Emma Macleod

Date: SP2 2013
Degree Program: Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood)
Host University: Ryerson University
Host Country: Canada

Emma M Ryerson

Why did you choose your host university?

Doing exchange isn’t something I would have ever thought of doing on my own, at application time my best friend mentioned that she had filled out a form as it is very much encouraged within her degree, unlike within my own degree of teaching. So I followed her example and together we put down the same host universities. Ryerson was put as the first choice mainly due to the fact that it worked best with my course and lessons that I needed to take. However Canada was chosen in general as it is an English speaking country, it offered a completely different lifestyle and culture to what I am used to and of course there was snow which was something I had never experienced before and very much appealed to me.

What was the university like?

I thought the University was very different to what is offered at home. In Adelaide, I am based at Magill Campus, which is quite small in comparison to Ryerson, which was scattered around within the middle of downtown Toronto as one big campus. To begin with I found this very overwhelming, but with time and having a map of the campus handy it is something I got used too.

I found the courses I took to be more exam and test based in comparison to what I was used to at home. They had a very big emphasis on test based learning rather then such a huge percentage of your grades weighing upon assignments as my course does at home. I found this very daunting to start with, as being told I was expected to take mid term and end of semester exams as well as pop quizzes was nothing I had ever had to worry about previously.

Overall I found the work to possibly be more then I would do at home, but the grades and assessment was spread out amongst a lot more little things rather then two or three huge assignments, so the upside to that is if you do stuff up on one small task, you can regroup and get your grade back up easily in the future, as this was something I had to do personally after failing one of my midterm exams, however I was still able to pass the course well in the end.

What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

Like most uni students my age, I still live at home with my parents and have never really properly left home for more then a week or two for local holidays. I had previously also never been overseas. This experience has taught me a lot about both myself and about the world around me.

Doing exchange has definitely made me feel more confident within myself due to the fact that I now know I can make a huge life change and adapt to it and enjoy myself while I’m doing it. I can live away from home and be independent and self-sufficient. I am also just so generally proud of myself for making that huge decision to leave home and navigate the huge cities and countries that I found myself in.

This whole experience has made me want to continue exploring what the world has to offer, I have only been home two weeks and I am already planning where I want to go next and what I would do an see. I don’t think you could experience anything like this without wanting to do or see more once it is over.

What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

Previous to leaving the friend I was going with and I looked all over the internet for places that we could possibly live, but we found it very hard to get in contact with people due to the time difference and also find something that was suitable price wise and close to the uni as we weren’t prepared to pay monthly for the subway.

In the end we decided to bite the bullet, book a hostel for our first week of stay and try and find something when we actually got there. At the time we thought this was a good idea, but looking back on it now I think it was a really gutsy move, moving overseas with potentially nowhere to live.

We looked at a lot of apartments and some student residences but noting really ft our price range or was as close to the uni as we would have hoped. In the end after about a week of looking, we managed to score the last two bedrooms in a student residence, called Neill-Wycik directly across the road from the uni.

I am so grateful that we managed to get this apartment, as time went on we found that most of the friends we made lived in the same building and it was really well located and very reasonably priced. The building had 22 floors and on each floor were approximately 6 or 7 apartments, which had a number of rooms in each.

The apartment I stayed in was on the 21st floor. The view was amazing! I shared the apartment with my best friend and three other housemates; we all had our own bedrooms but shared bathrooms and a kitchen living room area. If you are travelling Toronto, particularly if you are going to Ryerson I would definitely recommend this option.

Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

While in Toronto I definitely explored everything I possibly could that was offered locally with fellow friends that I made during my time on exchange, as we together often organised day trips and outings, as we didn’t work we had plenty of spare time.

Within Canada also went on a reading week trip to Montreal, where we had the opportunity to get out on the ski slopes. I also went to Vancouver, which was an absolutely beautiful place; from there we also travelled to Banff and through the Rocky Mountains.

Before coming home I also made a weekend stopover in New York as well as going all out and heading to Europe for an extra two months. Here I mainly travelled with my best friend who I went with on exchange initially however we also had many of our exchange friends that we had made join us here and there for a few days and also stayed at the houses of friends we had made when we visited their hometowns.

Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

Once we settled into our apartment everything started to fall into place. The first friends we made were at the compulsory orientation that was help at the uni. People always hate to do those “meet and greet” type games and activities when your first bunched with a new group of people, but in a situation like an exchange where you actually don’t know anyone else it seriously is a really good opportunity to meet people. Even I at the time thought it was super lame and silly, but looking back on it now those people that I met at that very first orientation playing those silly games are some of the people that became my closest friends.

Having somewhere to call your home, even if it's just a shared apartment, made it so much easier to settle in and help to adjust. I found living out of a hostel hard, you didn’t have your own space and it just wasn’t a nice place to go “home” too.

The hardest adjustment I feel that I had to make was the weather. Leaving Australia it was summer and 40 degrees; we landed in Toronto in their winter, which was on average around -10 (This was also a warm winter). It was so hard to get used to such a horrible bitter cold, spending the money to get a proper winter coat and boots was easily one of the best things I did to help myself cope with the cold.

Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

Exchange has allowed me to see and experience a different style of teaching and learning that I have previously been introduced to. As an aspiring teacher its always interesting for me to see different ways it can be done.

I was also lucky enough to actually venture into a childcare centre and help out in the baby room for a day for one of my assignments. Even though the childcare setting was similar to what we know here in Australia, little things like songs they would sing or daily routines they would use were very different to anything I’ve known or seen before. For example, there was this song they would sing to the children about the sun, which I had never heard before. The staff and other Canadian student that I was working with were so shocked that it wasn’t a song that I knew, as far as they were concerned it was as well know as ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’. This made me realise that little cultural differences such at this would lead to minor differences in the classrooms. But these kinds of insights that I’ve had are things that I can bring to my own future classrooms, I would be able to tell my students “this is a song that I learnt in Canada’, awakening their minds to other places and children around the world.

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

Don’t hesitate, just do it! Personally at the beginning I was very hesitant and unsure that I would even get in to the exchange program, let alone about wanting to go. I was so nervous about leaving everything and everyone I knew behind and starting again somewhere completely different and far away from home. Before I left I also found it extremely frustrating that I had to find perfectly matching lessons and the fact that doing this may have added an extra six months to my degree because I missed my third year teaching practical. But even so, looking back now I would definitely rather go then not. This whole experience was easily the best thing I have done with my life to date and on top of that I got to share it all with my best friend. The places you see, the things you do, the people you meet and the memories you make are incredible and easily something that you will hold on to forever.

Top Tips: 

My top tip would just be to go for it. This has honestly been the best thing I could have done during my time at University. Even though it was hard to leave home, and you will struggle with missing things you are used to or homesickness while you are gone. But looking back and writing this now I honesty wish I could go back.

I have made such amazing friends during exchange who are now permanent contacts I have all over the world for when I start planning my next adventure. I have also seen some of the most amazing sights the world has to offer.

I would recommend this experience to any uni student, even if you are doing a course that doesn’t encourage going abroad as my own doesn’t, still make the effort and see if you can find a host university that offers similar lessons, you won't regret your decision.

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