It may seem like an obvious statement to make, but each and every person’s year abroad experience is entirely unique. You could be from the exact same place, be the exact same age and go to the exact same university as any given person, and yet your experience of this new country will be totally personal to you.
I am currently doing my year abroad at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been here for almost a month, and let me tell you: I LOVE it. I already feel extremely comfortable, settled and happy – strangely more so than I instantly felt when I moved to the University of Edinburgh. This isn’t to say my journey has been without bumps; at first I most definitely experiences elements of culture shock (no Pret a Manger here?!) and I experienced personal set-backs such as a chest infection which ended up in a brief trip to the hospital’s urgent care unit (all is good now!). However, I’ve found the process of moving, settling and just living so easy and familiar.
This was the case, until today.
I woke up this morning, on the 28th of September, miserable. I experienced a homesickness I had never felt before; a distinct, specific yearning for all things Scotland and all things home. Homesickness isn’t solely a longing for home, however; it’s a longing for those things familiar. Those things which you can fall into like a comfort blanket: routine, familiar faces, the smell of your own home.
If I’m honest, my craving for home came from something neither as romantic nor healthy as these parts of my life; the thing that flipped for me was chippy chips. Yes, chips from the fish and chip shop. To a Scot, the art of chippy chips cannot even be slightly closely replicated anywhere outside of Britain. It is a taste so familiar, so homely, that you cannot quite taste anything good enough anywhere other than home. This seemingly banal thing set off a train of sadness. I began to feel empty; I looked out of my bedroom window, which looks upon a pocket of gorgeous pine trees, and a view which typically brings me so much joy angered me. I just wanted to see Arthur’s Seat instead! With a portion of chips in my hand!
Wreck Beach, which is a short walk from campus.
To remedy this, I decided to FaceTime my mum. She was in my family home, having a cup of tea in front of the telly, and this image didn’t help either. The things I’d DO for a cup of tea with her! As comforting as seeing her face and hearing her voice was, I couldn’t help but feel a strange envy towards her. Here I was, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, where I felt so happy and content, feeling jealous of my own mother residing in my often claustrophobic-feeling hometown.
Then, my friends FaceTimed me. To see all of their smiling, loving faces was a feeling that I had missed to dearly: my best friends, making me laugh and laughing with me. Again, though, I couldn’t help but feel envious of them; my life in Edinburgh is incredible, and there they were living theirs without me, happy as ever. This was an unfair and irrational thought to have, as of course they were going to, and I had chosen to move here for the year. But due to the train of thought my brain had decided to embark upon on this fine day, I was thinking as such.
I had two routes which I could take: lie in bed, wallow in my own self-pity, staring at my phone all day and watching the hours of screen-time increase and increase until my eyes turned square. Or, I could shake myself out of this rut I was digging myself into, and do something with the hours of day left. The former was indeed the most appealing – I am often my own worst enemy and Instagram facilitates this – but the latter was what I knew I had to do to snap out of it.
I showered, got dressed and jumped on the bus, without a plan or idea of where to do. I decided to get off in Kitislano, the ‘trendy’ area of Vancouver, with thrift stores and coffee shops galore. The sun was shining and the gorgeous leafy street lay in front of me, and off I went.
I stumbled upon a beautiful looking shop, selling vintage items and posters. I went in, and was taken aback. In I found a pile of delicate vintage postcards to and from loved ones, anonymous names whom I obviously did not know. The ways in which people wrote about Vancouver as a city reinforced the reasons I had grown to love it so much: the friendliness; the mountains framing the backdrop of the city skyline; the autumnal trees and abundance of wildlife. I browsed around the store more, and came across an incredible poster of a map of Vancouver from the 1950’s for ONE DOLLAR. These things which seem material on the surface in fact held so much meaning within themselves as documents of lives within this beautiful city. The uniqueness of these objects thus reminded me of the uniqueness of my own year spent living here; I had to do what I could to make the most of it, and make each day actually mean something, as sooner than I’d think this year would be over, and I would indeed be home.
So, I suppose the message to take from this is this: stop torturing yourself wondering ‘what if I’d stayed?’ and get out there and remember WHY you chose not to. The spontaneity of my day in the city was what made finding these items so significant; I could have chosen to sit and feel like rubbish, but I instead went out of my comfort zone and realised the beauty and wonderfulness of the city I am living in. Like I said, this feeling will be unique to you, so it’s important not to compare your experience to other peoples whether they are away or not. But, find that feeling, and explore. I may not have chippy chips, but they’ll always be there: I, on the other hand, won’t always be here in Vancouver. I think it’ll be poutine for dinner tonight instead!
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