As I sat anxiously spinning the paper cup of my watery airport coffee, (because drinking the thing wasn’t an option due to a nervous lump sitting in my throat that could rival the size of Mount Rushmore), I truly began to question my life choices. Why on earth was I leaving England for half of the final, (and most academically salient), year of my undergraduate degree? Why would I leave an education system that I had spent the past two years coming to understand, just to go and start afresh over three thousand miles away? How could I possibly survive four months with only one suitcase of clothes?!?!


I was going on an Adventure.

To Canada no less. I was going on a “substituting-water-for-maple-syrup-riding-Moose-instead-of-public-transportation-throw-my-plastic-money-in-the-laundry-machine-without-fear” adventure! It was going to be all the beautiful stereotypes an uncultured fool like me could ever dream of. That was the only answer I needed.

After all the fun of British airport security, and a seven and a half hour flight, stuck slap-bang in the middle seat of the middle isle of the plane, surrounded by two older ladies who refused to believe that a youth such as I could possibly need all that room, (helping themselves to a sizable portion of my seat each), or that my polite request to use the bathroom was more important than their penchant for remaining seated, and an inflight entertainment system that gave up the ghost halfway through my air bound journey, I was finally on the sunny shores of Toronto.

Home at last! …well, sort of.

One thing my exchange officer failed to mention to me, (perhaps he felt it was obvious knowledge, or it was an innocent slip of the mind on his part), is that if you are attempting to move to another country to benefit from their education system, you need to expect to be sent to the immigration office.

“The what?”, I questioned, as a rather buxom airport worker grabbed my unsuspecting hand to draw a pink slash across it, using a highlighter that smelt like strawberries and floor polish. With a baritone grunt and a fling of an overly apathetic arm towards the dimly lit room at the end of what seemed an increasingly lengthy hallway, I was directed to the office of immigration; or what I have lovingly nicknamed “Dante’s Funhouse”. Here, dear reader, is where I begin to impart my knowledge of all the things that I believe student travellers need to be made aware of, but for some delightful reason are not. Presenting *drum roll* “Some-Helpful-Important-And–Lemonscented(?)-Adages-Benefitting-Every-Oblivescence-Untimeous-Foreigner”. (I tried. Judge me). YES! Here are my much anticipated, (by me), SHIA-LABEOUF tips! Because honestly when it comes to any one of these suggestions, in all seriousness, JUST DO IT!!!

SHIA-LABEOUF tip #1: When you find yourself within the quaint and clinical off-white walls of the immigration office, staring down a line as long as Leonardo DiCaprio has been waiting for an Oscar, do not bend to the will of the adorable Australian family behind you when they ask you to attempt to query with them if they can be seen sooner so that they do not miss their connecting transportation. You will get shouted at. It will be unpleasant. You will begin to despise the adorable Australians in order to protect your already weary post-plane ego.

SHIA-LABEOUF tip #2: If the immigration officers are dressed head to toe in a uniform of black-on-black-on-black, it is not because they are keen fashionistas riding the tail end of the glorious age of monochrome, but rather because they are affiliated with the army of the dead, and will send you to your untimely doom to be devoured by the legendary Eurynomos if you annoy them. Or look at them. Or breathe. (Disclaimer: this is a lie based upon a very unfortunate personal experience. If you genuinely believe that the immigration office of any country sends unsuspecting sacrificial human man-wiches to Hades’ rotting army of the undead, then perhaps instead of being offended, you might wish to consider reading a book, or playing with some bric-a-brac). The tip to take away here, is remember to conduct yourself in a cordial manner, these people are a serious bunch.

SHIA-LABEOUF tip #3: If you are travelling to another country to study, make sure to bring a print out of your acceptance letter from the host university. No jokes here. This one is important.

