General

The Exchange Time Warp

I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks, and it’s the first year where I feel like my age makes me sound like an adult. But I’m having trouble wrapping my head around my new age, because since I’ve been on exchange, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I’m back in first year.

There’s something about an exchange that totally warps time. Maybe it’s the feeling of walking around a new campus lost and confused, or spending time in grungy residence buildings again. Or maybe it’s discovering new things all the time, from favourite study spots to fun clubs. Whatever it is, it’s kind of cool being able to feel like a wide-eyed 18 year old first year again.

Don’t get me wrong, you mature a lot when you go on exchange. But at the same time, you get to recapture the great feelings of newness and excitement that you might have lost over the less-than-enchanting later years of undergrad.

So I thought I would try to figure out where that magical excitement was coming from to give any future exchange participants out there a preview of the good stuff to come (and to maybe the rest of you recapture some of the magic, even as you trek through four years at U of T). I came up with four things that I think are keeping my excitement levels up this year and taking me back to those beautiful, optimistic first years of undergrad…

  1. Joining new clubs. Cast your mind back to first year – remember the club fair that you went to and signed up for every club you came across (or was that just me?). After first year, you probably skipped the clubs fair every fall. But on exchange you will probably find yourself at a clubs fair again, and just like in first year, you’ll find yourself signing up for every club you see. Full disclosure, you will probably ignore most of the event invitations from all those Facebook groups you joined. But there will definitely be a few clubs that you actually go to, and you’ll meet new friends, have a great time, and do the second thing on my list…
My haul from this Fall's club fair.

My haul from this Fall’s club fair.

  1. Discovering new activities. One of the clubs I signed up for this fall was the University of Edinburgh Hillwalking Club, which sounded a bit exotic to me, but is really just a very British way of saying a hiking club. I’ve never been a huge outdoor activity enthusiast, but joining this club and hiking in Scotland really got me excited about it. I hadn’t really found any new activities that I loved doing for years, and this was definitely one of the things that revived all of my enthusiasm for university life when I came on exchange.
A picture from a recent "hillwalk", one of my favourite new activities.

A picture from a recent “hillwalk”, one of my favourite new activities.

  1. Making new friends. If your first year was like mine, it was basically a year of becoming friends (or trying to become friends) with everyone and anyone you met. You didn’t really know anybody, so everyone was a potential best friend. After that year of friend-making extravaganza, though, friendships start to solidify and you don’t really need to befriend everyone you meet. That all changes when you go on exchange. Chances are you really don’t know anybody, and you’re back to square one on the friend front. And back to trying to make friends everywhere you go, which is inevitably exciting (and maybe a little scary at times)!
  1. Messing things up. This one sounds pretty unpleasant and un-exciting, but hear me out. You will definitely mess things up when you go on exchange. The rules are different, the expectations are different, the school assignments are different. There are lots of opportunities for mistakes. But that can actually turn out to be really exciting and sort of fun. It makes you realize you don’t have it all figured out, which is scary, but also energizing. And it definitely makes you pay attention again, after coasting through undergrad for so long.

So there you have it! My guide to all the exciting, time warping, semi-disorienting aspects of life on exchange.