For Gabriella Lambert, doing a degree in The Netherlands meant getting the best of both worlds.
On one hand, she got to explore a location she’d always wanted to visit.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the Netherlands, its history and culture,” she says.
On the other hand, the Ottawa resident wasn’t diving headfirst into the unknown.
When Gabriella relocated to do her master’s in Multimedia Journalism, she left one home to visit another: her parents are both diplomats posted in The Netherlands.
A welcoming environment
Gabriella started her program at The University of Groningen (RUG) in September of 2012. She chose the university because its journalism program has an excellent reputation.
She says that the locale matters as much as the institution, and made sure to research both the university and Groningen itself before travelling.
“Your education is a time to experience everything and going abroad and learning about the world is incredibly important.”
–Gabriella Lambert, Graduate, University of Toronto
While enrolled at RUG, Gabriella took courses in print, radio, video and online journalism, as well as a journalism theory class.
“It was great to live in a small university town for a year,” she said, adding that the atmosphere at RUG felt more relaxed than at the University of Toronto, where she did her undergraduate degree.
Studying abroad isn’t just learning in a new city: it’s also about learning in an academic culture that can be totally different from what you’ve experienced previously.
Embracing the unfamiliar
Adjusting to a new space is the biggest challenge you’ll face when studying abroad, says Gabriella. You not only need to replace your old routine – you also craft a new one out of unfamiliar parts: new friends, new schedule and new activities.
Fortunately, Gabriella was ready for the challenges posed by an unfamiliar environment, a skill she developed after living with her parents in various locations around the world.
Keeping in touch with friends online (she describes her Blackberry use as “constant”) helped.
So did embracing a new social life. “Living in Europe is wonderful,” says Gabriella. “You meet people from so many different places.” In fact, Gabriella confirms that the friends she made abroad are the most memorable part of her experience.
Experiences and lessons learned
While some people are wary to explore education abroad, Gabriella insists that the experience is vital. “Even if it sounds scary, do it!” she says. “It’s worth it.”
Education isn’t just a familiar classroom, she adds. “Your education is a time to experience everything and going abroad and learning about the world is incredibly important.”
After spending more than a year abroad, Gabriella plans to pursue a career in journalism or political communications, and she’s confident her ever-expanding global knowledge will hold her in good stead in her career.
“I encourage anyone to study abroad for part of his or her education,” she said. “You meet new people, learn new things and become more aware of your social and global surroundings.”
The key three
With a wealth of travel under her belt, Gabriella offers the following top three tips for students who plan to study abroad:
- Think ahead: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new place and wind up very disorganized. Don’t forget to have all of your documents, and always know where your embassy is located. Even with family in the country, Gabriella said she made sure to cover all of her bases in the event of an unexpected setback.
- Have an open mindset: When you travel abroad, it’s easy to wind up doing the same things you’d do at home in a new place. “Jump at the chance to try anything new,” says Gabriella. You’re abroad to have unfamiliar experiences, so make sure you’re open to them.
- Try to learn the country’s language(s): “Trust me, it helps!” says Gabriella. You don’t have to try and achieve fluency, as even a few key phrases can make a big difference and be useful in a pinch. Find a handy phrasebook and spend some diligent hours studying.
A story like Gabriella’s is just one version of what can happen when you commit yourself to the adventure of studying abroad. It’s up to you to decide where you want to go: what are you waiting for?
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