The reason I am able to give you all these helpful, (and dare I say witty), suggestions is that, I- *Harry potter theme tune drifts steadily in from the background*-am the girl who lived! That’s right! I did none of these things, and managed to scrape by with an unusual mixture of luck, charm and devilish good looks. I tried to help the Australian family and got shouted at by a thick Canadian accent, “YOU GO RIGHT BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM”, (I assume this is a very unsubtle inside joke that the immigration office likes to shout at foreigners such as myself under the guise that they’re referring to the queue, rather than just being aggressively offensive *sips tea*). I managed to somehow annoy the officer personally looking into my case, (probably with my adrenaline fuelled shaking at the irrational fear that I would indeed be “sent back to where I came from” with my tail between my legs because something went wrong with my transfer). The officer in question enjoyed drawing out the process of looking through my passport, utilizing the tactic of going for a ten minute coffee break, in the middle of serving me, to eye me suspiciously from his perch by the wall, until I was shaking harder than Harlem in 2013.

The cherry on top however, was not having a copy of my acceptance letter. The officer’s beady yellow, wolf-like eyes, (yes more lies on my part), lit up at my confusion. “I’m sorry sir, no one told me I had to bring that…”,

“Well what did you think??”, he snarled.

“I wasn’t thinking! I’ve spent all summer attempting to organise this trip, and plan every minor detail that I didn’t even consider that I’d be sent to immigration!”, My shaking somehow intensified, and the impossibly black uniform of the man before me became impossibly more black, as it began not only to absorb every colour within the visual spectrum, but also the last shreds of my soul. I could feel it. I would be on a plane ride back to the UK before nightfall. I would have to contact the administration of the University. I might have to suspend my year. I wouldn’t be having my adventure. A streak of red caught my watery eyes in the otherwise black and white lair of the Officium Defunctorum. My backpack! My red backpack, within which was my laptop, within which was a saved copy of the acceptance letter! I ripped the bag open and sparked up my old faithful computer, presenting my letter to the bored officer. It was his move. “Well,” he said, “this is all very well and good”, he said, “but where is your letter from the embassy?”.

Somewhere within the deepest and darkest realms of the space-time dimension an exasperated, perplexed, cosmic unicorn let out a scream of prostration.

Embassy? What embassy? English or Canadian? What is an embassy? Who won the 2010 world cup? What day is this? Who am I? Miley, what’s good?? “Enough!” I told myself. If you can lie your way through A-level English, you can lie your way through this. “Well sir,” I said, “the thing is”, I said, “seeing as I am only here for four months, the embassy told me personally, that I do not need a letter”. With a solitary nod of defeat, the mighty immigration Goliath backed down. The battle was won. Check mate.

(At this point allow me to make it perfectly clear that I in no way support the notion of lying to a government official, and that it is in fact the case that you do not need a letter from this supposed embassy if you are a British citizen staying in Canada for less than four months…as I totally knew before getting there)…

SHIA-LABEOUF tip #4: Find out if you need a letter from your embassy!

Let’s skip forwards in time to that evening when I moved into my halls of residence. The next tip is more of an affectively based hint, relevant mostly to those who have ignored my previous suggestions and will therefore be, at this point, (as I was), at their emotional limit for one day.

SHIA-LABEOUF tip #5: University owned residencies like to move international students into their rooms a few days before the domestic students. The official reason for this is because it allows for orientation to your new surroundings, eases the load of domestic move in day, and allows foreign students to get settled and buy necessary resources that you couldn’t fit within your luggage allowance. So remember to keep calm. This is normal.

Again I would like to remind you that I know these things because I did not do them. I have no shame and will fully admit to a major case of freaking out. I got dropped off at a strange building, struggled my luggage up a hauntingly empty flight of stairs or two, and found myself in a dark, bare apartment, with only the noise of the torrential rain outside to keep me from my silence. I was done. A bruised and battered victim of a terrible plane journey, British airport security, the immigration letter debacle (that made me almost miss my connecting bus), and a case of temporarily lost luggage that had been moved due to being caught up with the whole “where’s your letter?” thing. Couple this with the fact that my many skills include being an overly dramatic cry baby, and you have a recipe for an internal melt down. I was alone. I didn’t have any means of transportation. I hadn’t eaten in hours and had no way of obtaining food. I didn’t know where I was. The rain was thunderously loud. I had no phone. I had no internet. I didn’t have anything more than a mattress and a suitcase of clothes. I was afraid that I had made a huge mistake. I decided to unpack my things, but once the distraction of that was over there was only fear, exhaustion and the precipitation of this foreign and seemingly lonely land to keep me company. So I did what any responsible adult would do: I balled up some trash bags for a make shift pillow and went to sleep on my plastic mattress, because unconscious people don’t have to deal with their problems or feelings.

