When and where did you study abroad? Did you have a study focus?
I studied abroad in Örebro, Sweden from January until May 2013. I was working on my Bachelor of Arts in Communications, so I completed courses that would transfer back to help me complete my major while gaining international experience.
Describe the application process. What made you successful?
I’d always wanted to travel, and was determined to study abroad during my undergrad. I made sure the university I chose to attend had study abroad opportunities that I was interested in. I began the process very early; I started researching programs, costs, and application processes in my first year, in order to go away in the second semester of my third year. I met with the person who was responsible for arranging exchanges very early on in order to figure out courses and details. I even arranged meetings with the head of my department to figure out how to get all my required courses done, and arrange alternatives that were offered in Sweden. The process itself was easy, from what I remember it only involved writing a letter explaining where you wanted to go and why. I had worked hard so that my grades would be competitive, but I think showing initiative early on was what set my application apart.
What made your study abroad experience abroad a success?
I managed to visit 14 new countries, and I realized that during my 5 months abroad, I had been on more different planes that I had been in different cars! I got to see and experience so many new things and came home full of stories. I learned how to navigate new places, and communicate with people who didn’t speak English. Now, when I read the news or watch movies, I’m always trying to spot the places I’ve been. When I got back I also realized how many other people had also spent time abroad. It automatically gave us something interesting to talk about, and something new to learn. One added (and unexpected) perk was that I met and fell in love with my boyfriend while I was away – our second date was a trip to Barcelona and Brussels!
How did you finance your trip abroad and did you find any creative solutions to stay on budget?
I was on a scholarship during my undergrad, so I only had to raise the money for living and travel expenses. I did this through summer jobs, part-time jobs during the school year, and gifts and loans from family and friends. I also got a small amount of money from my Students’ Union, which is definitely something to investigate when you’re studying abroad. I learned that MasterCard is not always reliable abroad, and to always have cash on hand. I also went through money way, way faster than I had planned; traveling is expensive, even when you are just staying in hostels! Always overestimate what it will cost you.
Do you have a classroom story that gave you particular insight into other cultures?
I took a class on European Politics, and my Canadian friends and I would often hear the Swedish students generalize about North America. Everything they said was actually about the US, not Canada or Mexico. When we pointed out that they were overlooking two sizeable countries in their generalizations, even the professor was surprised; he hadn’t realized he’d been doing it. It made me realize how easy it is to overgeneralize about places. How often do we make statements about Europe as a whole? Each country has its own culture, political system, and people – which is easy to forget when they’re just a color on a map!
What was your return like? Do you plan to go abroad again?
I came home a day earlier than I had told my family I would be. Initially, this was because I made a mistake taking the time change into account, but when I realized my mistake I decided to surprise my family. I flew into an airport about 2.5 hours from home, narrowly caught the last bus home, and my friend picked me up at the bus station and drove me to my parents’ house. I just rang the doorbell, and when my mom came to the door she screamed! When my dad got home from work an hour later, nobody said anything about my return until I walked out of the washroom. His reaction was just as priceless as my mom’s. Surprising my family gave me something to be excited about, instead of just being sad to leave Europe!
What did you miss most about home?
I missed the ease of being able to communicate in English. One time, I was looking for white vinegar at the grocery store. I found every other type of vinegar (I had figured out the Swedish word for vinegar), but none of it was white! I asked an employee at the grocery store to help me, and although he had some English skills, he had no idea what I meant by white vinegar. It turns out that the Swedes have an entirely different word for white vinegar – it isn’t even considered vinegar!
Do you have any final observations from your experience?
Travelling internationally allowed me to become independent, and to learn how to creatively overcome different problems as they came up. I think that adaptability and flexibility are key skills to have in any career path, and travelling abroad is such an excellent way to develop these skills. Not only did my experience translate into tangible skills like these, but employers really do look favourably on people who have some sort of international experience. It's funny how often I run into someone who's been to Scandinavia, and we can instantly connect over it. It definitely serves as a great icebreaker when networking!
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I’m currently entering my second year of law school, which has kept me pretty busy. I still have a travel bug, although I don’t have any trips planned. My top three choices for my next adventure are: Iceland, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Meryn’s story shows the value of thinking ahead when heading abroad. She made sure that her school of choice offered international opportunities, thought about managing her money, and planned her adventure abroad so that she could experience the maximum number of foreign countries during her stay. She also has a great sense of the value that international experience can bring in a business networking context.
Though Meryn is currently in law school, there are still plenty of ways to internationalize her experience, both at home and abroad. If she wants to continue developing her international personality, she could consider studying international law and aiming to become a judge in the international court system. This is an exciting, challenging and rewarding career for those motivated and passionate enough to pursue it. Meryn might also opt to maximize her cross-cultural experience on campus by becoming involved in internationally-oriented extra curricular activities or using her time off school to pursue work-related internships abroad. Although law school always comes with a heavy workload, it’s also important to prioritize international skill-building. You won’t regret it!
- Read the entire International Law Careers section to get an overview of some of the most popular international law careers and advice on how to select a law school.
- International Clubs on Campus are a great way to get involved in cross-cultural activities without having to travel abroad. There is also an associated Resource List, International Associations With Clubs On Campus