If you had told me at the beginning of my university career I’d be going on a student exchange to the Netherlands, I simply would not have believed you. Born in Yellowknife and raised in Ireland, I decided to move back to Canada to study journalism at Carleton University. Hopping on a plane at age 18 to start school in Ottawa, having never been to the city before, I already kind of felt like a long-term exchange student.
But fate must have had something else in mind for me. In this case, fate was kick-started by Karl, an Australian exchange student. Hearing the Melbourne native pipe up with a question in my third-year television class must have had my subconscious working overtime. Three weeks later, in the journalism office taking care of one routine question, I stopped before leaving and asked another: “By the way, does Carleton have exchange programs for journalism students?”
The answer was a ringing “Yes” followed by “Utrecht University (in the Netherlands) has a research, reporting and travel course.” I don’t quite remember the rest because I had everything I needed right there. Of course, the opportunity had been there all along; I just hadn’t been paying attention.
Zip forward 12 months and I have completed all of the application processes, forwarded my grades, reference letters and heartfelt appeals to let me study abroad, and I am set to leave for Utrecht.
Since I hadn’t been looking to go on an exchange from the start, I was left with a dilemma. I could go in my fourth year, but I would have to come back to Carleton for an extra year to complete my studies. Going on exchange means a delayed graduation—do not pass Go, do not collect $200 (or in this case, your degree). The temptation to race to that four-year finish line was almost too much to resist.
Then, at some point in the decision-making process, it struck me that the chance to live in a foreign country, study and travel with other international students is a rare opportunity.
By studying abroad, I hope to be exposed to European reporting, and to life in Europe. This is a chance for me to step outside what I know and challenge myself, while having fun. What better way to expand your horizons than to immerse yourself in a new culture and see where it takes you?
Still, it is a daunting task to call your parents and tell them you won’t be graduating next year and will be taking a slight detour to Holland. I expected them to tell me I had lost my mind but they genuinely thought it was a great idea.
Not only were they proud of me for taking the initiative, but my mother pointed out what an exciting time it is to be in Europe—especially for a budding journalist. Inter-railing between countries and immersing myself in a political hot bed of reporting issues? Sign me up!
I already consider myself something of a global child, with three international flights under my belt by the age of two. But as the date of my flight gets closer, the nervous excitement seems to grow—emphasis on the nervous.
So far, the internet has been my greatest student exchange saviour. I have booked a room through Short Stay housing, researched the city and campus, gleaned ways to travel and the expected costs. The things I can’t learn instantly online—such as language and cultural nuances—are just waiting to be tackled upon arrival.
For now, a little book of basic Dutch and the reassurance that there will be a kettle in my room is all I need to help keep those nerves at bay. CO
ERIN JACKSON is a Carleton journalism student on exchange in the Netherlands.
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