioned offhand that one of her best friends lives in Macau, and if I were to choose a school nearby I would always have a place to stay or a phone number to call. With this is mind, I clicked on the University of Hong Kong. After a few weeks of research (including many travel videos of the region) I had fallen in love.
The landscapes, the people, the food, the energy – everything about Hong Kong points to an amazing four months. I realized that I had always fantasized about the beauty of Southeast Asia, obsessively stalking Instagram photos of the Philippines or Malaysia, and spending a semester in Hong Kong would enable travel to these places. And the warmth! After living in Canada my entire life, I can only drool at the thought of living in a perpetually warm country.
Kelly and I (completely unintentionally) ended up with the same first choice of schools, but we could not be more psyched about it. There is no guarantee that both of us are nominated there (it’s a random lottery), and honestly we’ll be happy wherever we end up.
Whether its Hong Kong or London or Lyon or Addis Ababa, this year will be a great one.