When I first started uni I was struck by how much freedom I suddenly had. I was eager to meet new people, make new friends, volunteer and find out more about what I was interested in. Importantly, I had my heart set on doing a year abroad. When I applied, I didn’t really think about the course itself in too much detail, I was just so excited that it offered me the chance to study in one of my favourite places, Canada. I couldn’t wait.
Growing up, I spent a fair bit of time in Canada on various holidays with my family, and the prospect of returning alone on my year abroad felt right.
It has come to be a place that has a special significance to me, because of all of those memories. I was really looking forward to exploring, and documenting on my camera, the country’s fascinating landscape and wildlife. I wanted to see more than I already had. Plus, I was planning to do a lot of skiing.
I would go sight-seeing and revisit all the places I’d been in my childhood. I could go back to the old cinema where we, as a family, watched the first ‘Ice Age’ movie. I could see if the fondue restaurant where I tried kangaroo meat for the first time was still there and, of course, stop by Melissa’s – which served the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted.
These places and stories from my youth meant so much to me, I think, because I now associate them with a time before things got difficult. When I was 15, I went through a period of severe depression as a result of years of bullying, which means my real home still carries some pretty negative associations. I felt going back to Canada would have been extremely comforting and was what I needed, especially since moving away from home for the first time to start uni.
The day before the application to study abroad was due, though, I had a massive change of heart: I couldn’t go.
When I researched and broke down the costs, I realised I’d been pretty naive to think I could afford it. The cost of flights, tuition fees, living costs and more all added up and I decided my money would be better saved for when I could go back to Canada properly, with the money to enjoy it.
I’m sure I’m not the first student to be held back from doing something like a year abroad because of money, nor will I be the last, but reaching the decision felt anti-climactic and really disappointing. My dad was big on travelling when he was younger, though, and so I called him at the time. He reassured me, “Life is uncertain and sometimes we aren’t supposed to fulfil our dreams, yet”. So I pushed my melodrama aside, understanding things could be much worse, and threw myself into making the best of time I had at uni.
Though it was my dream to study abroad, choosing not to was, in hindsight, a great decision.
I’d already made so many friends and memories at uni that I valued a lot, and not going meant I had another year hanging out with the best lot of people I’ve ever met.
I swapped Canada’s landscapes for putting up the Christmas tree with my housemates and leaving it there until the following June. I swapped skiing trips for the most amazing Halloween with friends and water fights with the next door neighbours. I haven’t been back to the Canadian cinema I went to as a child yet, but I have had cosy Domino’s and Broadchurch nights in with incredible people – and less cosy, VK-fuelled, nights as we stumbled home with cheesy chips and lots of stories from our nights out.
I used my second year, when I would’ve been abroad, to improve my CV as well. I started writing for my university’s magazine. Getting my name published on paper for the first time was such a rewarding feeling that it spurred me on to write more and more; I ended up getting an award nomination for my work by the end of the year. The year after that, I won the award.
Not being able to go on my year abroad to Canada was, once I’d put it into perspective, a small loss. But what I took from that loss was actually really big.
After I finish my Master’s, going back to Banff, Canada is top of my list of things to do. I can’t wait to go and get inspiration for writing, get back into photography and do all the things I’d originally hoped for my year abroad. There will always be things like money, timing and other uncertainties that come into play and mean you can’t do everything as planned. But I’ve learnt that it’s about what you then do with the alternative scenario you find yourself in, and how you make a positive out of it.