Pictured above: A part of North Vancouver called Deep Cove.
It is human nature to make comparisons and judge one thing as better than another. So whenever someone finds out that I have studied at both the Wroxton and Vancouver FDU campuses, I am unsurprised when they ask which semester I enjoyed more. What they don’t realize is how impossible that question is to answer.
Vancouver was not Wroxton. Rather than living in my own room in a massive abbey, my bedroom was in the home of a welcoming Canadian family. Instead of crossing the Atlantic Ocean I crossed the North American continent. Instead of studying with other American students in a vastly different culture, I studied with students from around the world in a culture that shares much in common with ours (though it diverges in many of its own ways as well).
Essentially, I cannot accurately compare such vastly different experiences and therefore I cannot say which I enjoyed more. But what I can say, is that both were incredible experiences that changed my life.
For one, the natural beauty of Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia was absolutely stunning.
On my second day in Canada, my homestay mom Stephanie gave me an introduction to the area by driving me around. I still remember feeling awed by the towering cedar and maple trees on the looming mountains that overlooked a sparkling body of water below. Although I’ll admit that initial feeling faded over time, each hike I went on and every place I visited with a new vantage point of those mountains never failed to reignite my wonder at the beauty of the city.
But it wasn’t just the nature that made my semester so memorable, it was also the many people I met there. For those who don’t know, the Vancouver Campus is very small. It’s only a few floors in a building in the middle of the city. But what the campus lacks in size, it makes up for in diversity and vivacity.
Through the new student orientation, clubs and classes, I made friends with people from all over the world, including Vietnam, Thailand, El Salvador, Antigua and Barbuda, Germany and Zimbabwe. Since the campus is comprised of mostly international students, it felt like I was able to travel around the world simply by making friends and getting to learn all about them and their cultures.
The first hike I went on with the people I met at school, really brought us all together. My new friends and I visited Capilano River Regional Park in North Vancouver, where we practically frolicked through the woods, took countless pictures with a beautiful lake as our backdrop, and stood atop the towering Cleveland Dam.
On another hike, I climbed the nearly 2,300 ft. tall Stawamus Chief Mountain with my very patient friend Nikolai on a trail that was far more challenging – and vertical – than I had anticipated. Although I was wheezing and practically limping the entire way up, when I finally reached the peak, in that moment I felt like I could conquer anything.
On all of our hikes, we always made sure to look out for each other – sharing our food, working together to figure out the maps, and helping each other navigate precarious sections of the trails. Each excursion, both in nature and throughout the city itself, truly felt like an adventure and helped us form bonds that I hope will last across time and distance.
My homestay family was comprised of a couple, their two young children, Jack and Olivia, and an excitable poodle named Rio. I had been worried about getting along with the people my agency placed me with, but I couldn’t have asked for a better family to take me into their home. From discussions of the history and politics of Canada to movie nights with the whole family, I got so much more out of my time with them than simply a place to sleep at night. I even got to meet their extended relatives and spent Thanksgiving with them (which Canadians celebrate on the second Monday of October). Jack and Olivia’s cousin even asked me before I left to make sure Americans know that Canadians “say ‘about’ like normal people.”
Even the Vancouver faculty and staff were helpful and welcoming. Not only did they answer all my questions before I arrived, but the Director of Enrollment Services Neil Mort and the Director of Student Services Jobin Mojtabavi even drove me to the Canadian border to make sure I was able to get paperwork I needed. Career Services Manager Jeffrey Lee also worked hard to help me find an internship at a non-profit organization called MOSAIC that helps immigrants and refugees.
There’s so much more I could say about my experience, such as the first time I ever tried Canada’s surprisingly delicious poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds) or the passionate mock Model United Nations event I participated in.
There’s so much I could say about the volunteering events, the thought-provoking class discussions, the opportunities to learn about First Nations culture and the ability to visit locations I had seen in countless TV shows (since many are filmed in Vancouver).
But it wasn’t just the big moments that made my experience so special, it really was the amazing friends I made. Saying goodbye while knowing it may be years before I ever see them again really was heart-wrenching. I wish them all the best wherever they end up in the world, and count myself truly lucky to have met them.
I am graduating this semester, and I am so grateful that I was able to have these experiences before my time at this school is done.
Apparently, I am the first FDU student to have studied in all three countries in which the university has a campus, but it is my hope that I will not be the last to do so.