Over the past year I have traveled the world, taken 8 vacations, and made a ton of money; all while getting 6 University credits for doing so.
Since being back in Canada many people have asked, “how do you do it?”. So, this post is dedicated to how I live my life like an abnormal student, and why my student exchange was so different than most.
Most people assume that I have really rich parents, or have inherited some kind of crazy estate, or perhaps I have won the lottery. Others look at me like I must have $50,000 dollars of credit card debt. How could a student afford to do all of the traveling you do? How could an exchange student afford to live the lifestyle you live? But the truth is, I wasn’t a normal exchange student. I have never been a normal “student” at all for that matter.
It all started in 2006 when I was in grade 11 sitting in Windsor Ontario. I gave only 13% (at best) of my attention to the University presentations that were happening to our Junior Class. All of a sudden I hear a Ryerson Alumni talking about the exchange program. She talked about having the option to travel to over 19 countries and pay nothing more than your Ontario Ryerson tuition. At that point I stopped passing notes and gave 100% attention. From that day forward I made it my goal to go to Ryerson and go on exchange. Where will I go? It didn’t matter.
Two years later, I was in my first year of University. During Day 1 of orientation our professors said "E “you will fail and do significantly worse in this program if you have a job while studying”. My wonderful parents had enough money to send me away for one year, but the rest was up to me if I decided to run away to the big city. From the get-go, I always wanted more than Mac n Cheese and pasta. Call me selfish, but I wanted to be able to buy go out for nice dinners and continue my ever-growing Tiffany collection. Therefore, it was impossible for me not to work and still survive in the lifestyle I wanted to live. So, I was 18 years old, living in a new city, taking 6 classes and working full-time. When all the other students in my residence were going out Fridays for pub nights, and going home for the weekend, I was working 12 hour shifts at Jack Astor’s. Some people think I was crazy. But truth be told, I don’t mind working. I started working at 14 and (probably because I started traveling alone at 6) have always liked having disposable money. I didn’t get to go out every weekend with friends, but because I worked at a bar I was able to have a social life, maintain a decent GPA, and still make a pretty good living.
I worked so much for the first three years that going on exchange has slipped to the back of my mind. Half-way through my third year, I saw a reminder on my calendar that the last day to apply for exchange was the next week. I made a few meetings with my academic coordinators, wrote a few essays, and called my mom for advice about 80 times that week. I had no idea where I wanted to go. Kristy, the exchange coordinator for the business program, knew I loved the sun and worked at a bar. She asked me if I liked wine and then immediately decided I needed to go to Australia. In Australia, students are able to study AND work, unlike many of the other countries I could have gone. There were 80 applicants and only 5 people accepted to RMIT University in Melbourne. I remember the day I got accepted like it was yesterday. I cried and skipped all my classes to celebrate. Great student, eh?
So that was it. I was going to Melbourne Australia. I applied for a working holiday visa rather than a student visa (because it enabled me to stay longer). It also didn’t inhibit the number of hours you could work a week. I arrived in Australia January 2012 and once again attended an orientation. Most of the students were younger than I was and most of them weren’t planning on doing any working at all. They were all in Australia for the 6 months, to live in residence, and have the generic student experience. Some of them had never lived or even travelled away from home before. I felt like I was 18 again, playing icebreakers and going through first-year University. I had already been there, done that. So once again I decided to be an abnormal student. I got a bartending job within the first month of living in Melbourne and LOVED it. As per usual, I wasn’t able to go out on the weekends with all of the other exchange students, but I was getting a different experience entirely. I was being integrated with the Australian workforce and having the true aussie experience. During my year on exchange my boyfriend and I took vacations to Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, all Eastcoast Australia, and still managed to come home with thousands and thousands of dollars. People have literally asked my boyfriend and I, “did you guys win the lottery”, “where is all the money coming from”. The answer is quite simple; WORK. 40-hour workweeks do provide an income. It just doesn’t seem like work when we are taking shots and serving people vodka sodas for a living. Now if I were to speak to first year students like me, I would tell them to work. When people ask “how do you do it?”. You will work hard and miss out on a lot of “student experiences”, but you will be able to travel the world. It’s a pretty good bargain I’d say.