By: Angela Lukenda
From the early days of our childhood we are read storybooks full of adventure, whether it was a story read by our teacher or one read by our parents before bed. Every time we fell asleep after a bedtime story we stepped into our very own adventure, we jumped into dreaming to find what our hearts really wanted.
My time studying abroad became its own story, much different than the fictional stories read to me when I was younger. This time my story was real. It had choices alongside consequences, a collection of characters in the form of real individuals from opposite sides of the world, and most drastically the main character was me; that same young girl who once fell asleep to the sound of stories was waking up to one in Zagreb, Croatia.
The student life I lived at the University of Zagreb has changed me. I know this is the cliché remark of any student who has done exchange. To tell the truth, I used to be that student who heard this cliché remark and thought, “how can one semester abroad truly change someone?” Now I realize that it can be anything in life that exposes an individual to something completely different from their norm, igniting a change in who they are. For me, that drastic change was going from being a university student in my hometown to being a student in a completely different country across the ocean.
My one big fear prior to exchange was leaving the people I love back home in Canada. My friends and family are my biggest supporters. However, it was through an exchange that I got to meet new people who prompted me to open my mind and values. I ended up falling in love with this aspect of exchange. Realizing that all students a part of exchange are there to meet people helped reduce my initial fear. Exchange deepened my love of getting to meet new people and hearing their unique stories. More importantly, instead of just travelling to new places, I got to form stronger friendships with the students I truly connected with in Zagreb. Travelling outside of Zagreb with new friends caused new chapters of adventures to form within this larger story.
I shared my classrooms with students from different countries, learning about different academic systems across Europe through students’ personal experiences. I received opportunities to share my talents, and my passion for presenting through assessments regarding new topics such as, marketing for non-profit organizations and economic development in countries other than Canada. I learned the history of Croatia through my developmental economics class and learned marketing strategies utilized in the European market through my strategic management course. The academic experience of my exchange was beneficial to my personal development and growth, and I have only noticed its impact after returning to Canada. I have been able to use this international knowledge from courses based on global economic systems while currently being on an internship. This knowledge has led to deeper discussions in the workplace with the business leaders of my organization who are faced with dealing and understanding these international changes. Knowledge truly is power, however, what exchange has provided is a deeper foundation on my own thoughts and perspectives on what is taking place in our world. I did not just study how a country’s government is influencing its people, much more than that, I got to actually hear from the people through classroom discussions with students living in these countries.
Outside of the classroom, I established how routines can develop wherever you live in the world. My exchange friends and I would try out the many different cafes and restaurants across the city together. We would explore the city during the day, visiting the beautiful outdoor parks and catching ourselves in a habit of finding the next best picnic area. During the evenings we would explore the night life and experience the energy that was pouring out of the city. Weekend adventures were found through plans to attend a Castle party on top of a mountain, or completing a hiking adventure one Sunday, or watching our friends who joined the local Rugby team. Outside of the classroom, exchange tied hand-in-hand with pure exploration of the unknown. I got to see my life outside of what I know in Hamilton, Ontario and experience the passion of each city I visited and locals I spoke with.
Exchange was the answer my 20-year-old self needed to the consistent dream I have before I go to bed at night; to challenge myself by taking unexplored paths to learn more about the world and most importantly about myself.
Angela Lukenda is an Honours Bachelor of Commerce student at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. She is one of four students who attended the University of Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia for the first time from McMaster University. Currently, she has taken the year off to pursue an internship at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services.