The 3 Regrets of Exchange


I have never been an impulsive, or a decisive person. Deciding between what colour of sweater to purchase, or mustering up the courage to select a unique menu item, instead of chicken fingers, fills me with immense anxiety. Before departing for my exchange to Edinburgh, Scotland, I came to the realization that I would have to escape my finely crafted comfort zone in order to fully capitalize on this once in a lifetime opportunity, and not return to Canada filled with ‘what if’s’ and ‘I wishes’.

And no, getting a tattoo is not on this list (sorry grandma).

While studying abroad was a phenomenal moment in my life, I did experience a few complications and regrets. However, through the life experiences of living in a different country, I was able to turn my regrets into contentment.

Time Management – Mental Health Days

Although 5 months abroad seems like an extensive amount of time, it is in fact insanely short. Days and months begin to blend together, creating an illusion of wasted time. I had yearned to travel abroad since I was 15 years old. This forced me to feel a heightened sense of time, and that if I was not generating memories every second, I was wasting precious moments and opportunities.

However, this irrational way of thinking left me drained and defeated, often craving the sanction of my bed and Netflix. The battle between my mental health and the concept of wasting precious time was an ongoing process. Eventually I gave into staying in bed and giving myself days to relax, unwind, and process what I was feeling and why.

As someone that possesses mental illnesses, not only was it unrealistic to expect my depression and anxiety to evaporate now that I was in Scotland, it was also incredibly unhealthy to ignore self-care days for fear of regret. Despite travelling to a different country, you’ll never fully encounter all the possibilities and adventures the country is beaming with if you’re mentally drained. By allowing myself some time to cry about being homesick, or simply confess that I was not up for socializing, I was able to recuperate and feel refreshed the following day.

Travelling too much (or too little)

When studying abroad, I traveled to 14 different countries. 7 of those countries were on a 21 day spree in the last month of my time in Scotland. I was faced with the realization that I had not traveled to as many countries as I had hoped. Faced with the fear of returning to Canada without taking advantage of relatively cheap flights, I quickly orchestrated a massive trip.

While I loved experiencing so many different cultures and countries in such a short period of time, I was forced to say goodbye to many of my friends that would be returning home to America before my trip was over. While it is difficult to not regret spending time with my friends during their final days in Edinburgh, I knew I would regret not seeing countries I had dreamed of visiting. I had to be selfish. A difficult decision indeed, but spending time travelling with other friends I had met along my studies, or alone and discovering myself, allowed for me to return home to Canada knowing I had done what I wished to accomplish.

Expenses, Costs and Debt

I have been incredibly blessed with the financial support of my parents throughout my post-secondary education. While I pay my own tuition, my parents paid my residence fees in first year and my monthly rent in second and third year. I understand that even being given the opportunity to even think about studying abroad is a privilege that many do not possess, and I am immensely grateful to have been financially stable enough to do so.

When accepted on an exchange, my parents once again offered to pay my residence fees for my overseas residence, as well as supply me with some extra allowance for food and travelling. However, my mother made it quite clear that I could “do as much travelling as I could afford”. Which, I did. My bank account cried softly each time I booked a new flight, and sobbed when I returned to Canada and began paying Toronto rent. Offering thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars for a few months of my life seemed completely absurd when I returned home.

After my expensive trip abroad, I had to apply to OSAP to ease the cost of tuition. Additionally, I obtained a student line of credit to pay for my monthly rent in Toronto. Gone were the days of (somewhat) financial security; gone were the days where I could leisurely pick and choose what shifts I wished to work each week.

Falling into a hole of debt is quite possibly the greatest regret I have when looking back on my time abroad.

To ease this regret, I attempt to think of studying abroad as moments, as opposed to dollar signs. Instead of thinking about how much each of my flights cost, I think of the unique historical monuments that I have seen. I think of the 3 am giggles my friends and I had in hostels while our other 8 roommates were sleeping. I think of Italian gelato, Danish pastries, German schnitzel. I think of the chances I never would have had without obtaining some debt.

2 thoughts on “The 3 Regrets of Exchange”

  1. Money will return but experience are once in a lifetime! I always figure, I’d rather live longer with the memories created earlier in life. Debt is common and you can totally overcome it! I have:)

  2. “The battle between my mental health and the concept of wasting precious time was an ongoing process.” This section of your article spoke volumes to me. I felt the exact same on my exchange, and it’s comforting to know I wasn’t alone with my thinking. We are so fortunate to have had these experiences, we’ll remember them for the rest of our lives. Hoping for healthier mindsets on future adventures!

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