Everything was better in the morning.

The world around me began buzzing, I found other displaced international students, the rain had stopped and I explored my new surroundings and made friends with spirits from all over this glorious big blue rock we call home.

SHIA-LABEOUF tip #6: People do not travel to new places just to sit indoors and avoid: (1). talking to other people, (2). having new experiences. Fellow travellers are friendly animals, who want to make friends and see new things just as much as you do so do not be afraid to put yourself out there. Go up to that random group congregated in the lobby! It’s not like they’ve all known each other forever!  They just met! I guarantee they want to meet you to. Who wouldn’t? I mean you have a British accent.

In this case I did follow my own advice for one simple reason. My brother is not your typical average Joe. Should this man fall through the rabbit hole, he would make Wonder Land his playground, and give the mad hatter a run for his money. Though this misunderstood lunatic enjoys spending his days lamenting, philosophising and trying his hand at any profession that may come his way, (from vegan-shoe-cobbler, to silver-painted-duck-costume-wearing-street-artist), it is in his moments of simplicity, where he forgets the ostentation of trying to craft well thought out ideals to rival that of great authors before him, that the merit of his strange psyche presents itself.

When I was 18 years old I sat on a piano stall, full of melancholy and inner torment. Upon my brother finding me there, he enquired as to what was wrong. I told him that I didn’t know whether to go to a party or not, I was having one of my rare moments of complete social adversity and could not bring myself to face my peers. He sat down opposite me and with the eyes of a human who has seen and lived many diverse walks of life and told me “it is always better to go”, before getting up and ironically wandering off to wherever it was the wind was taking him. For some reason, these words resonated with me. I went to the party, and had a wonderful time with my friends, instead of staying at home and allowing the somewhat erroneous neurochemistry of a teenage brain to pick apart my self-confidence. After that day I prided myself on risk taking, on being the girl who always went. I went to parties, I went to surf lessons, I went to my driving test, I went to job interviews, I went to exams, because it is always better to go, and in the spirit of this knowledge embarked on my biggest journey to date. I went to Canada, because despite the risks it is always better to go.

I went up to that group in the lobby, and that group by the bus, and that girl standing outside my first lecture, because it is always better to do so. I made friends, I went to downtown martini bars, I heard stories of lives that had been lead in different worlds than my own, I charmed people with my accent, (no, really), and I found that home is anywhere you find happiness. I realised that one should never be afraid to go, because going doesn’t necessarily mean leaving. The most important part of going is not leaving, it doesn’t mean you are leaving friends, it doesn’t mean you are leaving happiness, or some place you call home. It means you are going to find new homes, new friends, new research, new laboratories, new and exciting things that make you a fulfilled individual. You are expanding your world not cutting yourself off from it.

If you are anything like me, (and I’ve come to understand we are all more similar than we like to believe), the thought of studying abroad will scare you. The thought of trying to adjust to a new grade system will make you anxious. You will consider the pain of leaving those you love behind for an extended period of time. So many parts of you will scream not to leave, but unless you have elected to exchange yourself to an empty trans-universal plane somewhere within a vacuous realm of nothingness somewhere outside of tri-dimensional space, you will find incredible things and fascinating people you never even knew existed. Experiences you never even knew you wanted. Friendships you never even knew you needed. On this note I will leave you with my final thought:

SHIA-LABEOUF tip #7: It is always better to go. You’re going to have an amazing time.

P.S. Here’s a picture of my new favourite thing ever:


(what is that??? they’re everywhere!)

P.P.S. No offence intended to the dedicated immigration staff at Toronto Pearson’s International Airport. They do an incredibly important and serious job, (trust me I’ve seen like five seasons of Boarder patrol). All mentions of individuals in this blog are subjective, intended for humour purposes. There were no Wolf eyes. I swear.

My Exchange Experience: September at Western

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