Isanya Köhne

When we think of Erasmus and exchange, we usually think about Europe. But plenty of students get their Erasmus experience beyond the European borders. Imke, 22 years old and currently studying for her Masters in Media and Business at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, agreed with us. Her exchange destination; Toronto, Canada. “It’s actually a long complicated story how I ended up at the York University in Toronto, one big coincidence, but nonetheless still the best time of my life”, she says

Oh Canada…

At first, I did not get any of my top choices. I had to choose from the ‘left over’ destinations to go on exchange to. A few days before the ceremony, where we found out our exchange destinations, a new school was added: Ryerson University Toronto. However, everyone except me had one of their top 6 picks, but they did not know which one. If you decided to change your top 6, it would be unsure if you’d still get the one you had been assigned to. For this reason, as I had nothing to lose, I was the only one who put it on number 1, which concluded into me getting this TOP destination. Sadly, due to circumstances Ryerson changed to York University but it was still an amazing experience. Looking back at the procedure at EUR to get an exchange destination, it was really easy. They need a motivation letter + pitch and after this there is a whole ceremony at which you find out your exchange destination. I was lucky enough to have so many partner universities at my faculty, so that everyone who wanted to, got the chance to go to.

I believe going on exchange is valuable because it makes you a lot more independent. It offers you a chance to take courses in different subjects, see how the education system works in other countries and how the classroom culture is different from the Dutch one. Besides that, if you are lucky enough, you really start there with 0 friends. This sounds scary but it gives you the opportunity to kind of re-evaluate the kind of people you want to surround yourself with. It takes some effort to put yourself out there and socialize a lot, but you get to meet so many people and since your time there is limited, you pick to hang out with the ones you enjoy/are compatible with most. It is a great formula for long-lasting friendships.

I found my housing through my university. It was on campus and it was nice as I lived close to a lot of my friends who lived on campus. The city center, however, was quite a bit further away. It had its advantages, but I would have loved to live in downtown Toronto, but maybe that is a plan for the future. It was pretty expensive to live on campus and you had to have this prepaid meal plan, which was also costly, but I have no complaints. When I first arrived, I was extremely overwhelmed. The first week, I stayed at an Airbnb with one friend from my home university. After I arrived on campus, alone, I really had to settle down. My room looked very empty and cold so I was determined to give it some more character. I decided to contact people from the exchange Facebook group as soon as I could and I luckily made some friends quite early on.

The Rotterdam of North America

The culture in Toronto is not that different. To me it felt like the Rotterdam of North America. However, I am used to direct conversation and not too much ‘useless small talk.’ I had a hard time getting used to people asking me ‘How are you’ but not really caring what the answers were. Basically if someone asks you ‘How are you?’ in Canada, you can respond with ‘Hi’ which confuses me to this day. Other than that, there were no real language barriers. Uber drivers were always quite impressed with my accent, haha. Overall Canadians are very approachable but sometimes more superficially in my experience. Sometimes, classmates would talk with me and tell me ‘oh we should hang out’ but apparently, that is a formality. If Dutch people tell someone ‘we should hang out’, you can expect a text from them in the next few days, you don’t say that without planning to do it.

My fondest memory of my exchange is one particular weekend. We rented a lake house with a lot of people from our group. It was incredibly fun. We had music all day, sat at the lake, long evenings with lots of food and good conversations. We danced all night and it was simply just filled with joy. In my class I didn’t have much contact with the others, mainly one that I still talk to every now and then. Many people in York University aren’t Canadian so it was nice to get to know some people. My group of friends consisted of French, Spanish, Swiss, Belgian and Dutch exchange students. It was easy to connect with them throughout a Facebook group that was set up. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything like ESN so we missed out on that, but we managed to organize activities ourselves. A week in my life on exchange would look a little like the following:  In the morning I would get coffee at Tim Hortons (as I would very very often), I would go to class and sometimes study as you also have to, of course! After that I would hang out with my friends, either downtown or on campus. In the evening I would often eat on campus at one of the food places. There was a whole mall there with a bunch of food chains. We mainly went to the Thai, Indian or Chinese place, they were my favorites. From Wednesdays to the weekend we would go downtown for drinks. In the Netherlands we are used to going somewhere for pre-drinks until 01:00 and then going to the bars, however in Canada you really have to be at the bar at 22:00 because the party often ends at 02:00. On the weekends, we would go on trips every now and then.

In terms of prices Canada is very similar to the Netherlands. I do think it’s difficult to cook if you’re alone because you always had to buy extremely large packages of food. I didn’t have a kitchen so it didn’t apply to me but I’ve always imagined it to be difficult. The tipping culture is interesting to get to know for foreigners, but in total the price would always resemble that of a dinner or drink in the Netherlands.

You create your memory

Time goes fast when you’re having fun, also on exchange. I wish I had seen a little more of the country when I was there. If you’re thinking of going on exchange I can only tell you to go, go, go! The destination will frame your exchange, but the experience as a whole is up to you and the people you choose to spend your time with. Anywhere you go, you will have the opportunity to explore a new place, make new friends, try new food, and be who you want to be, without expectations. And if you happen to go to Canada, try the poutine and the famous Tim Horton’s coffee. The moment I fell in love with Canada was at one of my friends’ BBQs. I was on his rooftop and I could see the entire city. It was beautiful. When my parents visited and I could show them around this city that became my second home was also a moment I will not forget. Also being there in December was magical. Having the snow there and Christmas around the corner made it incredible. I loved it. I’m still in contact with some friends of exchange, and with others I still occasionally meet up. The end of my exchange was extremely sad, I didn’t want to believe that it was the end of that adventure. But I have learnt a lot from it. Something that has stayed with me other than eating bacon bagels, is being more socially aware and critical of what is happening in the world right now.  I was really impressed by the high level of activism there is in Canada amongst students. I was very fortunate to be able to meet and listen to an incredibly inspiring talk by Angela Davis. It definitely changed me. 

Thank you so much to Imke for sharing her wonderful Canadian experience with us. If you’ve got any questions about going abroad into the same direction, feel free to send her your questions. And as we said, the world is yours, you get to choose where you’d like to go and make new memories.