“I can confirm that I didn’t find a new version of myself huddling beneath a snow drift, or have a kind, humble yeti carry me to his hut, spoon feed me cocoa, and beguile me with tales of old.”
Articulating how it feels to have left Calgary is a feat of magnitude. My attempts to explain to family and friends about the life I left behind have felt lack-lustre, and as I furrow my brow and nod my head assuredly at earnest questions such as, ‘was it as amazing as it looked?’, I feel unable to translate my genuine sentiment on the matter unto those who weren’t along for the ride.
This is undoubtedly tinged with the cliché notion of the gap year student returning to their home town proclaiming to be worldly, having ‘found’ themselves whilst lounging in the enclosure of a drowsy tiger, and swanning around their new university in silly-length elephant pants and an ‘ironic’ bindi. I can confirm that I didn’t find a new version of myself huddling beneath a snow drift, or have a kind, humble yeti carry me to his hut, spoon feed me cocoa, and beguile me with tales of old.
Truthfully, I did find a reinvigorated wonder for life, adventure, and the brilliant humans that inhabit the earth. Principles that you may have held since childhood may take on a fluidity when you are placed outside your comfort zone, flowing and shaping to fit a new contextual mold. Through this, it is almost impossible to not discover a newfound self-confidence, or more accurately a self-awareness. For many other year-abroaders and erasmus students I have spoken to, this is a universal.
The search for happiness is a unique expedition and I found my own nirvana when accepting the inevitability of human irks, and whilst gazing at such beauty as the marbleized colours of Lake Louise in thaw-state, the gnarly rock pools of Big Sur, and the moonlight casting El Capitan with an ethereal glow. Watching genuine laughter bounce between friends is a privilege in itself, but placed in the setting of a sunset over Golden Gate Bridge, it assumes a sense of the sublime.
They tell you that reverse culture shock is a rife ailment amongst year-abroaders. Yet, as I lounge in my garden in the south of England on a peculiarly blue-skied and peaceful mid-summers day, I feel at home once again. I may have provided my friend Harry with an irritating commentary upon my visit to Durham about how quaint and English I found it all, and being hand-delivered a copy of my village newsletter in the garden just now by a member of the council may feel like an absurdly British convention, but I am unfailingly grateful for my upbringing which has given me countless step-ups to opportunities like my year in Canada
The mental sanctuary that I cultivated whilst in Canada has allowed me return home with an inexhaustible optimism for life. I am thankful for the silhouetted church spire in the distance, the dulled hum of my neighbour’s lawnmower beyond the hedge, and the warmth of my lifelong feline friend resting against my thigh as I write.
“Hearing the melancholy sighs of friends proclaiming ‘I wish I could live abroad’ has my infuriated subconscious wanting to break out in Shia Labeouf ‘just do it’ style.”
I shall spare you the details of my last weeks in Canada. Leaving campus was undoubtably a sad day – the University of Calgary, aside from the unique experience of an exchange student, is a fantastic and diverse institution with endless opportunity for personal and academic development. It is so young compared to Durham, currently celebrating it’s 50th year, yet there is such a deep rooted sense of pride amongst its students. Wearing ‘Dinos’ stash on a daily basis is not as socially suicidal as armouring yourself top to bottom in your DUBC attire and strutting around the Durham library.
My very brief flirtation with Dinos rowing, and having worked in one of the most popular campus coffee shops during the entire year, helped instill within me a devout loyalty to the UofC community. Hordes of people flock to support their university team in hockey, american football and basketball, resulting in an infectious atmosphere which carries even the most athletically ignorant. Call me a traitor, but DU sport may need to work on its community spirit.
As my flatmate, Ellie, and I (who were two of the last few remaining inhabitants of our eerily deserted residence building) ceremoniously detached the mandala hanging we’d had on our wall all year we realised, with heavy hearts, that it was our time to escape our own domestic microcosm.
The month I spent trundling down the west coast of the USA with my family of exchange friends was an integral part of my year abroad, and something we believed to be an inevitable conclusion. In short, we visited a myriad of natural wonders such as the redwood forests, Yosemite, the infinitus Californian coast-line and the culturally heterogeneous urban centres of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA, and San Diego. It was not off-the-beaten-track, nor was I thrust into a deep survival state of independence. However, if you need advice on successfully performing a 3 point (30485 point) turn in a Portland housing estate in a 30 foot motorhome then hit me up.
Coming home, I don’t feel the need to fly the nest again immediately, or to regale my experiences in one almighty monologue to open-eared friends, but to spread the ground-breaking news that YOU CAN DO IT TOO. Hearing the melancholy sighs of friends proclaiming ‘I wish I could live abroad’ has my infuriated subconscious wanting to break out in Shia Labeouf ‘just do it’ style. We all have our own emotional, mental, physical, and economic battles, but true yearning for change should spark the motivation to fight them harder, or elsewhere. If you are lucky to be at a university with a year abroad office, rock up on their doorstep with a pen, paper and all the determination of an anti-Brexit Facebook warrior to get the answers that you really want.
So I leave you with this – a snapshot of the life I left in Calgary. Indulging in nostalgia inevitably casts a rosy tinted glow over things but when my words fail to translate an accurate representation of my year, I will have no shame in alluding to pictures and videos. On a basic level, I’ll miss the campus, the bunnies that inhabit it, the kindness of Calgarians, the unpredictable weather, the view of the mountains from the library, the coffee (oh the coffee), the city skyline, our perfect little flat (251), and the unfailing sunshine.
Speaking of that re-ignited enthusiasm for life, I’ll get back to reading this particularly enthralling segment about the local swans in the Remenham Village Newsletter. Good old Albion, eh.